Monday, October 29, 2012

Discussing the family tree with Sheila Kumar

While she writes anything and everything that interests her, Sheila Kumar’s, Kith and Kin – Chronicles of a Clan, pretty much wrote itself! The author, a non-resident ‘Mallu’, writing as an insider yet never giving herself up just like her novel’s protagonist Ammini Amma, weaving emotions of love, hatred, resentment and treachery in one big web of a family, successfully sketches each of 19 characters! 

Sheila Kumar ex-adwoman, journalist, travel writer, book editor, lives in Bangalore and writes about anything and everything that interests her. She has had her short stories published in three anthologies.

Here’s a getting to know how author Sheila Kumar  went about bringing her book to life.

(Interviewed by Nikita Banerjee Bhagat, iSahitya)

Q. When you first decided to pen your book, why did you choose to write the story of a clan?
Sheila Kumar  : From the beginning I wanted, to borrow from JRR Tolkien, one ring to bind all my stories together. That one ring became a clan which I named the Melekat clan. So while the stories are all standalone, after a bit, the reader starts to recognise the characters that come and go.

Q. Sketching so many fictional characters and bringing them to life, what was your biggest challenge when it came to forming them?

Sheila Kumar: Keeping all the different skeins attached to one hook, one clan. There had to be physical and emotional common threads, threads the reader can easily ascertain, running through the generations.

Q. You narrate this story as an outsider, watching each character closely, yet there is no judgement passed by you. How did you manage to do away with the biases, if you felt any?

Sheila Kumar: These are people rather past their glory days and fighting that fact, at least the older lot. Here, character traits determine each character’s trajectory. I merely relate, I do not pass judgment.

Q. Every author has a favourite character. Of the many in your book, you'd say your favourite is? Why?

Sheila Kumar: I’d say Ammu from the story `Passing Through. ` She’s a funny girl, with the incipient eccentricities of the Melekats already showing. She spends a harrowing night at Rome’s Fiumicino airport but emerges unscathed, in a manner her clanswoman Ammini amma would have approved of.

Q. Kith and Kin take the reader across different states and countries. Yet each character is rooted and somewhere relates to Ammini Amma & Mon Repos. Was it difficult to draw such connections?

Sheila Kumar: Kith And Kin tell slice-of-life stories about a set of people who just happen to be linked to each other. And in most families, there is always one overarching figure in whose shadow the others nestle happily or with resentment.  In this book, it is the matriarch Ammini amma. As for the family house, most of the older Melekats have strong memories of Mon Repos; the younger lot have heard about it.

Q.Well, each one of 19 characters has had something to say except for Ammini Amma. Why is there no story from her perspective?

Sheila Kumar: That is deliberate. Ammini amma’s presence runs through every story like a ticker tape. But I wanted the lady revealed through the perspective of her family. The reader gets to know enough about this formidable woman through her siblings, her offspring, and their offspring. I just didn't feel the need to give her a direct voice.

Q.Colours and the Bench. I loved both these stories and found them to be very different from the rest. While with ‘the bench' one can understand the nostalgia but Colours was a complete surprise. How did it come to be?

Sheila Kumar: My generation of `good Mallu girls` were inevitably put through the `boy/girl-seeing` drama. If they were lucky, it was lucky- first- time. `Colours ` are a humorous collation of many such `seeing` sessions. Do note that Beena is not in the least traumatized by the fact that she is shown to many `boys!`

Q. Ants is another story I loved reading. Why is it called so?

Sheila Kumar: If you recall, the young girl Omana wakes up to see a line of ants on the bedroom wall, industriously plying whatever their trade is. Omana is visiting her elderly aunts who are as industrious and disciplined as the ants in their house. As set in their ways, too. She has news for them but isn’t too sure that  people who wake up and do the same thing every day, will be receptive to the slightest ripple in the smooth fabric they have made of their lives.

Q. What was your biggest challenge when it came to writing this book?

Sheila Kumar: Staying true to the authentic Malayali flavour; I am a non-resident Keralite so it didn’t come too easy.

Q. The book begins with Suvarna and Sumant and ends with them too. Not with an ending one was expecting! Was this deliberate? Or was there an alternate ending?

Sheila Kumar: You know, Kith and Kin pretty much wrote itself!  The characters all seemed to know just where they were headed. So no, there was no alternative ending. Suvarna and Sumant, these were two people who appear forever trapped in the `might-be. ` And then suddenly, there is no more might-be. Sad but that’s life...

Q, At Last , Some quick questions : -) 

Sheila Kumar :  Sure  :-) 

1. Your favourite authors – PG Wodehouse. Shakespeare.
2. Literary Influences – None really
3. Kerala –A sense of roots.
4. Writing –Always and forever a pleasure.

Thanks Sheila!

This interview originally appeared on iSahitya - Binding Slices of Life 

Read Kith and Kin - Chronicles of a Clan review

The book received 2.5 bookworm rating

No comments:

Post a Comment