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NOVEMBER 2008: MANJULA PADMANABHAN
 
 
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Harvest, Manjula Padmanabhan's play on the theme of organ-sales, was as soul-crushing as it was realistic. The author is back with a new novel, Escape, and we are waiting in anticipation. An excerpt from the interview...

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Q) Tell us something about Escape? The cover page has a flower and bloodspots...
A) ESCAPE is about a little girl called Meiji, who has been kept hidden for sixteen years by her three uncles, Eldest, Middle and Youngest. They live in a country (... it might be India, but it remains unnamed) where an oppressive regime of power-obsessed generals has destroyed all females. Meiji has not only been well protected during this time but  her physical development has been suppressed, so she appears to be a child. However, her uncles realize that the situation cannot last forever. So Youngest and Meiji set out on a dangerous journey in the hope of finding a better future for her. The book is about that journey.

Q) Did you always want to write Harvest as a play? I mean such props for a play would be unthinkable, like the ones (dustbin) in Endgame. It could be easily translated into a film.
A) Oh yes -- HARVEST was conceived entirely as a play. The gadgets used in the story are really not that difficult! Think of the magical effects used in plays such as A Midsummer Nights Dream or even mythological Indian dramas -- there's very little difference between magic and science fiction when it comes to staging special effects. A good director and set designer can easily convey the necessary effects -- and I don't mean in an extremely expensive, technological way: it just takes imagination.

Q) Being also an artist, children's book author, what's your take on graphic novels, do they have the same charm as "traditional" novel forms?
A) Like any other literary/artistic form, a graphic novel is only as good as the novelist can make it! However, it's very easy for the line between a "comic" and a "graphic novel" to be blurred. I haven't yet been tempted to produce a graphic novel (though I am very often asked if I'm planning one) because none of my current ideas are suited to that treatment.

Q) Writing about Hidden Fires, you had said, 

"The despair I felt in 2002 was no different to what I had felt during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or while reading about the pogroms against the Jews in Hitler's Germany. There is a sameness about violent mobs that transcends nations, communities, religions, politics. We go to war because of imagined differences between ourselves and our enemies but we are all much more the same than we are different. It was in the name of that sameness that I wrote these pieces."

Don't you think we are a relatively shameless species and we do not feel that guilty or rather we don't learn our lessons? Consider this, all our riots have been due to religious constraints, none like a civil rights movement.
A) Well, that (i.e., the statement "Don't you think we are a relatively shameless species and we do not feel that guilty or rather we don't learn our lessons? Consider this, all our riots have been due to religious constraints, none like a civil rights movement") is not MY statement, though I understand why many people feel that way. At this moment, with Barack Obama's extraordinary victory behind us, it becomes possible to see more clearly the point I was trying to make -- that hope isn't an empty fantasy, that sometimes it's possible to fashion reality out of dreams.

Q) When most women writers, especially Indian, are writing in the safer (expected?) feminist arena, most of your writings are about current socio-political scenario. Comment. (Jaya's character though has feminist undertones)
A) I don't set out to write ideological rants. I don't make either-or choices based on a pre-determined set of beliefs. It's the other way around: a story-idea begins to form in my mind and as it forms, I look for ways to bring it out of my head and into the world as a short story, a novel, or a play. I look for the truth of a situation/idea and try to fashion it into something honest and believable. If it attracts idealists from one camp or the other, that doesn't surprise me or sadden me. When I'm writing -- or painting/drawing -- I don't think of myself as a "woman" -- I don't believe in small, tight boxes labeled "male" or "female" into which all of us must force ourselves to fit -- so it's difficult for me to answer questions which depend on tight definitions.

Q) You have written across genres, you write Science Fiction and also write Children's Literature, any favourites?
A) I think, I like SF best -- but I often wish I could just write quiet, friendly stories about ordinary people in ordinary worlds! For some reason, I just don't have ideas of that kind. Nowadays, editors will approach writers with an invitation to write a story within a particular "theme" -- and the first ideas that pop up in my head are usually utterly bizarre.

Q) Who are your favourite authors?
A) I like a very large variety of books -- I like specific books rather than specific authors. I am often asked this question and I usually give the same answers: THE MAGUS by John Fowles, THE SEA OF FERTILITY by Yukio Mishima, CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller, ALICE IN WONDERLAND/THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame -- and so many others that it becomes very difficult to control the list! The most recent book that I hugely enjoyed was THE ART OF MURDER by Jose Somoza.

Q) What next?
A) Perhaps a sequel to Escape ...

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