Mayank Bhatt discusses how his novel, Belief, is very relevant today on the topic of immigration and settlement in Canada in our Five Questions series. He also talks about the standout moments in publishing his debut novel and what he’s reading.
Bhatt will be participating in IFOA Weekly’s ‘What’s Life Got To Do With It?’ panel discussion on Wednesday, March 7th at 7:30 pm.
Belief was your debut novel. Looking back now, what stood out from that experience?
Belief began as a short story that I sent to Diaspora Dialogue’s short form mentoring program in 2009. I was selected for the program and was introduced to MG Vassanji who became my mentor. The story was published in TOK 5: Writing the New Toronto in 2010. Thereafter, I thought of turning the short story into a book and explore the lives of my characters – their past, their present, and how their lives fall apart when a sudden and unexpected crisis engulfs them.
I participated as a volunteer at the Humber School for Writers’ week-long summer writing program where Antanas Sileika, the then head of the program, informed me about the creative writing by correspondence program. I enrolled in the program and again worked on developing my manuscript with MG Vassanji who was, at that time, with the program. I learnt the craft from the master and then worked on the manuscript for over four years.
Your novel came out in 2016. Does it feel more relevant now given today’s climate?
Belief is about immigration and settlement; it’s about alienation and the resultant radicalisation of youth. It is not about terrorism. Terrorism is incidental, tangential to the story. It’s all about the impact of a young man’s transgression, indiscretion on himself and his family.
Novelist Lisa de Nikolits has pertinently said in The Minerva Review:
“Belief brings moving insights not only into the lonely immigrant experience but, in particular, examines in detail the religious and racial tensions that Muslims suffer today. The book also explores familial relationships that carry the unwieldy weight of traditions and legacies from former homelands, as well as the scars from battles, fought there. Marriage, ageing, love, complicated sibling tangles – all these are magnified and brought into focus under the microscope of Mayank Bhatt’s thoughtful observations.”
This aspect is also underlined in Dana Hansen’s review of the novel in Quill and Quire, where she emphasizes, “Bhatt’s illuminating, plain-spoken novel could be instrumental in generating substantive discussion about the immigrant experience in a country that is still a long way from understanding what that really entails.”
I believe that the novel will retain its relevance for as long as immigration and settlement of newcomers in Canada leads to alienation.
Were there writers or books that you drew from while writing Belief whether in style, inspiration or for comfort?
I admire many writers, and I believe writing is possible only if one reads ceaselessly. I don’t think any specific book has influenced Belief. There are many writers I admire; it’d be unfair to just list a few.
What are you reading now?
I recently read my friend Tahir Aslam Gora’s Rang Mahal, a novel originally written in Urdu. I read the Hindi translation. It is a bold account of the alienation that Pakistani-Canadians experience in their adopted homeland. And at present, I’m reading my friend Joyce Wayne’s forthcoming novel Last Night of the World, which recreates the tension and the excitement of the Cold War era; it will be launched in April 2018.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on a collection of linked short stories.
Mayank Bhatt immigrated to Toronto in 2008 from Mumbai (Bombay), where he worked as a journalist. His short stories have been published in TOK 5: Writing the New Toronto and Canadian Voices II. In Canada he has worked as a security guard, an administrator, and an arts festival organizer. He lives in Toronto with his family.