Articles / Interviews on Mistress

Deccan Herald

Sunday, September 18, 2005

From Ladies Coupe to the Mistress

Bala Chauhan in conversation with Anita Nair, whose book Mistress, out shortly, is an interplay between the forces of passion and art.

Her third novel Mistress will hit book stores soon and Anita Nair is beginning to feel drained of the entire experience. “Sometimes I ask myself a question; should I have written Mistress when I was in my sixties and seen more of life? I had to go deep into trying to understand various intricacies of a very fine relationship between life and art. It’s been a draining experience,” says Anita.

Mistress will be formally launched this month end. The best-selling author of Ladies Coupe, Anita wrote her first book, a collection of short stories called Satyr of the Subway while she was working as the creative director of an advertising agency in Bangalore.

Her first novel The Better Man, published by Penguin India, was also the first book by an Indian author to be published by Picador USA. Her second novel Ladies Coupe was rated as one of 2002’s top five books of the year, and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages around the world. Anita has also written The Puffin Book of World Myths and Legends and has edited Where the Rain is Born: Writings About Kerala.

She speaks to Deccan Herald about Mistress and what went into writing it.

What’s the book about?

Mistress is on two levels. It’s the story of Koman - a famous Kathakali dancer and the choices he makes in life. Parallelly, there’s the story of a marriage in a small town. This is echoed in the dancer’s life. He is the heroine’s uncle. Just as we use myths to explain our anxieties, he uses Kathakali to advise her on things she should or should not do.

The lives of Shyam, Radha and Koman are thrown in a disarray when travel writer Christopher Stewart arrives at a riverside resort in Kerala to meet Koman. From their first meeting, both Radha and her uncle are drawn towards the enigmatic young man with his cello and his incessant questions about the past. Koman sees it happening in front of him as he watches Radha embrace Chris with an immense passion. He tries to advise Radha and she tells him that all her life she’s been dictated and that it was time that she made her own choices. She decides to break free of everything.

How much of you is in the book?

I spread myself in all my characters. The other day, while reading Mistress, my 13-year-old son Maitreya said he could identify the characters with me. I told him not to look for me in the characters since he knows me very closely.

Your reasons for choosing the title ‘Mistress’?

It was difficult to decide on the title of the book because it’s a complex novel and travels in two worlds, of a performing art and the lives of a couple. One day I chanced upon Emerson’s saying, “Art is a jealous mistress” and I thought that the title ‘Mistress’ fit the book perfectly. It covers the two principle elements of the novel.

When did you start working on it?

I started researching on it in 2001 because I wanted a clear definition of what the book should be about. Since it was on Kathakali and I knew very little about the dance form, I had to do a lot of research on it.

How do you sustain the thought process?

Once I have a story line, a certain chemistry takes place, which propels the story ahead. I don’t dwell too much on a single thought. I allow the dynamic energy to push it forward. While I am writing, I always get a feeling that there’s an unconscious energy forcing me to go forward.

How different is ‘Mistress’ from your other novels?

It’s very different though it has the hallmarks of my style. The prose is simple with some elements of humour. There’s a certain sense of identification. I look for a good story line. I do have few mentors with who I discuss my story ideas. They give me the luxury of listening to it patiently. I also have a brilliant editor, who resonates the point of view I have.

Your definition of artistic success?

I have tried to understand what is artistic success and how does one measure it? Is it the adulation or simply the sense of knowing what I have done. It’s very hard to understand and define success. As a writer I have to understand that whatever I have done is the best of my ability. I have sought to rise to a certain level and managed to reach there.

Do you have a sense of belonging to your works?

No. Once they are out in the public domain, they cease to be mine.






   Copyright© 2001-2005 Anita Nair. E-mail Anita