Monday, April 19, 2010
Meeting author Shreekumar Varma
I recently had the pleasure of interacting with Shreekumar Varma. My account appears in BTW magazine. Given below is the full, unedited version.
Shreekumar Varma’s novels include Lament of Mohini and Devil’s Garden, and he is the author of the plays Platform, Midnight Hotel and the award-winning Dark Lord and Bow of Rama. His latest novel, Maria’s Room (Harper Collins), was long listed for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize. That's not all. He has written charming books for younger readers, too.
1. How would you want to be known? How did being descended from the great Raja Ravi Varma affect your personal growth as a literary artist?
I'd want to be known as a good writer, a story-teller. Descending from greatness puts you on a platform. If you don't perform, you're left with the shadow of achievement, not achievement itself. But there's an aura of art in the family that I believe has reached me as well. Many of my relatives paint. I write.
2. When and how did you start writing?
I started writing very early. My first short story was published while I was in high school. But my first book for children, Pazhassi Raja: The Royal Rebel, was published in 1997. My book was about Pazhassi Raja, who was probably the very first freedom fighter. Even at that time, Lament of Mohini (Penguin) was in the process of being written.
3. How did you deal with adverse criticism and struggle in your initial years as a writer?
Actually, the first review was the worst. After that, it was smooth sailing, and I've had people saying good things about Lament of Mohini through the years. Baseless criticism tends to floor you. Till you realize that the calibre of the critic comes through in his review, and shows up the worth of the opinions expressed. You either accept or discard them.
4. Where do you find inspiration?
I tend to subconsciously store details, of people, places, lives, colour, smell. When a good idea for a story shows up, I use some of these details. Sometimes a good idea may hibernate for years. There also many in-house stories in my family! I'm lucky in that I use many forms. So it could become a short story, play, maybe melt into poetry, or form the basis of a novel.
5. Your best and worst experiences as a writer?
The act of writing is, of course, the best experience. It's the moment of creation. Next comes the moment when you're sitting in an auditorium, watching your play being staged. If it's done well, you're in heaven, and the audience response takes you higher. The worst experiences have to do with shoddy critics and secondary level colleagues such as editor, director or cast, who may treat your work without respect or understanding. Fortunately, that hasn't happened to me as yet.
6. How did the ideas for Maria’s Room come to you?
During the launch of Mohini, we stopped for a few days in Goa. There was a storm. There were two silent couples in our car. There was a different Goa out there. And the idea was born, upstaging another book I was trying to write at that time. I usually find that some of the things I write actually happen!