Articles / Interviews on Ladies Coupé

Ladies Coupé was harder to write
(By Bindu Menon)

It wasn't the usual thing, a woman writer exploring unusual territory - the man's world, in this case. But readers and critics alike gave their verdict: Anita Nair's debut novel The Better Man, published last year, was a winner. So is Anita a writer "who is only secondarily concerned with her gender and the like" (Gentleman)? Her second novel, Ladies Coupe, recently published by Penguin India, should answer that. It has an all woman cast and is about a single woman's decision to break free from claustrophobic traditions and multiple identities as daughter, sister, aunt, provider, and live life on her own terms. The Bangalore-based writer has also just bid goodbye to her advertising career and will concentrate on her "addiction", writing. Man, woman, and what's next? Gods, she says, adding, "I need a break from humans."

Ladies Coupe: In the beginning... Some years ago I was buying a ticket and I found this special ladies line clubbed with the handicapped and senior citizens. I was a little disturbed by the blatant inequality and I wanted to write about it. Either you discuss it or write essays. In my case, whenever things perplex me, I write fiction.

"I am not a feminist" I wanted to show the quality of strength in a woman, in this novel. I am not a feminist but I feel strength is not usually considered a womanly thing. There is a lot of strength in women that doesn't come out naturally, it has to be forced out of them - it could be circumstances or a change in lifestyle.

The course I started writing Ladies Coupe in February 1999, then stopped when editing work began on The Better Man. Then I resumed in February 2000 and finished by the end of the year.

The way it works... I plan certain incidents and the narration happens as I write, which is in long hand. Then when I key it in, I add some things, elaborate on it. I partly draw my characters from stories, films or people I see, sometimes at a railway station. I remember meeting someone like Akhila some time back very briefly. She had a sad look in her eyes. I wonder about their lives and write.

Ladies Coupe vs The Better Man I found Ladies Coupe harder to write.It took a lot out of me. There were multiple voices and multiple lives that had to be lived out in my head. The Better Man was a quieter novel that way, the character too had his problems but it was all within his mind rather than actual problems. These women had actual problems. It was quite exhausting trying to experience them.

On criticism about the lack of women characters in The Better Man: Women may not have been larger than life characters in that novel but they had dignity. Some reviewers thought they were all props and not essential to the story but the book was written from a man's point of view and what his needs are - women had no importance in his life, so the book too reflected that.

On the other hand, Ladies Coupe hardly has any men; it's a woman's book. If I had to include it all, then it becomes this magnum opus with points of view of everybody.

The Better Man was published by Picador USA but this book had initial problems being published by them. Why was that?

Well, actually what happened was that the editors had changed. Though they did like the book they felt that for the book to work in their country it required certain changes. So it was a question of how much I was willing to do that. I was not willing to change it. So they didn't feel it was worthwhile. But it was all very amicable and I'll be doing another novel for them.

Publishing abroad for recognition at home Well, that's the way it seems to be happening. I don't think it is very positive. Though I have never faced a problem that way - The Better Man (the first book by an Indian writer to have been published by Picador USA) was acknowledged here and abroad. In fact, I didn't even meet my foreign publishers. I don't even know what they look like.

Being a writer Writing is a necessity for me, an addiction. The best thing about being a writer is to be anonymous in one's writing, being genderless, ageless, classless. It's a challenge writing about people completely different from myself and my kind of life.

The art of storytelling Literary fiction can be written without being too academic or highbrow. I don't think it's fair to the reader to play those literary games. When I create characters they have to have a physical form, I need to touch and feel them. What next? I am doing a book for Puffin on Indian myths, resurrecting the not so well known myths. I need a break from human beings for a while. After that I'll probably work on a novel, which will be set in Kerala, of course. I have planned this trilogy, starting with The Better Man.






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