28 May, 2016

#Interview with Pervin Saket, #Author of Urmila

About the Author:

Pervin Saket was shortlisted for the Random House India Writers Bloc Award 2013 and is the author of a novel ‘Urmila’ (Jaico, India) and a collection of poems 'A Tinge of Turmeric', (Writers Workshop, India). Her short fiction has appeared in 'Journeys' (Sampad, UK)  'Breaking the Bow - Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana', (Zubaan, India) 'The Asian Writer Collection' (Dahlia, UK), 'Aliens' (Prime Books, USA), 'Earthen Lamp Journal', 'Khabar', 'Love Across Borders - An Anthology by Indian and Pakistani Writers', 'Page Forty Seven' and others. Her poetry has been featured in ‘Kritya’, ‘Platform’, 'The Binnacle' (University of Maine, USA) and elsewhere. 

Contact the Author:
Facebook * Twitter

An Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I’ve always known that I wanted to write and I’ve been writing ever since I remember. However, I began writing seriously after attending a 3-week residential creative writing workshop at IIT-Kanpur, which helped me put writing out of the ‘hobby’ arena and into the ‘profession’ space.

What inspires you to write?
Other writers and their work inspire me to write. I read everything at every chance I get; I always have a novel on me or an essay in my phone or an article in my bag, always waiting for the time I’ll get stuck in a line just so I can go back to reading. In fact, sometimes I suspect that I became a writer so that I can legitimately read all the time and call it ‘work’! The more I read, the more I itch to write, to give shape to the stories inside me.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
‘Urmila’ was inspired by a forgotten wife from a familiar story. I’ve always been interested in narratives that look at grand themes and plots through the perspective of marginalized characters. I find my heroes in ordinary people who are caught in extraordinary circumstances. I wanted to explore some important questions about relationships and beliefs through Urmila. Does devotion towards a brother justify the desertion of a wife? At what point does love for a family member turn unhealthy and dysfunctional? Are the values of our epics applicable in our lives as we live them today?
Much of this is of course, an extension of the kind of person I am – I am drawn to silence. Very often, in social gatherings, I find myself tuning out the talk and listening to the silent person in the room. And I’m quite convinced that speech, discussion, music, noise – these are actually background; the foreground, the little bursts that actually mean anything, is silence. This perspective finds its way into my reading as well, and probably explains why I find my themes and concerns reflecting in the silent or silenced stories of Urmila or Mandodari or Ahalya. 

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Yes, there are, and I’m so glad about it! I realize in retrospect that some stories are best left unpublished – they were written at a time when I was still finding my voice as a writer and they’ve played an important part in forming who I am today. Some stories probably just have this role, to serve as exercises, as explorations, as experiments.

Tell us about your writing process.
The process varies depending on the stage of the book I am at. Currently, I am looking into research for my next novel, so the writing mainly consists of notes, character sketches and plot outlines. Since I also have a day job (I am an editor of school textbooks), writing every day does not work for me. However, I ensure that I get some writing done on a weekly basis and this flexibility works well for me. 

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
I don’t think I have a favourite but I often find myself thinking of the scene where Urmila sees her relationship with her father in a new light. She has just got engaged and is on a date with her fiancĂ©, when something reminds her of her father, and she suddenly understands the man she has always misjudged as being aloof and miserly. It’s like a veil has been lifted and she sees for the first time, the love her father has for her. The irony is that the date is supposed to bring her closer to her fiancĂ©; instead, she finds a new love in an old relationship. There’s a very delicate air to the scene and I also like the way it foreshadows her complicated relationship with her husband later.  

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
I think it’s worked the other way – some of Urmila’s character traits have probably rubbed off on me! I was very clear right at the start that Urmila would be her own person and not serve as a mouthpiece to convey my own ideology. I find that the sections that work best are the ones where I have just followed her, staying out of the way, giving her the time and the space she needs to find her own answers. I believe she taught me patience and that resolutions come from within characters not from twists of plot or cleverness of the pen. 

What is your most interesting writing quirk?
When I’m writing the first draft of a story, I open a new MS Word document, turn the font colour to white and then start typing away. This way I cannot see the words I have typed and it allows me to just continue and pour out the story without self-criticism, or judgment. Earlier, I was my own worst enemy because as an editor and a former teacher of Literature, I had very exact standards of writing – and no tentative first draft can measure up to those standards! Now with this trick, the story flows naturally. Later, I turn the font back to black and begin editing.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
I’m indebted to more writers and their works than any list can hold. With this particular novel, probably the books that have been an influence are Jean Rhy’s ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, Kiran Nagarkar’s ‘Cuckold’ and A. K. Ramanujan’s essay ‘300 Ramayanas and Counting’. 
‘Cuckold’ in particular, combines history and mythology to tell the story of a Rajput prince, the husband of Mirabai, whose wife is in love with someone else. Except his rival isn’t a man but the Hindu god Krishna. Nagarkar superbly weaves together strands of love, longing and valour, through the perspective of the prince who is usually portrayed as the antagonist in Mirabai’s divine love for Krishna. 
Jean Rhys’ post-colonial novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ works as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ 139 years after Bronte first described the ‘mad woman in the attic’. I was particularly drawn towards the acts of naming, renaming and unnaming that weave through this narrative. A name is probably the shortest story one can tell, and ‘Urmila’ too plays with the implications of names. Not only does the modern Urmila’s life reflect that of her namesake in the Ramayana, but her fate seems bound to the echoes of her name. Further, her husband remains unnamed in the novel (Urmila calls him ‘Shree’, which is just a generic word for Mr in Hindi) since he is the one character who cannot be grasped or contained. In some ways, it is also an act of defiance; in Laxman’s story, he does not refer to Urmila, in Urmila’s story, she will not name him. 

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
The most useful piece of advice came to me from the fabulous writer Anil Menon, who was one of the facilitators of the 3-week writing workshop at IIT Kanpur. He said that sometimes to write well, one just has to write more. Most people simply don't write enough. Everyone has a certain number of words to go before they reach the treasure of their talent and the trick is to persevere and just write more, to finish the story, to start a new novel, to type out those poems – keep writing as an act of chiseling and carving out the best writer you can be.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
I’d suggest two things: first, read. Particularly read the kind of books you want to write. And second, I believe that writers are not those who just write; writers are those who rewrite. Don’t get attached to your words. Take feedback and suggestions from a mentor or from other writer friends. Revise your draft, play with different perspectives and styles and rewrite till the story indicates that it is ready.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
This is a difficult question for me because I spend every free minute reading – but reading is part of my work too. So it is a wonderful confusion! My favourite place is a large, comfy swing in our garden, where I curl up with a book and a cup of chai. 

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
- I’m a karate black belt. Seriously.
- It’s terribly unfashionable to say this but my dream vacation is to stay home and just cook, read and sleep.
- As you can see, I’m not much fun! :)

What do you have in store next for your readers?
I’m working on a new poetry collection and on the second novel, which is a historical love triangle set in the time of the Indian independence movement. I’m excited about both, and I alternate between them depending on the time and the material I have with me each week.

Blurb of the novel Urmila

Inspired by a forgotten wife from the Ramayana, Urmila traces a woman’s rejection and her passionate search for love, rekindling questions of devotion and desire in 21st century India.

The talented and passionate Urmila Karmarkar has recently married into a wealthy, politically connected family in suburban Mumbai. When Urmila’s brother-in-law is compelled to move to Dubai, her husband leaves her behind and chooses to follow him instead. Fuelled by this rejection, Urmila seeks solace in her art as she battles to keep her dreams of love and motherhood alive, waiting for her husband to return.

Not since Tagore implored poets to ‘wipe the tears of Urmila’ has there been such a compelling and elegant narrative to undo a woman’s exile from the annals of literature.

More details:

With the recent resurrection of fiction based on mythology, Urmila stands out precisely because it is not a mere retelling of the Ramayana. A novel that is truly inspired and not simply derivative, it places the action in modern-day India and invests its characters with contemporary sensibilities. In its pages you will encounter a refreshing relevance – from mobs of right-wing protestors to the environmentally-conscious miser, from Urmila’s curiously adopted and ill-fated sister to the unwitting dhobhi, from the aging politician who stuns everyone with his last wish to his scheming former flame who plots an intricate vengeance.

Powerful, poignant, profound, Urmila seamlessly blends the past and the present, the mythical and the mundane, the artist and the activist, marking an exciting new voice in Indian fiction. 

Buy links for the novel
Amazon * Flipkart