I was in conversation with well-known novelist Anita Nair at the Hyderabad Literary Festival recently. Anita is a highly prolific writer, having written 13 books in 14 years of her writing career. With 5 novels that include ‘A Better Man’, ‘Ladies Coupe’, ‘Mistress’, ‘Lessons in Forgetting’ and ‘Cut Like Wound’, short story collections, children’s stories, a screenplay, a play and a translation among the many genres that she has explored, Anita has already written much that we could converse about. The setting was a seminar hall in the new Maulana Azad Urdu University, Gachibowli, on the first day of the Literary Festival. A decent-sized crowd was in attendance.
I began by asking Anita how she managed to write so much and how she accomplished such a large body of work in such a short time. Anita said that since she turned into a full time writer (after giving up a career in advertising) she writes for a living. As a full time writer she is disciplined (writes everyday as in a day job), devoting her morning hours to writing (in long hand, her preferred method of writing). On what gets her to write with such discipline, she said that she loves the writing process and that she looks forward to writing, first thing every morning. It is not as if she forces herself to write, she loves the process she said.
I asked her how she experiments with so many forms so easily. Anita said she finds it challenging to experiment with new genres and mediums of writing and story telling. She does not see herself restricted to only one type of writing. While on the process of writing so prolifically I asked her if she gets into rewrites or ideas that end up nowhere which could set her back in terms of her productivity. She said that she starts writing the story only after she is clear about what she wants to write. She develops the idea, the structure, and once the framework is set, she writes within that framework. She said that since she thinks of the story in terms of scenes, it makes it easier for her to move from one scene to another and also add a visual element to the story.
Anita’s writing is bold and unapologetic and I asked her how she expresses herself so boldly without holding herself back. She said that for a writer it was necessary to let go and let the characters do what they have to and not control them. Whether it is a love scene or a sex scene or a violent scene, it is about the character and what he or she needs to do which is important, and the writer must remain honest to that. She says that when she writes it is not about her anymore but the people in her stories who take over.
I asked her if she thought it was part of her evolution as a person that makes her comfortable with writing the darker shades of human behaviour or emotions so easily. For me who writes about the goody goody and nice parts of human emotions I find it difficult and uncomfortable to write explicit love scenes or about sex and murder. Anita said that she writes without filtering and without apology and that it is the way it should be – about the story and the characters.
I asked Anita how she thinks the publishing industry in India has evolved, more so since she has been a part of it right from the time IWE really took off in India. She said things have changed for the better and the industry has grown. But at the same time there was scope to improve in the Indian book publishing industry.
I asked Anita her opinion on the boom in IWE with so many new writers expressing themselves. She said that it was good that so many new writers are writing and getting published but the writing was qualitatively better in the earlier days. There is a lot of writing now but not of the quality one witnessed in early years.
I asked her if we were still scratching the surface in terms of our identity as people and whether our stories could get better and more honest. More about the real us beyond the urban landscapes (and the 'English' people). She said yes, there are certainly many more stories in India that could be told with more honesty and understanding. She said that she would give it another ten years before our writing can get to that level, where we go deeper into our identity as people, our fears and doubts, our dreams and aspirations, and our histories.
I asked Anita which medium she liked writing in - the novel, the play or the screenplay. She said she loves the novel the most because she is in complete control of the situation unlike a screenplay which could change with the vision of the other people involved in the process. But each one has its own challenges. I asked her if honesty pays in writing. Anita said that to her it is very satisfying to know that there are loyal readers who read her novels and she is happy with the fact that she is writing for them.
On her new novel ‘Cut Like Wound’, a murder mystery in the literary noir category which has received fine reviews, Anita said that she had to research a bit to find the unique murder weapon apart from exploring the streets of Shivaji Nagar where she set her world of male prostitutes, cross dressers, and murderers themselves. Her protagonist, Inspector Borei Gowda and his unconventional life and career, has created enough impact among her readers in ‘Cut Like Wound’ and she is now writing a sequel to it.
There was much more to ask and know, to converse, but we ran out of time. Anita Nair was far more clear, articulate and expressive when she spoke on the above subjects than I could ever capture in this piece and I found talking with her highly educative and enjoyable. She read excerpts from her novel ‘Lessons in Forgetting’ which has since been made into an English movie with the same name. We ended the session with questions from the audience and thanking Anita Nair for finding time and joining us at the Hyderabad Literary Festival.