Good day all you good people. Don’t let the title mislead you. This isn’t about Syal’s semi-autobiographical rite of passage tale set in a fictional English village. The Anita here is Anita Nair, India’s much celebrated author, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award and a prolific storyteller. Me, of course is moi, yours truly! And the story’s about the day we met, quite by chance, totally unexpected, when a stray wish became a happy coincidence in a matter of days.
My introduction to Anita Nair ‘s writing was through Ladies Coupe. A book I randomly picked up at the neighbourhood book store where the seasonal “buy 2 get 1 free” sale was on. I was drawn by the gist on the cover — a novel about six fellow travellers sharing personal stories within the intimate atmosphere of a ladies’ coupe. Feminist. Personal. Haunting. Set in India. Perfect! Take p235 for example… “the smell of smoking oil clung to my hair; my fingertips stank of garlic; the pores of my skin oozed the odour of asafoetida. Every night I scrubbed myself hard to erase the embrace of the kitchen…” Totally catered to my extreme fondness for stories set in typically Indian situations that one can relate to, especially since I have travelled the length and breadth of this wonderfully diverse country thanx to a Railways background.
Naturally, I decided to give the other two tantalizing titles mentioned on the back cover a go – Mistress and The Better Man. Having just read two of India’s very best female authors — Chitra Banerjee Devakaruni and Indu Sundaresan back to back, I was very skeptical about any book that followed. Would it match up??? Would any tale be as enthralling as Draupadi’s or Mehrunisa’s? Will any new tome hold my fragile attention span? Thoughts like these tossed in my head as I picked up Mistress on July 9th hoping it’ll help me cross the last leg of the long-drawn summer break gainfully.
I could not have asked for a better companion! The blurb on the back was potently imbued with promise. And as the narrative unfolded, the drama that emerged was to me — mesmerizing, totally living up to that promise. The expertise with which kathakali’s navarasas were woven into the fabric of the love triangle was nothing short of genius for me! Kerala lept out of every page in all its incredible glory and I was gradually transported to the “rich setting of myth and ritual” at every turn. The pronouncing of “zha” as in pazham…. Her character’s raw delight as he relishes the intensely cultivated flavour of a fleshy, ripe jackfruit…. Quoting Epicurus : The wise man lives hidden and only deals with his similars. All the others are merely acquaintances. (Classic!) The tops however is the expert handling of the transient emotion: “Adbhutam” p336. And I fell in love with katahkali all over again, thinking to myself, if only I could meet the author and tell her how thoroughly I enjoyed her storytelling.
That’s when, out of the blue, my friend A calls me. “Anita Nair is coming to Gurgaon to promote her new book . Would you like to meet her?” Borrowing from the bumbling Hugh Grant of Notting Hill, these are moments that can only be described as “surreal.” Of course I said YESSSS! but for a long time after I still could not believe it.
Coincidence? Wait till you hear what happened on July 19th. I reached the venue dot on time, super excited to “Meet the Author” organised by Gurgaon Moms book reading club. Besides A, I knew no one, but as the ladies trickled in it didn’t take long for introductions to be made. Soon V announced that there’s going to be a treasure hunt. The rules were very simple: groups of 10 would move across 6 designated areas, and whoever deciphered the cryptic clue that was read out would win herself the treasure: one of the many books written by Anita Nair cleverly hidden in niches around the club complex – completely gratis!
I cracked the third clue and won! Can you guess the title? — Chains of Custody – Anita Nair’s latest offering, the very book she was here to promote! Am I dreaming or am I dreaming! This was just too good to be true. And in this very upbeat mood we all soon headed to the conference room for the meet, coffee and cookies in hand. Anita walked in soon enough looking absolutely lovely and the session started with Q&A anchored by U delving into the author’s childhood, writing style, inspiration, research strategies, storyline, new ideas and even parenting style. Three things that fascinated me most were first- the fact that Anita wrote long hand even in this day and age of Macs and Ipads; second – her utter confidence when she boldly declared she’s never experienced writer’s block and third: her message to budding writers – “Don’t talk, just write — all it takes is 400 words a day and by the end of the year you have got yourself a novel. I’ve done the Math” How cool is that hanh? Simple. Straightforward. Spot On!
An hour just passed in a whizz, and it was now time for us to interact with Anita. I wanted to know how much commercialism affected creativity. Did money mechanics meander story-lines? Anita responded with trademark clarity underlining the fact that it was a good idea to NOT depend completely on story telling for survival if you wanted to remain true to individual creativity. As a passion though, nothing quite beats writing, she quipped. And we all nodded our heads in agreement.
Since I was carrying my copy of Mistress, I got it signed by the author. A group photo followed. Cheers all around. Me grinning from ear to ear.
That then is a wrap of a glorious morning spent in the company of one of my favourite authors… and I headed home seeped in Adbhutam …”the one emotion that does not offer you a time frame within which you may work on the feeling…. For adbhutam is wonder. And wonder is immediate.”