Anitas first book, “Satyr of the Subway” was an anthology of her short stories. She wrote her first book while she was working as the creative director of an advertising agency in Bangalore. In 2000 she came out with her first major fiction ‘The Better Man’. Her second fiction, ‘Ladies Coupe’ brought out in 2001,was published in 29 countries and in 30 languages. In 2002 she also published an anthology of poems ‘Malabar Mind’. In 2004 she published her first book for children - ‘Puffin Book of Myths and Legends’, a collection of myths and legends from various countries and cultures. Her acclaimed work ‘Mistress’ which dwells on Kerala and its traditional art form "Kathakali" was published in 2005. She also published her 2nd book on children in 2005 and called it ,‘Adventures of Nonu, the Skating Squirrel’. And in January 2007, she published the book ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ .. Her latest children’s book is the Book of "Magical Indian Myths". Anita Nair was awarded the FLO FICCI Women Achievers Award in 2008 for Literature ,while “ Mistress “was on the Orange Prize long list in the UK.
In an interview to Sreeni K.R, Anita Nair shares her views about her writing experience.
You were born at Mundakottakurissi, near Shornur in Kerala State. How much of your hometown does have an influence on your writing? I wasn’t really born in Mundakottakurissi. In fact I was born at Shornur. However Mundakottakurissi is my ancestoral village and I have very strong roots there. I wouldn’t really call it nostalgia as much as trying to put into words that uniquely composite feeling that Mundakottakurissi evokes in me…
Your first book called Satyr of the Subway, a collection of short stories, won you a fellowship from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. How do you feel about the achievement? It was the first time I was being acknowledged as a writer of merit. Naturally it made me feel that everything that I had to undergo until then had been worthwhile. Your novel The Better Man gives you a better identity as a writer. How much of Kerala and its culture has influenced you? I wish I could tell you why Kerala inspires me as it does. All I do know is that it does; infact again and again….It is maddening to know that whatever it is, defies description, perhaps it is the sum total of the colours, the scents, the landscape, the people, their cussedness and humour, the petty politics and the larger than life ideals…just when you think you have understood some facet of Kerala, it contradicts itself. Perhaps that is what is so exciting for me as a writer…
“Ladies Coupe” talks about the real tale of many an Indian middle class woman. From where did you draw the inspiration for this novel? Eighteen years ago, I climbed on to the top berth of a ladies compartment in a train from Bangalore to Madras and discovered an unexpected world. Once the door was closed and the blue night lamp switched on, the middle-aged women began a conversation that riveted me to my sleeping berth. It was a no-holds-barred conversation on mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, husbands and servants. It was a combination of the confined space and assurance of anonymity as they were strangers to each other that turned the coupe into a confessional box. Their candour, their subversiveness, their subtle strength and courage inspired “Ladies Coupe.”
Women, from a long time, have been demanding that women be treated as equal to men. In which way do you think it is possible? I think in many ways men don’t worry about how men are depicted. A sense of security of their space, personal rights and self esteem envelops them and is born out of deep rooted traditions . This makes them less afraid of being depicted wrongly. It has nothing to do with personal success; I’m referring to gender roles. But a woman is still trying hard to fight for her space that it makes her extra sensitive. With "Ladies Coupe", I took the right of showing the quality of strength in a woman and took the chance of writing “about the right women have as women”.
How was your experience while shifting from fiction writing to poetry writing? Do you think it is possible to balance both? I don’t really think that I shifted from fiction to poetry. Malabar Mind is actually a collection of poetry written over a decade. In that sense I don’t really have a different writing style or experiences to classify how writing fiction is different from that of poetry.
I am not a poet who works on poetry on a consistent basis. Very often the poetry I write is triggered by either an intensely emotional experience or an occurrence that has shaken me to the core. To that effect, my poetry occurs as a flash, whereas my novels are the result of much thought, pondering and intense research. “Mistress” is about how Kathakali is used to explore the lives of artistes and how their art shapes their destinies. Is there any particular reason to choose Kathakali as background?
Two things inspired me: My great love for Kathakali, and how, in many ways, it is a performing art that celebrates the grey area of life. Nothing is ever black and white in kathakali.That, even the most vile man could have a tender, sensitive streak and even the most heroic being could have a callous side, is easily accepted in kathakali....Also within the peripheries of the dance structure, it allows great scope for interpretation. Secondly, I wanted to explore the premise of artistic success and juxtapose it against lifes success. The most awesome point, I discovered was, be it life or art, the pitfalls are the same, the triumphs and sorrows alike;...all of it appears in “Mistress” set against a backdrop of Kerala, which is my familiar landscape, be it literary or figurative...
In your literary career, which is the most daring moment? Perhaps the most daring moment is when I begin writing a novel. For one, I know that it is going to be a long commitment. Secondly, I know that I would be delving into areas which I know very little about and hence would be that much more challenging. Finally and crucially, I have to make a decision as to which way the story would flow. Very often, the complexity, the subject etc. could be a difficult one and there are no guarantees that a reader would want to make the effort. Nevertheless, I cannot allow myself to compromise and would have to persevere with it.
Apart from writing, what are your other passions? Plants. Music. Art.
What are your plans for the future? On which book are you working now? I have a forthcoming project in June 2008: "Goodnight & God Bless". Its a light, non-fiction book of all my literary essays. Each essay is a bedtime rumination and is about books, writers, publishing, book events etc with personal anecdotal history. It is a kind of ironic "take on everything around me and my world", drawing from my own experiences as a daughter, wife, mother, woman and writer... I am, besides, also working on a novel.