"…I want fiction to reach something beyond the immediate…"

A conversation with Anuradha Roy

Being able to cause hurt and being hurt by things people said to me when I was very young were when I experienced language as raw power, I suppose.

I wrote nothing worth keeping for many years and only published reviews and articles; this meant that I published my first book when I was forty, but I don’t think I could have written it earlier—something in my world and myself needed to change before I could write fiction. I’m not sure what it was.

When I was working day and night on it, feeling as I was charged with electricity, not caring if it was ever published or not, or read by others, that is when I knew the writing was working for me.

To read much, much more. And to make notes on everything I read so I remembered today what I had read when I was ten, fifteen, twenty-five, and how I had reacted.

I’d happily give up bad eyesight and an aching neck and still, somehow, be a better writer.

If I am responding to something in my environment, something that has happened and has had an impact on me, I write an article. When I am writing fiction, I am not oppressed by the immediate – fiction comes from ideas that have been fermenting inside me for long stretches of time. Both as a reader and as a writer, I want fiction to reach something beyond the immediate, to convey a sense of the ineffable. The meaning fiction creates has to be different for different people, there should be areas of the narrative that don’t give themselves up, so that the book continues to reveal itself over multiple readings; there has to be intelligence and muscle in the language and narrative, whatever the themes.

Whole chunks. I always tend to cut lots. I rework and rework and delete and delete until the typescript is physically sent off to press and I have no choice but to accept I can’t cut more.

It wasn’t a scene so much as a whole section – the letters Gayatri writes from Bali to her friend. They had to be in her voice – the voice of a woman in the late 1930s, writing in English to her friend. There had to be a complete change from that of the main narrative, which is in the voice of an oldish man. The tone and style had to be true to the period, to use a conversational idiom that would have been prevalent then, among her class. I had to read reams of letters, fiction, and memoirs from the time, and internalise them before I got into a place where I could write Gayatri’s letters in a natural, spontaneous way.

One particular scene I found hard to tackle was the one where Gayatri meets Tagore. I felt I had throw away inhibitions about Great Writers and History plunge into inserting her fictional journey into Tagore’s real one even as I stayed true to the fundamentals of his voyage on that ship.

Yes. Always. I wonder if they find them – I don’t tell them they are there.