Love needs to be refreshed’: Anita Nair
Anita Nair draws analogy between food and love while discussing her new book
She weaved a historical novel around a Somalian trader with a jewelled eye, made a mark in crime fiction through Inspector Gowda and earned the title of a feminist writer too. For now, the multi-faceted author Anita Nair has woven a dreamy tale of love in an equally dreamy setting – the Annamalai hills. And Alphabet Soup for Lovers uses the sensual tug of both tastes and aromas to draw you in; the story is strung together using food as a narrative thread.
Nair explains “I wanted to do a dream-like book. In a dream, nothing is prepared. You just walk into the middle of it. Nobody dwells on the past and you don’t think about the future. The dream’s just here and now. This is the kind of atmosphere in the book. The characters are in front of your eyes, fully formed, without a back story or clear historical reasons for doing what they’re doing. That isn’t something I usually do.”
As for enhancing her experiment with a suggestive tweaking of the taste buds, Nair says she feels food and love are perfectly comparable. “We always talk about food as a basic need and I believe that love is a very basic need too – they have a lot in common. Think of this you have a meal and you’re sated, but three hours later you’re hungry again. It’s the same thing with love. Why do people think that once you fall in love you’re going to be in it for the rest of your life? Love needs to be refreshed, too, again and again…I really think if there was more love then there’s be fewer instances of violence not just the larger kind, but also individual violence.”
Amid all this talk of love, she lets you in on a little secret: this book is a creative escape from the darkness of the theme of her upcoming book on child trafficking. The idea probably suggested itself during all those trips to police stations, post mortems, morgues and shelters. But the research for this new book, unsurprisingly, cast a thick air of despondence upon her. “It’s horrible,” she states emphatically. “While I was researching, I was so devastated by what I was seeing that I had to write this one (Alphabet Soup for Lovers). The things I came across left me so shattered that I needed to write something lighter and happier.”
More freedom for English writers
During the conversation, Nair makes a startlingly straightforward statement, when she points out that Indian writers in English have way more freedom than those writing in the Indian languages.
“In any of the Indian languages, the readers don’t tend to be as tolerant as English language readers. I know writers who write in Malayalam or in Tamil or Hindi who’ve been penalised for what they’ve written, even now. Women, particularly, writing in those languages gets the backs up of some groups of men when they touch certain subjects. That’s because some subjects are still taboo for us. When you write about them in Indian languages you run into a whole lot of trouble, which a writer doesn’t want to go through. Every writer, just as I, writes because there’s something they have to say. There are always exceptions; people who sensationalise. But in general writers write because they’re innately compelled by the subject. Readers, though, don’t often see it as freedom of expression. They see it as someone taking a pot shot at a certain set of beliefs or traditions.”
Nair says: “When you write in Indian languages, the impact is more immediate. For instance, if I wrote in Malayalam, my readers would be based in Kerala. They’d know what I’d be talking about and they might perceive it as a personal slight or injury. But when I write in English, my reader could be anywhere in the world, and there are far less chances of it being taken as a personal slight. There could still be oppositions and criticisms, but they’re more literary ones rather than political criticism.”
Despite that, she agrees that the present age is a giant leap for women writers. The literary space is getting “less patriarchal, less traditional. Society is more accepting now of the fact that women have their needs, their own issues that need to be dealt with which don’t need to be viewed from the male point of view. There’s a certain degree of compassion for what a woman goes through, that’s come into the writing.”
A lot of it can be attributed to the fact that more women are coming out with their own stories, too. Nair agrees, but expresses definite distaste when you question her about the clubbing together of literary works by women. “I think it’s very, very sexist, because no one ever clubs ‘men’ writers,” she declares fervently. “It’s always women writers who get clubbed as a subspecies. Like a little aberration!” Then she gets reflective. “I don’t think that when writers write, they think of themselves as man or woman. Yes, perhaps in commercial fiction, you might keep a certain audience in mind. But when you write literary fiction, as I do, or even crime as a literary noir, it makes you shed all kinds of gender, sexual preferences, even your own sexuality, and then you become the character. So how does it matter whether you’re a man or a woman?” She makes her point, adding, “I think it is the literary establishment which decides that men and women have different approaches to literature. I don’t think writers have them.”
Credit: The Hindu