Interview d'Anita NAIR

A l'occasion de la sortie de son dernier roman en France, "Quand viennent les Cyclones" paru chez Albin Michel en avril 2010, la grande écrivaine Kéralaise, Anita NAIR était à Paris. J'ai eu la chance de la rencontrer à deux reprises, l'une à une lecture-rencontre organisée par l'AFUI à la Fondation des sciences, à cette occasion, un grand nombre de questions lui ont été posées par l'audience dont je faisais partie.
Mais j'ai aussi eu rendez-vous dans le petit salon de son hôtel dans le 15ème arrondissement de Paris le 21 mai dernier pour une interview, la dernière m'avoua t'elle, de toute la série d'entretiens qu'elle a accordé à la presse et la radio depuis son arrivée. Ce fut un honneur pour moi de la rencontrer.
Attention, l'interview est en anglais, une traduction en français sera bientôt disponible (ou bien à la demande sur la boite mail du site)

Can you describe yourself as a writer ?

Interview d'Anita NAIR
I write in many forms. I write novels, short stories. I write poetry. I've just written a play. I also write journalistic pieces. So writing is the sum total of my existence.

How did you start writing and make your living thanks to this?

Well I was always writing when I was a child and then the profession I took up was advertising where I used writing again. And then I started very secretly writing my stories. I continued my work in advertising when I was first published, after my first book came out. Eventually in around year 2000, I realised it was difficult to jaggle both worlds and then I quit my job in advertising.

You just said, that you have been working in an advertising agency : do you think it has some influence on your way of writing ? Did this professional experience bring something to you as a writer ?

One thing which is good in working in advertising is that it teaches you discipline. Very important, You can't be tired, but always motivated. Secondly, you teach yourself to edit. For my part, I learnt to tighten my writing to only write the essential. And one more thing, you get used to rejection in advertising, it is not so painful.

Then when you choose fiction, you choose to be more free in your writing ?

Absolutely. There is a flipside in writing advertising, you learn to curb your thought so tightly than when you write fiction, you learn to open it widely to imagination. .

In "Lessons of Forgetting"your last book, why does Meera (the main character) imagine she is Hera, the Greek goddess? In what ways, did you feel, were the women in Indian mythology insufficient for this purpose?

Meera is the child of a strongly anglicised upbringing. In all probability she would have read the Greek myths before she read any of the Indian myths. So there is a natural affinity that she feels for Greek mythology rather than our Indian one. And so when she locates herself in the world of mythology, she finds herself a Greek parallel rather than an Indian goddess to build an intrinsic connection with.

The other aspect, of course, is that as someone who has read Indian mythology extensively and delved into it for two books of mine (Mistress and The Puffin Book of Magical Indian Myths) I failed to find an Indian goddess who was the composite of good and bad, strength and vulnerability, love and hate, naivety and manipulation all at the same time. Our myths tend to depict a woman as either a goddess or a she-devil. The only one I could think of was Draupadi but she wasn’t a goddess and her story wouldn’t have fitted Meera’s as well as Hera did. Or even suited someone like Meera who did see herself as the queen of the world. Her world, at least!

While there may be some character in our puranas, who would have been as apt as Hera perhaps, unless one was a myths expert the chances of stumbling upon a goddess as human as Hera is very unlikely. And Meera isn’t that so it would have been a flaw in characterisation for me to have used such an Indian parallel.

What inspired the writing of your last novel "Lessons of Forgetting" ?

My biggest source of inspiration has always been life. Human beings must be the most fascinating creatures on earth. Everything we do, we say, how we live, whom we love and hate, why we go to war, what instigates violence, what inspires kindness - everything is a source of inspiration for me.
I began writing Lessons in Forgetting in October 2006. The idea was to write a light, feel-good novel.
For this novel, the main character, was inspired by a woman who I saw in a cocktail party as described in the book. This woman seemed as if she didn't belong there. She was with her husband and her child but seemed, beautifully dressed a classy, but she looked a little down and this makes me starting to wonder why she had such an attitude...and this creates a scene in my head. I started giving to the novel such dimensions, a fresh texture, and in due course found myself working on a rather complex narrative.
A lot of the situations, I had to build in my mind, since they were not borne out of my experiences: The husband deserting the wife, raising a teenage daughter, the predicament of a woman not knowing how to cook, etc. I also brought in Greek mythology and constantly compared Meera to the Queen of the Universe, Hera. Indian gods and goddess are not given to perfidies but the Greek gods are more human, and I love those stories.

The novel has had an overwhelming setting. The use of scientific genesis of a cyclone, to illustrate the emerging turbulence in the characters lives' was ingenious.

I do a lot of research when I start work on a novel. I was looking for a metaphor that had room for two distinct characters. Then I thought about cyclones, and it fit. If Meera was the cold stream of air, Jak was the warm stream. When they come together, a cyclone is set in motion.

But first, there is no telling, for, a cyclone starts in a placid sea. There is a perfectly blue sea, and then some clouds start gathering. I tried to replicate this starting with a perfectly calm world—beautiful people stepping out of their beautiful homes, leading wonderful lives. But you know it's like glass. Any moment, one thing could go wrong and it could shatter.

One of the key elements that trigger human despair is the unpredictability with which sorrow strikes. There is no telling what could change in our life and when, and that to me was the first reason why I chose the cyclone as a motif. Secondly, quite often the events that change our lives in a terrible way could be for no fault of our own except in a very removed way. It is the same when a cyclone strikes. The people who bear the brunt of the damage caused by a cyclone have nothing to do with why a cyclone forms. And finally despite what a cyclone does to our lives, we seek to rebuild and go on with our lives. We accept it as a natural phenomenon we have no control over. There is a lesson to be learnt in that from cyclones. That no matter how terrible the tragedy, we have to try and move on.

On the one hand, this novel comes with a strong feminist stamp to it. The women are very strong and independent minded. You bring up female foeticide. But then you also indulge in shockingly old fashioned stereotypes like how marriage becomes essential fo

Being a bold feminist is aspirational and the sterotypes that you refer is reality of the day. I am a woman writer not a feminist. My plot is unintentional on most occasions. I write for the sheer joy of writing, not to make a statement. I don’t write to jolt the system. I am not an activist.

Of the books you have written, is there a personal favorite?

No. Each novel has made me reach into myself and around me from a very different perspective and hence I will never be able to prefer one novel over the others

In your personal life, how do you unwind ?

I like swimming. I swim a lot, I read.

Why did you call this novel "Lessons of Forgetting" ?

Actually, I had a different working title, but that began to sound too poetic; it lacked the resonance. I wasn’t too happy with it. One fine morning, this title appeared in a flash. No rhyme or reason. Everytime I am swimming, I actually forget to breathe, and I keep joking that I should take lessons on how not to forget breathing while I swim. Probably, that was the genesis of the title.
My publishers leapt at it and found it to be apt as well. Moreover, the title and the plot synchronized well. Both the characters in my novel Meera and Jak have had devastating experiences in life. They need to get past it all and move on. They are constantly wrestling with their memories. Even the minor characters need to put behind their past lives and surge ahead. The title seemed perfect.

Which passage of this book displays the best your present mood ?

It's a tough question this one. I think the last lines when Meera says she looks like Hera and says that she would live life like eating pomagranate, each piece at a time, one day at a time. This represents quite well my life philosophy. Living life in the present time.

Résumé et commentaire sur le roman

Héra, déesse de la mythologie grecque, est la sœur jumelle de Zeus. Celui-ci chasse leur père et a recours à la ruse pour tromper la vigilance de sa sœur, la viole et Héra, humiliée, se résout à l’épouser.

Dans "Quand viennent les cyclones" dernier roman d'Anita NAIR, Mîra, indienne de Bangalore, est une épouse comblée. A quarante et quelques années, elle est une maîtresse de maison accomplie, a élevé deux enfants avec son époux Giri, cadre supérieur d’une multinationale. Ils vivent tous dans une maison mauve, au charme ancien, avec la mère de Mîra, Saro, et sa grand-mère, Lily, une ancienne actrice. Mîra se compare souvent à Héra : la reine des déesses, qui affronte avec courage les épreuves que le Destin lui réserve.

Mîra vient de publier un livre de cuisine et de savoir vivre (un peu comme Bree Van Der Kemp dans Desperate Housewives, si vous connaissez la série) : intitulé "Comment recevoir ses invités", qui s’avère être un véritable succès commercial. C’est donc une femme épanouie, qui ne s’attend pas au cyclone qui s’abat un dimanche sur sa vie, lors d'un cocktail. Ce soir là son mari disparaît brusquement sans aucune explication. Et lorsqu’il se manifeste enfin, c’est pour lui annoncer qu’il la quitte définitivement parce qu’il ne s’est jamais senti libre auprès d’elle.

Du jour au lendemain, Mîra doit trouver le moyen de subvenir aux besoins de sa famille. de toute urgence. Elle rencontre par hasard un professeur, JAK (ou J.A. Krishnamurty), qui a longtemps vécu aux Etats-Unis mais qui est rentré en Inde, dans la région où il a grandi pour y recueillir sa fille aînée Smriti. Cette dernière est dans le coma à la suite d’une agression dont JAK veut découvrir les tenants et aboutissants. Il doit écrire un article dans son domaine d’expertise – les cyclones – et Mîra se retrouve à travailler à ses côtés en tant qu’assistante. Et puis, elle apprend à le connaître et s’aperçoit que c’est un homme fragile, intelligent, attentionné… en un mot, tout le contraire de Giri, son ex-mari.

Comme dans Compartiments pour dames, Anita Nair, dans un langage soutenu et très imagé - et même épicé – analyse avec finesse la psychologie féminine avec pour trame de fond parallèle l’enquête de JAK sur l’accident de sa fille. Au travers du regard de trois générations d’indiennes, on apprend une multitude de détails sur la condition de ces femmes aujourd’hui, tiraillées entre tradition et modernité. Elles assument des tâches familiales et domestiques, mais sont aussi sujettes aux mêmes préoccupations que les occidentales : comment repousser les effets de l’âge, continuer à séduire, devenir indépendante financièrement… Anita Nair aborde également un sujet douloureux et d’actualité : les avortements douteux auxquels recourent les femmes indiennes (souvent sous la pression de leurs maris ou familles) lorsqu’elles apprennent (de façon illégale) qu’elles sont enceintes d’une fille. Toute cette réflexion d’une auteure pleine d’empathie pour ses personnages mijote dans un plat aux mille saveurs plus alléchantes les unes que les autres et qui transportent le lecteur dans une bulle pleine d'émotions, de force et d'exotisme au rythme des cyclones intérieurs des personnages.

Samedi 22 Mai 2010
Fabienne-Shanti DESJARDINS

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