Poetry begins before the first chapter. In the content page listed step by step, word by word. They all end in seven, the steps and the words under it. "If this be love, it will breathe in a poem" is a line hanging mid-page all by itself before Step 1 - 'Counting Breath', the first section of the book begins.
Gayathri Prabhu, a Manipal-based writer known for her lyrical works, has written this beautiful novella, Love in Seven Easy Steps, in prose-poetry.
Her chapters — steps — are short, a few lines long, disappearing when you yearn for more. But perhaps their brevity adds to the beauty. Like a sweet you can't have. She talks about the writing of the book.
My advice on love, declared his father, is to flee in the opposite direction, love has never done any of us much good. Narcissus father, bent over a swaddled half-sibling is half-joking. The expected pantomime for their weekend dinner ritual. Your advice is as dramatic as you, he easefully extended the pater’s jocund tone, nor did I mention love, I just asked (as a man who avoids marriage might query one who has married twice) if there was some way to know why there are times when the feet will not flee, when the heart does not weary, but something calls the spirit forth, to the rim of the centre, to the precipice.
Tell us about Love in Seven Easy Steps
Love in Seven Easy Steps begins as love stories must, with the meeting of two hearts. The couple are in their early forties, separated by geographical distance, and they soon find out what all lovers do — to fall in love is often easier than claiming it, or nurturing love to strength. They mean well and they are probably great for each other, but love falters, and unable to take the leap of faith, the couple must part. A decade goes by since their first meeting, and the tide of time brings them back together again. They are the same and yet not the same, and love must take its easy and not-so-easy steps all over again. Such is the story composed in seven chapters, each chapter with seven compositions.
Her mother’s friend, like her mother, is a gynaecologist, both habituated to reading reports with heads angled to bifocal lens. Forty is a bit too young for this, but we may be looking at early perimenopause, nothing to worry about, few supplements to take and bear it out, the good news is that there is an end, and your prime is just ahead of the bend. Her face is passive as they part but her brain is repeating over and over — what ends? She had been pregnant once, just past nineteen, was aware of it for eight days when the possibility of life had turned into burst of blood. Flow. (The eight-day thought, blunt, of being an unwed mother had dissolved to ponderous relief). What ends? She incubated independence, lived in porous relationships, evinced little emotion towards children (why should she?) — nothing began, nothing ended. It is getting to that hour of the evening when he tends to call, she sends a message to say she is held up at the lab, unable to talk. The air conditioner turned low, frost on glass, she sits alone on a stool with her papers, fiddles them around. Something is over, is it youth? She grips the language of tissue, hormones, blood, biological machinery and an easy knife to cut through the cultural drivel about ageing women. Still, a herald has presented itself without notice, from what has been to what awaits. She is startled by a smudge of dampness between two typed lines she is reading, and then the lines blur. The salt from eyes wavers at the corner of mouth. What ends?
The form. Prose poetry. How did you land on it?
In me grew a story, an emotion so intense, almost unbearable, that the words began to turn sparse and metaphoric each time I tried to write it. The story also came in images, in staccato moments that played out in my mind. I typed down these images in a notepad on my mobile phone and sometimes it became a composition. It was narrative and it was poetry, but it did not have any line breaks. Something about the rectangular space of my phone and how it contained the poems was aesthetically satisfying to me, and deeply so. That is when I knew that Love in Seven Easy Steps would be a novella in prose poetry. I felt it would help me re-examine the standard expectations that people have of love stories, to make something delightful and revealing of it.
Reclining, he recollects, the smile in her eyes at first light, flawless calm propped on pillows, fingers ripe, she continues to linger. Star. Of long mornings, short evenings, witness to this plenitude of twining. Daily ringing of phones beside two indolent seas, they hoard what the other says, they relive what hands traced, they circle words with baited hooks to catch air. Embers still, cupping flame, flickering in courtship, her heart works in stealth, his ablaze. Beloved, will I see you again?
Any reasons for setting it in Goa?
I lived in Panjim, Goa, during my early school years. Those experiences and memories remained so vivid and immediate for me that I have returned to Goa at regular intervals all through my life. At present I live in coastal Karnataka and enjoy a continuity with that landscape. Whenever I am in Goa, I feel immediately at home. I don’t know if it is because my ancestors claim their roots in Goa, or whether it is my own personal recollections, or whether it is a bond that I have deliberately nurtured to an environment. But I do know I feel a belonging there. One of the characters of Love in Seven Easy Steps lives in Goa and the other lives in Chennai, another space, another sea. But the novella is not geographically defined – I meant this as a story for anyone who has loved any sea.
Is there a favourite part that you'd like to quote, something you really enjoyed creating.
I took my time with each composition, till I understood my intent and the realisation of that intent within the contours of the love story. If the first chapter was seven numbers, the second was seven days of the week, the third was seven colours of the rainbow, and so on. The fourth chapter is called “In Orbit” and has seven celestial bodies that astrology (in India) is focussed on (apart from the lunar nodes) and I enjoyed playing with the plot while teasing out that subtext, and sometimes just shifting into astronomical details (as with Saturn) to surprise the reader. The excerpt that accompanies this interview is from this chapter.
When his question arrives, a fingernail of light at charcoal circle, she is walking a mountain circuit, growing heavier with step, thought, step, thought, no network signals for unsent response. She moves into twilight that buoys snow-tipped peaks, heartbeat waxing crescent, then night, then the burst of stars as she slowly turns into his question.
Are there smaller stories / anecdotes behind the story we read, anything you think might be interesting to share.
Not really. I would love for the (unnamed) protagonists of this book to encounter readers with a love story that is entirely their own.
How easy / difficult is it to write a novella?
Every genre makes its demands. A novella has the shape of a novel but not its girth, and one works with that awareness, to craft a storyline to its optimum shape and tone. Since I have written novels in the past, the structure of the novella was not difficult at all. The challenge I gave myself was the decision to write the novella in prose poetry. The economy of the novella (in comparison the novel) and the economy of poetry (in comparison to most other genres) meant every word and punctuation had to be chosen with care and it had to earn its place in the book. It was both highly demanding and extremely pleasurable.