Manju Kapur - Interview
Writer Manju Kapur, fresh from editing an impressive book on women writers of the subcontinent, talks about learning to dish out a well-edited novel the hard way
“My first novel got rejected by publishers eight times.”
Hearing it from noted writer Manju Kapur would fill the heart of any budding writer collecting rejection slips with hope. If it can happen to the novel “Difficult Daughters” — it gave Kapur the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for being the best first book in Europe and South Asia in 1999 — there can be so much never-give-up space in a writer’s life trying to find a footing in an ever-expanding world of Indian English literary fiction.
Kapur rewrote the novel. Over lunch at 24/7, the sizeable coffee shop of The Lalit in New Delhi, she recalls lessening the novel “from 145000 words to 95000.”
“There is no clear example of what would make a good novel. Publishers would tell me, you write very well but your style is meandering. Those multiple rejections taught me the importance of editing,” says the former Delhi University teacher of English whose novel, “The Immigrant”, was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature three years ago.
Kapur has not been to 24/7 before. She is impressed by its extensive buffet options, and learns from its helpful chef de cuisine Pradeep Sharma that “the restaurant has perhaps the largest selection in a buffet in the city.” He offers to make her a “very good pizza.” She likes pizzas, “but with thin-crust, no cheese.” The Chef promises to deliver. Meanwhile, it is time to dunk the spoon into a bowl of creamy mushroom soup and let the conversation flow.
The writer is into her sixth novel now; the story orbits around a man who killed his brother. She has also recently edited a one-of-a-kind book that has documented the journey of 24 women writers — including herself — from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The book “Shaping The World” (Hay House) is as impressive for its stories-behind-the-stories vein as for breaking the standard notions one often has about women writers being torn between writing and housework and motherly duties. The narratives in the anthology are as personal and candid as they are important markers of what goes around in the realm of writing. Kapur accepts the compliment with a laugh, saying, “I always associate myself with good books.”
While writers such as Shashi Deshpande do mention housewifely and motherly responsibilities in the passing, many others — particularly the younger lot —confine their thoughts to navigating the two worlds of “hubbub” and “darkness of ropes and pulleys”, going from “one land to another without much flesh torn in transit.” Interestingly, a chapter, “Scribbling Block”, is Amruta Patil’s journey through the process of writing in graphic form. There she talks about the importance of a writer to “have a room of one’s own” among other things. States Kapur, “I was asked by the publisher to think up names of contributors to the book. I am grateful to each one for showing the willingness to come out and write about themselves, their own compelling reasons for writing.”
Chef Sharma soon arrives at the table with the pizza. Kapur is impressed with it after a bite. “The smell, the crust, it is guaranteed light,” it is her turn to compliment now.
In the anthology, Kapur’s chapter on herself talks of going through the process of writing her next novel. She has documented six years of working on the story. Over bites of the pizza, Kapur points out, “The novels I had written so far had been located in urban milieus, most particularly Delhi. For the first time, I have moved out of my comfort zone and have attempted to write a story based outside Delhi, in Rajasthan.”
The conversation swings easily between food and writing. Chef Sharma returns, prods her to try out food from the wide array.
She fills her plate with stir-fried potatoes and broccoli, plain rice, some pan-seared fish and a dollop of corn and spinach made in Continental style.
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