New Delhi: In her recently published book, ‘A Break in the Circle’ (HarperCollins), Sharmila Kantha explores the relationship of an individual with society in an India that is rapidly changing, yet unable to let go of its roots. Kantha’s previous publications include ‘Just the Facts’, ‘Madamji’, ‘Building India with Partnership: The Story of CII 1895-2005’, and two picture books for children.
In an exclusive interview with Shivangi Singh of Spicezee.com, Sharmila Kantha talks about her latest novel, the role of a writer and more.
Q: Is there a message you have tried to convey with ‘A Break in the Circle’ or is it just an account of socio-political changes in the society?
A: The message that I have tried to convey in my book is that in a society such as India`s, the relationship of an individual and the community often leave no space for expression of identity, especially for women. Women can be overwhelmed by rules and traditions as well as by commitments to families and communities, so they are unable to build their own identity. We have seen in books about Indian emigrants of how they have to deal with adaptation to different cultures and create a new morphed identity. I feel that even in familiar environments, it is not easy for individuals to “find” themselves, and this is what I wanted to portray in this book.
Q: Please explain the title of the book. What do the ‘break’ and ‘circle’ signify?
A: The ‘circle’ is the unending cycle of regular duties and responsibilities that we have to undertake to be a part of society. To be able to deal with them in a manner that also gives us space to be creative means that we have to undergo a mindset change. More important is the realisation that such a change is required in the first place. The word `break` points to a mindset change in the protagonist Anu, who does not even know that she should have her own interests along with her commitments to society. The contact with an outside voice leads her to re-examine her identity.
Q: Is the voice of the protagonist in the book essentially your voice or is it that sometimes you don’t agree with her?
A: I mostly do not agree with her! I am fortunate to be able to view her life from the outside without having to be a part of it. Being a diplomat`s wife, I have had to live overseas without family and friends for long periods.
Q: What is your opinion of the procedure (showing the bride to prospective grooms as happened in the case of Kallu Chacha’s daughter in the novel) that precedes arranged marriages in India?
A: This appears to be a fairly regular practice in India even now. I went through it myself, and I still look back with amusement at the experience!
Q: According to you, where exactly does the Indian society stand today – is it still rooted in the past or has it moved on?
A: I feel that we are witnessing a tremendous change in the Indian society. The current pace of economic growth and the emerging opportunities across different sectors have affected societal interaction in a major way. This is visible from metros to Tier 1 and 2 towns to rural areas. Unfortunately, there are still many ways that we continue to be mired in customs of the past and the debate, on which practices should be continued and which should not, will occupy us for some time to come.
Q: What should be the ideal role of an author and how far have you succeeded in playing it?
A: An author should be able to think ahead of the curve and portray emerging issues. I find often that people lack awareness about changes taking place around them, so are unable to play a part in influencing such changes. I try to mirror aspects of society in my books, without being judgmental. Of course, books must also be entertaining in a way that readers are drawn to them.
Q: What are your favourite books?
A: My favorite books are crime fiction ones. I am happy to see that this is becoming a distinct genre in Indian publishing now. My last book used the ability of the detective to move across different layers of society to point to existing illusions.
Q: What are you reading now? Apart from writing, what else interests you?
A: These days, I am reading Sri Lankan writers. Michael Ondaatje has always been a favorite, and now I am reading Yasmin Gooneratne`s `The Sweet and Simple Kind` and Roma Tearne`s `Mosquito`. Apart from writing, I follow with great interest the economic transition of India, the economic dichotomies within the country, and the whole process of policymaking for development.
Q: What kind of literary work is more endearing with the readers across time & space according to you? Those based on imagination or realism.
A: I think the works based on realism are more appealing over the long term, especially those that reflect the enduring concerns of society. Jane Austen`s social dramas still resonate with readers as does Prem Chand’s work. On the other hand, works such as Chandrakanta and Shakespeare`s fantasies have also withstood the test of time. Personally, being strongly rooted in facts, I find myself rather impatient with magic, dragons, and alien worlds!