In a line, how would you define the protagonist Ruby in Over to You, Kadambari?
An elegant lady with brains desiring to reach out to people to give and get fulfilled.
How far would you agree to the assumption that Ruby mirrors the wishes, experiences and characteristics of her creator?
Every character that a writer portrays is a mask behind which the author’s worldview is mirrored, if not necessarily the experiences of the character. So I would not totally disagree with the above assumption, but of course with reservation.
You novel hints your awareness of the world affairs in detail. Your comments on global terrorism…
We have two kinds of global terrorism at the moment. One, which is officially called so and is very much visible and the other, which is the real cause of the first one. It is a painful realization that mankind is nasty and brutish with all kinds of justifications to its conduct. The only way out for us is to denounce every use of weapon and killing on each side. We need Buddha and Gandhi today more than ever before.
There is an undercurrent of powerful humour in your portrayal of Devidutt Mama, and Maya Bose. Was it deliberate on your part? Don’t you think the suppressed mirth of Ruby confuses the reader’s impression of her?
Maya Bose is surely not portrayed with humour, but yes, Ruby has a sense of humour which surfaces at the wrong time occasionally. When the word lafda comes to her mind regarding a mythological character, she is amused. But she knows that the prostitute sitting across her cannot understand her mirth and she has to suppress it. I think this gives a more human face to the social worker Ruby Di. One does get amusing thoughts during serious business, they come unbound unchecked!
As for Devidutt Mama, he is conceived with a view to make fun of wavering idealism in people, of the idealism in writing of previous stalwarts like Premchand as well as the very new writing of Kadambari, who write with an agenda of writing differently on people of a special category.
I was quite by puzzled by Ruby Di’s mixed reactions to Savita. Do you think it was justified to ask a helpless soul to flee for such a petty reason?
Ruby Di’s body and her clothes [they stop drying] react adversely to the presence of anti-Muslim vibrations in the larger political environs and mind you, it is an involuntary reaction. The animosity of Savita towards the Muslim girl Saira in her own house is surely not something that Ruby Di can withstand. The idea was to emphasize her deep commitment to secular values.
Why did you decide upon translating Over to You, Kadambari into Italian and French?
Its not me, but my translators Mariola Offredi and Annie Montaut, who have been teaching Hindi for decades at the Universities of Venice and Paris respectively, who decided to translate the book for the readers in their languages.
What inspires you to write?
The various kinds of inequalities that essentially make up the hierarchical society around us and the essential torment that everyone has to go through - no matter which level you belong to - if you are sensitive enough, is what really motivates me to write.
What impresses you most about a human being?
God or Writing – which would you choose and why?
Writing of course, for God is only an aid to Writing, if He is there at all.
Now that you are an established writer, what is your aim in life now?
To see Hindi writers at the top rung of the ladder and to secure our rightful place.
Your storytelling reminds me of R.K. Narayan for its essential ease. You are a great storyteller. Who inspires you most as a writer and why?
I cannot name any particular writer who has inspired me the most to write. But any good book does for sure.
If Over to You, Kadambari were recreated as a motion picture, whom would you choose for the main roles of Rubydi, Kadambari, and Savita?
That’s difficult to say. But shall share the first thoughts on this. Kiron Kher can be Ruby Gupta, Kadambari has to be very fair-skinned, and Savita…well, it has to be a rather plain-looking girl. Konkona Sen Sharma should do well. But I would prefer an unfamiliar face.
Finally, please share your experiences when you launched your latest book at Oxford Bookstore Kolkata recently.
It was gratifying to see that a Hindi writer got a place at Oxford Bookstore, perhaps for the first time in its history. It was also the first time that a living Hindi writer found a place in Bengali publishing. So there was much impersonal reason to be happy, besides the physical presence of all the filled-up seats and the applause mandatory at such occasions. Maina Bhagat (Events Consultant, Oxford Bookstore) with her graciousness made the flow of events very smooth. It all gives credence to your writing, at least for the time being.