How and why do writers write, despite everything? Especially when you consider that a writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people, as Thomas Mann observed.
Alice Walker kept a sign over her office desk which would cause much fall-out later. It was to remind her about obstacles other writers had faced, and stared down: Woolf had madness, Eliot was ostracized, Austen had no privacy, the Brontes died young and dependent, Hurston had poor health. Walker had her daughter,"who is more delightful and less distracting than any of the calamities above."
The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads, said William Styron.
Colette told us to Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.
Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes
Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death - fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant; ~ Edna Ferber.
Novelists... fashioning nets to sustain and support the reader as he falls helplessly through the chaos of his own existence. ~Fay Weldon.
This one, about process, resonates with me--
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.~ E.L. Doctorow
This is how I portrayed marriage negotiations in a draft of Shiva's Arms:
“Hush,” said Varun. “Amma is trying to marry you off to someone in the parlor.” There was a rumor that child-marriage was about to be outlawed, the legal age raised to thirteen. He twitched his new mustache, a growth Shiva had nicknamed Bandicoot after a legendary rat that lived on the property and could not be caught...
Shiva nodded; she didn’t give the matchmaking in the parlor another thought.
It was only when the defeated look on her parents’ faces began to seem permanent did Shiva fear for her freedom. A suitable match would provide the parents with momentary happiness, but after the wedding they would only see their daughter when her husband’s family allowed it. “Taking pains with a daughter is like watering another family’s garden,” she overheard one family’s representative say as she was ushered out of the house.
Some minor disgrace might render Shiva unmarriageable and put an end to this parade of grasping, fortune-hunting crones. She had to come up with a plan to save herself...
Wizened female relatives of possible suitors finagled their way into the parlor of the old stone house. With cunning eyes, they calculated the immense wealth all around them. Each one imagined that Shiva’s mother would drop to her knees in gratitude that her ruffian daughter could have a future with a respectable family. But Shiva’s mother was a good negotiator and would not be swayed by the trickery of some old abacus- counter. “Your nephew is quite dark, quite rugged-looking, I see,” she might say, holding the suitor’s photograph in her fingers as if it offended her.
“It was taken on a cloudy day only,” the marriage-brokering aunt would sniff, clattering her bone china cup on the saucer. “The boy is quite fair under sunlight, perhaps fairer than your daughter. Her skin must be toughened from her times on horseback, isn’t it?”
Shiva’s mother kept her voice low, so that the old woman had to bend forward to catch all the words. “It is so surprising what some people will criticize! Some people have nothing better to do than limit a child’s abilities, and measure her value in gold and jewels only. My Shiva has great wealth beyond beauty, and I must be careful who I give her to! On the occasion of her baby-naming ceremony, the priest saw that she loved all the objects set before her to determine her future. He pronounced her capable in all areas.”
Peeking out from her hiding place behind the damask curtain, Shiva silently cheered her mother on as she exposed one old woman after another for the greedy viper she was.
But as time wore on, Shiva’s mother became more anxious, more fretful, not so indulgent of Shiva’s childishness. She became less critical of the women, more eager to establish a fruitful rapport. Shiva, standing behind the heavy curtain, hand over mouth, was terrorized by the thought of a new life in which she would be captive. What would she hide behind, which curtain, whose family? Her throat seized up. I can’t breathe! Throwing off the damask, she’d hurl herself into her mother’s arms, sure she was about to die...
All the coughing fits in the universe could not have changed Shiva’s fate, and deep down she knew it. At each unveiling, she would do her best to discourage the bride-seeker. Her rude answers to prying questions, inexplicable memory lapses in the middle of her singing performances, the sudden physical awkwardness in her dance movements did not change the fact that she was the daughter of a wealthy man with a large dowry to give. Her parents became stricter and more unyielding to her resistance, which came to nothing in the end. Her parents didn’t really want her, it was clear, so Shiva consented to be married to a stranger called Trichur Venatesan Sambashivan, Iyer. She was fifteen years old.
-Just when you thought the festival season was over, Pongal is upon us. This is a secular harvest festival, also known as Makar Sankranti and Tamizhar Thirunal (The Festival of Tamils). In Tamil, there is a saying, Thai Pirandhal Vazhi Pirakkum, that means "the birth of the month of Thai will pave way for new things." The festival lasts for four days, during which old clothes are burned in a bonfire, fresh milk is allowed to boil over (the literal translation for Pongal),and a bull-taming contest called Jallikattu is organized. People eat sugar cane and decorate their houses with kolam, and brothers are encouraged to give their sisters gifts of money.
In my novel RESCUING RANU, I set a scene in the third day of the festival:
"Nela and Ranu looked out on a passing parade of decorated cattle, horns painted and covered with shining metal caps. Multi- colored beads, tinkling bells, sheaves of corn and flower garlands surrounded their necks. “It is Mattu Pongal,” the girl declared. “End of winter!”
“It is why we take oil baths,” Nela told her. The girl cocked her head. She had only learned the ritual, not the origins. Nela said, “Once Shiva asked his bull, Basava, to go to the earth and ask the mortals to have an oil bath every day and to eat once a month. But Basava made a mistake. He announced that everyone should eat daily and have an oil bath once a month! Shiva banished Basava to live on earth forever. He would have to plough the fields. This is why we appreciate him.” Something, a detail, the half-glimpsed gesture, a particular scent perhaps, caught Nela’s attention just then. She did not answer Ranu’s stream of questions about the bull, but scanned the scene before her, narrowing her eyes to sharpen her vision. Nearly lost among the commotion of lowing beasts, shouting vendors, and rickshaws, she saw a disheveled man slumped in a chair. He was stirring his drink as if that small motion took all of his strength. His skin, waxy, hanging like steamed folds of fabric, looked feverish even from a distance. Nela’s body recognized him before her brain remembered his name. Gooseflesh rose on her arms..."
1)Favorite phrase in the Bombay Trilogy's Shiva’s Arms?
vidama pidingarathu (the way samsara gets its hooks into you and won’t let you go)
From Rescuing Ranu?
How many cousins are worth one brother? (you don't have to know we're talking math here!)
It's a tie between "work to do!" and "There's nothing like relatives!"
2)Favorite maxim or proverb in the book?
The elephant should not marry with the mouse (SA)
When Nela and Jackson in RR refer to one another as "my house," the way Ramanajun referred to his wife.
The old woman in Kalpavriksha who only speaks to the young boy Anand in proverbs.
“Soon the lawn bloomed with bright saris. Heads tilted upward to try to see what Amma saw--light traveling to each person, to take with them wherever they went.” SA
In RR, the way Nela takes care of Jackson when he falls ill.
From Kalpavriksha: "It had always been the time she liked best, just after the moon had ridden to its highest point in the night sky. Ram imagined Alice gazing at the ruins of the reception in the frosted light, and tried to picture the room as she had seen it, bathed in a wash of sapphire like a wept-over still life: the tablecloths askew, the centerpieces and chunks of cake smashed into the floor, curtains of flower garlands pulled down after the children had attempted to swing on them, chair legs broken in the places where the men paraded the bride and groom around on their shoulders, and stumbled drunkenly into the furniture. Now the room, embalmed in gold, shimmered with light that would whiten in a minute."
4)Scenes that made you want to visit India?
The celebration of Golu; Nela offering her hair at the temple. SA
The depiction of pongal in RR.
The wedding reception disguised as a Bollywood movie launch in Kalpavriksha.
5)Favorite scene revolving around food?
When Amma makes her famous dosa at Ram's house in SA.
The wedding feast in Kalpavriksha, served alongside acrobats. "A good Brahmin married in a circus!"