Anupama, who is a literary journalist, translator and communications professional based in Kerala, speaks to TNM about the inspiration for 'C', which is her first novel, her writing process and more.

Anupama Rajus C A Novel explores the life of a writer and her association with citiesAnupama Raju/ Instagram
Features Books Tuesday, August 09, 2022 - 15:45

Prose and poetry blend seamlessly in Anupama Raju’s latest novel as its protagonist traverses between the sunless city and the bright city she calls her home. Published by Aleph Book Company, the book was released by Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor in Thiruvananthapuram on July 23. From spending every waking moment reliving memories of a distant lover to her fascination for an ethereal woman from another time, the protagonist is a nameless writer on a sabbatical who moves between two cities. The book opens a window to her life and her journey in the winding streets of the cities she is in thrall of.

While C’s protagonist allows a peek into her life as she attempts to find the storyteller in herself, she also takes readers through a roller coaster ride filled with memories of love, loss and pain from her past.

Anupama, who is a novelist, literary journalist, translator and communications professional based in Kerala and the author of Nine, a collection of poems, speaks to TNM about the inspiration for C, which is her first novel, her writing process and more.

Could you take us through the journey of writing the novel – from ideation to the book launch.

C is a book that evolved considerably over a period of time. The plot, characters, and narrative techniques involving poetry and prose took their time. I did not rush the process. From start to finish, it took me about four years to complete the book.

Why did you choose not to reveal the name of the protagonist, the city the protagonist goes to, or the city she is from? Even the title of the book does not reveal much about the theme…

Cities don’t derive their identity from names alone. The people who live there, their stories and histories, and the landscapes make up cities. By leaving both the cities in the novel unnamed – the sunless C and the sunny C, I wanted to emphasise this quality. In the same manner, I feel that the name of the protagonist is insignificant. She is simply the storyteller and I think having a name would have limited her characterisation to a great extent. The title C is an attempt to capture the character of a city without confining it to a name – real or imagined.

C also turns narrator in the book. Using an external narrator to break the fourth wall is a technique that is often used in fiction. Why did you choose this for the novel?

The book moves forward in two voices: one, the protagonist’s and the other that of the city without the sun, C, where her every waking moment is suffused with memories of a distant lover and where she meets someone from another time. Whenever C takes over the narrative, it is almost as if the readers are observing the central character, actions and plot developments. I wanted C to become one with the reader, one with the audience watching the scene unfold. C is the empathetic, compassionate and omniscient voice; she is one of the narrators reminding us that cities are not to be taken for granted.

Readers get a peek into the highs and lows the protagonist experiences while battling depression. Did you have to research about writers living with depression or mental health conditions?

Discussions and preoccupations about mental health have always been pertinent. It’s just that the pandemic has perhaps forced us to take a closer look at the vulnerabilities of the human mind. I have always endorsed the calming effect of literature and literary artefacts on mental afflictions. Some of the writers I admire – from Sylvia Plath to Virginia Woolf to TS Eliot – have all been known to suffer from certain mental health conditions. Not only have they written about these issues, but their writings have also gone on to influence and comfort generations of writers, including me. At the same time, I’d like to point out that depression and other mental conditions are not exclusive to writers. These are real and ordinary conditions experienced by many around the world. So, in the case of C, I have attempted to portray the ordinariness of the highs and lows of the protagonist, and also how she overcomes them through her words.

We don’t get to read what the protagonist writes about C. Can we expect a sequel?

I didn’t want to write an overtly conclusive ending. I’d like the readers to arrive at their own conclusions. At this point in time, I have no plans to write a sequel. But yes, it does sound like an interesting proposition.

Cities are equally if not more important than the protagonist in the world the novel is set in. How have different cities shaped the writer in you?

Travel is almost central to my being as a writer. Cities, as we see in books like Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, have a way of absorbing you into their fabric, leaving you with memories, desires, yearnings; whetting your appetite for new experiences and meeting new people. Every new place I visit comes back to me one way or the other through words. C encourages readers to travel and visit cities too. As the epilogue in C, ‘For the reader, for the traveller’ a poem, says:

"…It is the same dirt, same dust
on every land.
Same wonder and doubt
on every face wherever you go.
Though skin might change
with the changing season,
polish your own till it shines.
Let them see your country in you.
And though you leave one day
you bring some of their
dirt, dust, and skin back.
You return,
half here, half there
you live till you leave again,
half here, half there.”

What are your upcoming projects?

My next book is most likely a second collection of poems. I’ve also started work on a new novel. I also have a few projects translating short fiction and poetry from Malayalam into English.

You can buy the book here

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