Winning the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2016 has suddenly catapulted author Anuradha Roy into limelight. “It was as if everyone suddenly knew about the book,” says Roy. Not that she was an unknown name. Booklovers have immensely enjoyed her earlier works.
Her first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, has been translated into 15 languages across the world and was named by World Literature Today as one of the 60 essential books on modern India. Her second novel The Folded Earth, which won the Economist Crossword Prize for Fiction, was also nominated for the Man Asia, the DSC Prize. But it’s her third novel, Sleeping on Jupiter, which proved to be lucky.
The author tells HT City about writing, publishing and living in Ranikhet.
Congratulations on your win. Has the feeling sunk in yet?
I was at the Jaipur Lit Fest last week and it was only then that I realised the impact this prize has. It was as if everyone suddenly knew about the book, even college kids and schoolchildren. In a sense, it’s ironical that people value books and authors more when they win major prizes, but prizes are a very good thing in cultures where writing and reading have become marginal activities.
You were nominated along with Akhil Sharma and Neel Mukherjee. Have you read the books which were in the race for the DSC prize?
I’ve read both their books and I admired both hugely. They were wonderfully written, powerful novels.
Sleeping on Jupiter has communal violence, violence against women and a holy man who is a sexual predator. It is about a lot of things that we in India don’t like to talk about? What was going through your mind while writing the novel?
I found this novel painful and difficult to write and many times tried to change its direction. After it was finished, I realised that the violence in the novel came from our own sense of an all-pervasive atmosphere of violence, especially against women, in this country. I was asked at one of my readings why I had to write about this - didn’t it spoil India’s image abroad? I wonder how long it will take us to understand that the problem with poverty and violence is not how it spoils our image but what it does to people.
How difficult is it to write about the darker side of human beings?
I usually enjoy writing villainous characters, there is so much you can do with them. Evil is mystifying and interesting in many ways. The challenge is to give those characters more dimensions than the villainy alone.
You are a feminist; don’t you think “feminism” is fast becoming a very misinterpreted word?
I am not a scholarly person, I don’t keep track of academic debates about feminism.
You are a publisher too. Does it ever affect the way you write?
I only design book covers for Permanent Black, the publishing house we run. But yes, being a writer has made me much more aware of the needs of the authors we publish. I also know the constraints of publishers who are trying to make books in a shrinking market so I don’t expect the moon and sky of my own publishers.
What is your take on the publishing scenario in India?
There are lots that are new and exciting, and a new publishing house full of bright people seems to take birth every few weeks. I think authors have never had it better.
Is there a book you have read multiple times (It’s kind of your all-time favourite read)?
My all-time favourite is The Sound of the Mountain, by Yasunari Kawabata.
What comes after Sleeping on Jupiter?
Lots of wandering in the hills and making pots and dreaming up books I may or may not write.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Yes, when I am working on a book I’m obsessive and manage my time like a neurotic.
What do you like to do to relax?
I like being at home, doing the usual things - reading, cooking, gardening.
Why did you choose Ranikhet as home and not some bustling metropolis?
Many people are exhilarated and energised by the buzz of cities and I too am. But that’s for short spans of time and then I really need to be back where the only thing buzzing is a bee.
There are quite a few literary fests taking place in India now. Is it really encouraging people to read more? Or is it a platform for the authors to be seen and heard?
I think festivals bring readers to books and authors. I know that as a reader, I find lots of new and interesting writers to read at these festivals. Authors also like to meet their readers. On the whole, most authors have a hard time believing their books are read by real people.
In your novels, the place in which the story is set becomes almost like a character in itself. Do you consciously do it or does it just happen on the way?
Everything in a novel is done consciously although the routes to it may be mystifying even to the author.
Do you read other books while working on your novels or do you shut yourself completely?
I read for research when writing, plus other non-fiction, poetry and crime. I generally don’t read other kinds of fiction because I don’t want to be swept away by another narrative voice.
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