Madhavi has extensively for children. Her first book, ‘The Emerald Lingam’ won the first prize in the National Children’s Writers Competition, conducted by Children’s Book Trust and was subsequently published. A second book for children ‘Hanuman’s Adventures in the Netherworld’ was published by Katha. Her short stories for children have been frequently anthologized and are found in school textbooks. She has written two collections of short stories for adults: Paltan Tales (Indialog) and Doppelganger (Alchemy). Currently live in Bangalore.
What inspired you to start writing?
Words and what it means to have them. The weight of every word separately and in conjunction with other words. Our thoughts become ours only because we can claim them in our own words. I love listening to people talk. What they leave unspoken is often more interesting and revealing. It’s fertile ground for story ideas to germinate.
What did you like to read when you were a girl?
Everything I could lay my hands on. My mother says that before I could speak I had started reading the daily newspaper – upside down. (To me it still makes more sense that way.) I used to read a series called Junior Classics, basically comics, that brought alive the magic of stories like The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities etc, so I learned to look for distinctive characters and a good solid storyline in whatever I read. I grew up in a house where reading was considered a healthy habit, but reading only one kind of book was a complete no-no. Poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, biographies, travelogues and even cookbooks were chewed up with pleasure.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
There are two challenges, both equally great. Finding the right story to tell is the first: A story has to mean something to you, yes, but that meaning has to be transferred to the reader. The next challenge: finding the right words in which to tell your story, i.e., your original voice, one that is consistent, versatile and clear enough to stand out in the general babble.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
Loads. Before, during and after. The research never ends, even though most of it doesn’t go into the book as ‘research’. Instead it underpins the story.
What motivated you to write the book “Doppelganger”?
The urban landscape has changed so rapidly and in so many different ways that a novel is a bit ‘slow’ to cover the transition. City dwellers everywhere, but particularly those in India, have seen change in the fast forward mode to the extent that we all feel a sense of ‘dislocation anxiety’. The markers that made our city, and by extension, us ‘unique’ are being erased or swamped by the ubiquitous-ness of airports, malls, gyms, beauty salons, cafes, billboards and the internet which ‘connects’ us and makes us mirror images ie, doppelgangers. Chance meetings are a feature of this changed landscape. Love happens by pure chance, so does a date, a job, an accident and even death. A conviction that when it comes to the times we live in, the short story captures ‘the heat of the moment’ best is what made me choose it as a medium. The short story requires one to be brief, to offer an explanation while hinting at alternatives is one of the intriguing challenges it throws up.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “Doppelganger”?
Doppelganger is a collection of 18 stories set in the contemporary urban milieu. Its themes are diverse, but through the processes of reflection and refraction, a sense of unity and coherence has been built into the collection. A large number of the stories are built around the very personal moral and ethical dilemmas ordinary humans go through, personal yet with wider implications. For instance, abortion, which strangely, is regarded only as a ‘woman’s problem’ ( as is a miscarriage). With women increasingly taking charge of their lives and bodies, these become issues worth thinking about, outside, as well as within, the larger rubric of Motherhood. I’ve touched upon this in ‘Water Child’ and ‘Parthenogenesis’. Another frequent theme in the collection is infidelity: the peculiar dilemma of being ‘emotionally’ unfaithful in ‘ Faultlines’; in ‘One Last Song’ it is the mixed feelings that come by chancing upon an old flame, of which nostalgia, or a sense of loss for the past self, is one. Loss comes in other forms , too; it is a common motif of our times. We change jobs, cities, countries, loves and marriages. Every transformation requires giving up something. How do we make these decisions and what, if any, is the cost we pay? While the first goal of any story is to pull in a reader through the promise of entertainment, I have tried to give the reader something to think about as well.
How did you come up with the idea of writing fiction genre book?
Writing fiction comes naturally. Storytelling is the oldest art that human beings know. It is this gift of imagination that separates us from all other species. Having said that, I am not an expert on anything – not even on diets – nor do I have business mantras that can help others grow rich, or a philosophy with which I hope to ‘enlighten’ the world. All I have are stories, some funny, many sad, but all, I hope, thought provoking.
Who are your favourite authors?
The two loves of my life remain Veda Vyasa and Valmiki whose Mahabharata and Ramayana occupy top position in my list. I can name favourite books better than favourite authors, but among the short story writers I have consistently found worth reading are: Premchand, Manto, Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, Maupassant, Raymond Carver, Franz Kafka.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
When I’m working on a story it’s with me 24/7. Even when I’m not keying in the words on my laptop, a part of me us writing the story in my head. In actual physical terms of planting butt on chair, it could be anything between 4- 6 hours.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Read mindfully. Read eclectically. Be a demanding and critical reader. When you sit down to write remember that you, too, are writing for a reader. Whatever else you may or may not do, don’t bore the reader. A bored reader flees faster than a disenchanted lover.
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