CHENNAI: Loss, as much as love, has a way of permanently redefining the lives it touches. For better or worse, we are the same as we step out the other side. Shashi Mallick and Nayantara ‘Tara’ Mallick are no different after the death of Robi Mallick. In Anindita Ghose’s debut novel, The Illuminated, the mother-daughter duo find newer versions of themselves and a chance to renew their relationship as they look for hope in the aftermath of their loss. Anindita spoke to CE about the journey behind the creation of these lives.
Why did you choose grief as the main theme?
I didn’t choose anything. I won’t say all fiction writing is auto writing, but the role of the subconscious in writing cannot be undermined. I like what Hemingway said about the writing process: “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Of course, there is a tremendous lot of labour involved after you write the first draft. Shaping and editing what’s on-page is a very active exercise. I didn’t actively decide, ‘Okay I’m going to write about grief’. Also, for me, it’s not the main theme of the book. A novelist can hold your hand and take you to a place, but the takeaway depends on the reader and their state of mind.
You mention several Sanskrit scholars, their works, and their explanations. There is a fair bit of philosophy too.
I read what I thought my characters would read. Shashi is a student of philosophy at Jadavpur University; so, I made attempts to read Hegel and Sri Aurobindo. The Hegel by HyperText project by Andy Blunden was a useful resource. My family is related to Sri Aurobindo and I had been meaning to read his texts for a while. For Tara, I read Sanskrit poets such as Bhartihari and Bilhana in translation. I also read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex very closely.
Can you tell us about the inspirations that shaped the different relationships we see in the book?
In The Illuminated, the relationships are seen from the vantage point of its female protagonists. But, this is not a biographical novel; it is inspired by experiences of others alongside my own and also those that are imagined. I was particularly interested in close female friendships and I was also keen to feature male-female relationships that were not sexual in nature. I feel I see relatively little of that in popular culture.Patriarchy divides women, conditions them to be suspicious of one another. In a story where women occupy space, female friendships were key, especially friendships that transcend certain societal fences. I was interested in exploring the idea of how much of women’s identities are defined by the men in their lives. It would be fair to say that the events of the last few years intensified that.
The book subtly deals with the political climate while also addressing the issues and, to an extent, presenting a solution.
At some point around two years ago, observing things around me, I truly began to believe that all fiction should be speculative fiction or what we call near-future fiction, to shock readers to see the truth. To hold a mirror to what is soon to come. Thankfully, after conversations with more level-headed writer friends, I don’t subscribe to that anymore: I think all kinds of fiction are important. But, I suppose some remnants of that stuck. The way the political ideologies are introduced in the book, I believe, follows that much-repeated trope of things happening so insidiously and slowly that one day you wake up and the world has changed.
Book: The Illuminated
Price: Rs 599
Publisher: Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers