Shimmer #21: Vajra Chandrasekera

Tell us how “Dharmas” came to be.

Vajra Chandrasekera
Vajra Chandrasekera

No tuktuk drivers were harmed in the making of this short story, though I did steal fragments of many conversations. “Dharmas” is about containment failure on the surrealities discovered in those fragments. See, my theory of conversation is that it’s a technology for navigating parallel universes; ontological disagreements are just as significant as the jonbar hinge in your traditional widescreen alternate history. Conversation –especially those very peculiar conversations in which you question everything you thought you know about the world– is proof that the fabric of reality is not machine-washable. It will tear, if you’re not careful. So I wrote “Dharmas” as a warning. Loose lips sink universes!

In “Dharmas,” there’s a lively debate on how many hells there are. So for those of us who don’t know, how many hells are there? Is there a chance one hell might be easier on us than the others?
There are actually thirty-seven*, but I had to drop a few in production for budgetary reasons.

As the antecedents of pulp horror, hells are fascinatingly dismal and I’m not sure it’s possible to pick a preferable one (there’s one that always stuck with me because it has my name in it, Vajrakantakasalmali, which is a tree with unbreakable thorns. Go on, guess what happens there!) unless we go with the Belinda Carlisle model suggested in the story.

* Also not true. I think the number is formally imprecise because the idea is that there are far more than have ever been named or described. The intention, clearly, was to leave room for innovation in sin. These days we’d call that future-proofing.

Your story “The Brack,” was recommended by Locus, and “Pockets Full of Stones” received an honorable mention in the Year’s Best Science Fiction 2013. Wow! How has it been for you to see your stories so well received?
I’m very happy! “Pockets Full of Stones” was my first published story, so that’s particularly nice.

Looking at the progress of your bibliography, it’s clear that you’ve been writing and/or submitting a lot of stories lately. What’s inspiring you?
I spent far too long just having vague intentions of writing at some point. When I finally started (in mid-2012, about a quarter-century having elapsed from the first awakenings of intention to actually writing stories and sending them out to magazines), it felt like I’d waited long enough.

So you might say I’m making up for lost time. But it’s also just that writing is fun!

What is it about Sri Lanka that captures the imagination?
Nothing different from everywhere else, I imagine. Which is to say everything, if you’re looking at it (and being that I live here, I’m always looking at it). Your personal unreal estate is inevitably bounded by the negative space of your historical context. But what that actually means is too big to explore without higher technologies of prose, i.e., fiction. So it’s a good thing that writing is fun! Otherwise I’d hardly know what to say about anything.


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