One Day We'll All Be Dead...: Scaachi Koul, please stop writing. You're killing us
The sign of a good book is perhaps gauged best in quotable quotes. In Scaachi Koul's One Day We We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter there are quotable paragraphs. I carried the book around for days, not because it is a hard book to read, but simply because I spent an inordinate amount of time underlining parts I liked.
Koul speaks like people you know. She could be you, she could be your best friend, she could also be the girl you never spoke to in school. The point is – you know her. And therefore, the issues she brings up in her casual-conversation tone in One Day... are issues you have as well, they aren't alien.
Sample this – “But despite this hatred of shopping, I have faith in clothing, in its ability to transform you into something or someone better. At our cores, we are all swirling masses of infectious disease...but maybe if we put on a nice suit...that is why we go shopping. To touch even the tip of our humanity.”
And then Koul follows this up with – “But probably not. There will be something else to make me feel bad, inching up towards all the things I currently feel bad about, and no crop top made by small, underpaid hands can cure me – or you.”
Koul writes about racism –
“I was repeatedly called a nigger, because racism doesn't have to be accurate, it just has to be acute.”
“No one learns how to be mean at twenty-five. No one actually becomes a hardline racist in their thirties. These are beliefs and behaviours we inherit from our bloodlines... What scares me is that those people go out into the world, holding these convictions secretly or otherwise, and exist around me physically.”
“But girls don't actually get to drink like boys because boys do things to girls when they drink.”
“I've exoticized everything about their old homes, and I think they have too. It's been so long, it's so far now, the only thing you can do is remember it as perfect.”
And growing up, finally –
“The greatest irony of growing up is that it's often once you leave your parents' home that you understand them the most. You get less angry; they get less anxious.”
The best thing and the worst thing about One Day... is that Koul gets it. And she frames the right sentences.
Honestly, I want Koul to stop writing. Because this is her laying out things I wish I had said, in print. In a form that people can buy and read and start to understand us. I am not sure if I am ready to be understood by a whole bunch of people out there. Yet.
But, personal angst aside, One Day... is a book you need. Here's Koul answering my rambling questions now. Once you are done with this, pick up the book. Keep a pencil handy.
Jhinuk Sen (JS): To start with the basics - what made you decide that you needed to write One Day We'll All Be Dead...? Besides the pieces you were writing for websites, what brought these essays together?
Scaachi Koul (SK): The root of most of the essays is in loneliness, misery, trying to do better, trying to make connections. I was surprised by how easily the essays came together and had a narrative thread. I had written the first essay years before I ever started on the book, and the rest came together almost chronologically until the very last essay, which I finished a few days after my book was due in total.
JS: What sort of reactions have you got from people who have read One Day...? Not your parents or relatives, but others. Including online trolls. It would not be wrong to assume that you must have gotten some, if not a LOT of, flack from readers who felt that you did injustice to immigrant experiences, to brown girls in white lands and to fairer-than-other Indians in brown spaces?
SK: Here’s the good news about writing a book versus writing on the internet: shitty people on the internet are not prone to spending $20 for the mere privilege of telling you they read it and they hated it.
The internet is free, and that’s why it’s easy for trolls to go after me online. But in print, there are a lot more levels of separation, a lot more gates to go through.
The response generally has been good, but there are people who don’t like the book. That’s fine, at least they put in the time to try to read it, whereas online, people will skim a headline and say they didn’t care much for your writing.
JS: If you did get some brickbats, how did you deal with it? Not the way you initially dealt with trolls, we hope?
SK: Bad reviews come with the territory, and I’m happy to say that most people who didn’t like the book said they didn’t like it based on the material or the writing style and not on my existence as a woman or a brown person. That’s literally all I ask! If you’re gonna hate a thing, at least hate it on its merits!
JS: Broadly - give the 'millennials' one easy formula to deal with trolls.
SK: There is no formula. That’s like giving an easy solution to racism and sexism across the board. It’s not something so easily resolved.
JS: 'Writing from a point of privilege' - do you think you bear this burden? Have you been 'accused' of it?
SK: Everyone has privileges: I’m fair and middle class and my parents had settled and assimilated in Canada a long time before I was born. I’m straight and I have a job and my health insurance is covered. I’m not chronically ill and I get by life, in a lot of ways, pretty easily.
There’s nothing wrong with having those things, we should all aspire for everyone to be so comfortable. What I think is important is acknowledging when you do have those privileges and how they affect your life and how they change the way you move through the world. The step after that, then, is making sure you don’t profit off your privilege in a way that harms other people.
JS: Did you ever think - 'Why would anyone want to read this?' at any point while you were on this book?
SK: Literally constantly. Writing is an insecure person’s game, so frankly, I still think it all the time.
JS: Now, the boring questions - Are you looking to explore the 'fiction' genre any time soon?
SK: Nah, I’m bad at fiction and I think there are plenty of other writers better suited at it. I’m good staying in my non-fiction lane.
JS: If you could swap your writing style with another author - who would it be and why?
SK: I’m not sure I’d switch with anyone in particular, namely, not with another non-fiction writer. I read a lot of fiction but I’m terrible at writing it, so while I’m wishing for things, I’d probably want to be better at making stories up instead of being tied to reality and things that have actually happened.
JS: Is there another side to Scaachi that the book does not have any of?
SK: Of course — the book is ten stories about me or my family or my life. It’s a version of myself that I’m willing to give to the public, but it’s hardly the whole story.