- The nine forms of Kathakali in ‘Mistress’, learning the English alphabet via Komathi’s dishes in ‘Alphabet Soup for Lovers’ – Most of your narratives seem to be supported by distinct, metaphorical bases. How would you say you arrive at such metaphors? When and how do they develop?
A – All my literary fiction is built around the metaphor; it’s the first step towards creating a structure for the novel. Usually there is an idea that germinates in my head for a while and it is mostly abstract and devoid of any structure, plot or characters. However, when the right metaphor occurs to me everything fall into place. I have no sense of how I arrive at these metaphors, they just happen.
At best, all I can say is that the theme of the novel and the metaphor have an inexplicable connection that is perhaps visible only to my eyes and the challenge is also to meld it in such a way that they seem organic.
- Over the years, you have written across genres, including historical fiction, literary noir, and children’s fiction. Which among them would you say is the most challenging to write?
A- All forms of fiction are equally challenging with a different set of demands, I don’t think it’s possible to say that one genre is easier than the other. Historical fiction demands historical accuracy without being bogged down by details. Literary noir demands that I straddle both worlds of literary fiction and noir without one subsuming the other. Children’s fiction requires me to be entertaining, exciting, without being patronizing.
- Komathi, the cook in Alphabet Soup for Lovers who learns each letter of the English alphabet by associating themwith her dishes, comes across as a rather eager observer. Your other works also impress upon on the reader, the power of observation. For the writer, how important do you believe it is to observe?
A – One of the most important tools for a writer is observation skills. Observation teaches you to look at details, be it in setting character traits or even the play of light and shadow that can change how a scene is set and how the story flows. A writer minus observations is like a handless person trying to walk a tight rope.
- You have translated the Malayalam film Chemeen into English. How would you describe the process of translation? Do you believe that some of the better writing in the country today may be happening in regional languages that fails to get due attention?
A – The process of translation is tedious as it is challenging. However, once you strike the right note that captures the beauty and nuances of the original without compromising it, the experience is immensely gratifying. Yes, I do believe that some of the most exciting and experimental writing is happening in regional languages that for want of excellent translations don’t appear in the national/international space.
- Malabar Mind, your first collection of poetry is earthy, evocative and highly visual. How different would you say the process of writing poetry is, from the process of writing a novel?
A – Poetry for me happens when I am overwhelmed by an emotion, an encounter, a particular visual or an incident. It moves me so much that I need to capture that instantly without allowing it to lose its edginess. However, with a novel it is a thought out process where every aspect is dwelled upon before I actually commit it to paper.
- Anita’s Attic has now completed two successful seasons. What role do you believe creative writing courses and mentorship programs may play in bettering the craft of writing, especially in India? It is something new, how do you think people are reacting to something like this?
A – A creative writing course is only as good as the people running it. I arrived at this model of Anita’s Attic to make sure that I mentor rather than teach writers how to write. We have completed three successful seasons and have worked with 32 writers in 18 months. I know for sure as they do that they have emerged as finer writers with a greater understanding of the complexity of writing from when they came in. All you need to do log in to http://anitasattic.com/the-class/ and you can see their responses to the program.
That for me is the most rewarding element of what I do with Anita’s Attic.
- Lastly, how do you find The Bombay Review. Any advice or comments for us?
A – The Bombay review is both intelligent and dynamic and I love its energy and choice of writing showcased which is why I have always recommended that my Anita’s Attic writers send in their submissions to The Bombay