our author: anita nair

Having South Indian roots, Sneha can never explain the feeling when she is amidst a lane in Matunga in Mumbai, thinking she is in a mini lane of a snippet from Tamil Nadu. It is simple, yet complicated to understand. She wonders if she shares the same feeling with writer Anita Nair about her strong sense of belonging.

In this tete-a-tete with Anita Nair, Sneha Subramanian Kanta discusses Kerala, feminism, the Indian woman and more...


Q) There is a pre occupation with Kerala in a major part of your works. I'm sure part of it comes from your upbringing in the Southern locale. I remember reading an interview of yours where you have mentioned that it stuck you when seeing the traditional dance form Kathakali to explore more about the colorful art, particularly in Mistress. Even your debut novel The Better Man uses Kerala extensively. Comment.

A) I have very strong roots in Kerala. My family goes back at least by 400 years in the village where my parents still live. When I am away from there, there is a strange yearning I feel for the place. Yet I wouldn’t really call it nostalgia as much as trying to put into words that uniquely composite feeling that Kerala evokes in me… I wish I could tell you why Kerala inspires me as it does. All I do know is it does again and again. It is maddening to know that whatever it is defies description… perhaps it is the sum total of the colours, the scents, the landscape, the people, their cussedness and humour, the petty politics and the larger than life ideals…just when you think you have understood some facet of Kerala, it contradicts itself. Perhaps that is what makes it so exciting for me as a writer…
Q) Ladies Coupe
as a novel depicts the tales of many women interwoven in the experience of one. You portray her as always fulfilling one role or the other like the daughter, the sister, the aunt and so on. Let me ask you – do you think a woman can be really emancipated from all her roles regardless of whether she is married or not?
A) I don’t believe a woman’s emancipation is tied to the roles she has to play in life. In fact a wife/mother represent only a facet of a woman in a relationship. However even as a single woman she is still sister, daughter, aunt etc. Hence it would be almost impossible for a woman, or for that matter, a man to be completely isolated from relationships.
Q) You have always maintained for most of the part that feminism is about making choices rather than prejudging what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ as the two terms are very subjective. Perhaps women find little nudges of escape when their husbands are away at work and they can connect with themselves. What is feminism for you especially in the Indian context?
A) To me, feminism in the Indian context is about recognizing the importance of the female self and to be able to nurture it. Very often, we Indian women tend to negate ourselves as something that is expected of us. In fact, there may be no pressure at all from extraneous sources for us to do so. Perhaps it is conditioning or perhaps it is lack of self esteem,  we do not consider ourselves important enough and so we tend to put our needs and desires on the back burner. This is what needs to be addressed. And this to me is what feminism ought to tackle.
Q) That said, in all one reads of you, you have never proclaimed yourself a feminist.

 A) Even since Ladies Coupe, I have been referred to as a feminist writer and I have vehemently opposed this for these reasons. One, I do not set out to write what I write with the notion of ushering in change. The creative process begins for me when certain aspects of life trouble me. I then try and explore why it the way it is. But in doing so I merely hold up a mirror to the society we live in. At no point do I delude myself that by doing so I will help start a social revolution. It isn’t my intention in the first place.

Secondly, while several women’s issues are close to my heart, I find I am unable to agree with everything that feminist theories propound. And hence to identify myself with something that I do not completely endorse would be wrong and unethical.

And finally as a writer what may interest me with one book may not matter to me when I am working on another book. Hence to bind myself to a particular ideology or writing would mean gagging my thoughts and limiting my boundaries. While I may return to female centric storylines, I am not sure that this is all I would ever write. Perhaps by my failing to identify as a feminist, I am playing safe. But I believe that I owe it to the writer in me to be unfettered.

If I was a feminist writer, my work would dwell almost exclusively on women’s issues. However my concerns and interests straddle several areas and all of these make an appearance in my novels.

Q) How was writing Malabar Mind, your first collection of poetry? Poetry as a genre can be more demanding.

A) It is the lot of the poet to be admired whereas the novelist is actually read and their works engaged with. I believe that both forms have equal weightage. However not all poets can be novelist and vice versa. Simply because poetry by nature looks inwards whereas the novel tends to dwell in the world outside.
Malabar Mind is actually a collection of poetry written over a decade. In that sense I don’t really have a different writing style or experiences to classify how the writing of fiction is different from that of poetry. I am not a poet who works on poetry on a consistent basis. Very often the poetry I write is triggered by either an intensely emotional experience or an occurrence that has shaken me to the core. To that effect my poetry occurs as a flash whereas my novels are the result of much thought, pondering and intense research.

Q) What do you think of the scenario of Indian Writing in English today? Do you believe that we Indians as writers bring a new ‘Indianness’ in English in terms of the syntax, treatment of themes and so on?

A) I don't think it is simple to be a writer anywhere in the world. Even more so in India when you are writing in English. On the one hand you are not aware of who your reader is. On the other hand, you come under so much scrutiny and it is almost as if everyone is out to catch you when you make that first mistake. Fortunately, what used to be once an urban readership is now expanding to small towns and as more people read this will be a readership that will sustain the Indian writer writing in English.
It seems to me that on the one hand Indian writing in English has certainly come of age. Indian writers writing in English are being recognized and even revered. However, it is also weighed down by mediocrity. A mediocrity that stems itself from the fact that anyone who can string a pretty phrase believes that is all is  required to write a book. 

Q) How has the transition from working in an advertising agency to becoming a full fledged writer been?

A) I began writing at a very young age. However it was while working at an advertising agency that I decided to become a full time writer. My forays into creative writing began with short stories, and slowly I moved on to writing novels. I think writing was initially an interest for me, but later it became a serious compulsion. My stint in advertising helped immensely. It helped me craft my writing to the extent that I learnt to edit the flab out. Apart from which advertising is a great apprenticeship for a writer.

First, I got used to rejection. Out of every ten brilliant campaigns, one sees the light of the day. So what are a few rejection slips? Secondly, I learnt to curb my temper when someone mauled my precious lines. Just about everyone in an ad agency from the tea boy to the CEO; and outside it, from the client’s grandmother to his daughter’s dance teacher have a point of view about the campaign and specifically the copy. So one accepts editing more easily than perhaps a writer who has been a dog trainer. And finally, as an advertising writer has concocted enough rhetorical overstatements for middling products he or she will seldom be a victim of any hype…
Q) What are your upcoming projects?
A)I am translating a famous Malayalam novel. I will also be working on a historical novel set in medieval Kerala.
Q) Lastly, leave us with a loved quote – it can be a scene from your novel or a line from your poetry which is close to your heart. Being a writer, I’m sure you will have many, but give us any one.

A) ‘Meera thinks of her favourite fruit: the pomegranate. Of how she savours it best when she eats it seed by seed rather than as a handful thrown into her mouth. She will take a cue from that. Of how resurrection is to be fashioned one day at a time.’ 
[page 325 Lessons in Forgetting]