Books: In conversation with the author Anuradha Roy
Sara, a young Indian, leaves the family home for the first time for university in England. It’s a strange new world to attend glass menagerie lectures, befriend an Asian girl who has to deal with her weirdness, and experience autumn snow and snowfall. ‘winter. In a fit of nostalgia for home, she goes to buy ingredients to cook Indian dishes and is accosted by a man who empties a half-drunk beer can on her head, shouting: “F ****** c ***, your curry stinks. She falls, rice strewn on the sidewalk, stunned by this act of racism.
Sara is the narrator of Anuradha Roy’s elegantly crafted novel, The terrestrial spinning top, who weaves the lives of Elango, a potter who dreams of a mythical horse and is driven to shape it – an act that sets off a chain of fateful events – and a young woman from the neighborhood who learns pottery from him, developing a complicated relationship with her teacher as she embraces adulthood.
Moving between India and England, the novel sends a sweet but powerful message about fanaticism against reason and humanity. While neither when nor where this story takes place is clear, we learn that Sara is in school when Bishen Singh Bedi is captain of the Indian cricket team. It is several decades before Virat Kohli. âYet the process of self-discovery and the pain that follows is the same for a young person, whether then or today,â Roy said, speaking to Brunch HT from her home in Ranikhet.
The discrimination and violence she frequently evokes is a theme that underlies the novel’s most significant moments. Another central character, Elango, a potter who teaches young Sara the trade, is also abused in an incident that turns the lives of almost everyone in the novel upside down and leaves Sara deeply touched. âAt home in India, Sara is a somewhat privileged initiate. The move she is making to Great Britain puts her in the face of the difficulty of being discriminated against, âsays Roy. âElango, too, moves between classes. Identities are always fluid. And yet, people use a particular identity to corner others and exert violence. “
Roy says she wrote the terracotta horse wreck made by Elango to convey the destruction of the idea that we are secular. We can aspire to harmony, but this is just a myth. The central idea of The terrestrial spinning top arises from the image of a potter and his dream of a horse that comes to occupy the thoughts of Roy. Her writing, she says, almost always begins with a set of images that are powerful to her for reasons she can’t even comprehend, and over many redacting and rephrasing it becomes a narrative over time. .
âI started to fathom the images that come to me, trying to find out if there is a bigger story there,â she explains. âThe horse has a central and powerful place in Indian mythology. In southern India, where I have spent time, there is a tradition of potters making terracotta horses for village deities and leaving a row outside the temples. I studied the potter and his dream. What if he decides to make this horse? The question led Roy to create Elango, the potter who becomes obsessed with the mythical creature. Eventually, the horse goes from the sacred to the profane because he does so for the woman he loves.
The act of creation
Roy is herself a potter and passionate about this profession since her twenties. Did she know an Elango? âNot in one person,â she said. âDue to my interest in pottery, I met both traditional artisans and workshop potters. All are he and yet he is none of them.
Parts of the novel seem to reflect Roy’s own life. âNone of these things have happened to me,â she says. Offering a glimpse of her inspiration, she adds, âI use fiction to explore themes that have become important to me as a result of my own life. I lost my father when I was very young. But Sara is not me. I created her character as a young woman going through the loss of a parent and tried to explore what happens to grieving in that context.
It is the same with the decorations of his novels. âI draw places where I have been. Then I order them as part of my fiction. Everything that has happened influences my choice of what to write about, âshe says.
Roy’s love for dogs – she has four of them – is evident in her novels. In The terrestrial spinning top, Chinna is a central figure, the only one who does not judge or distinguish people by their identity. âChinna is the classic Indian stray dog ââthat belongs to everyone and no one,â Roy says. âIn our cities, every locality has a Chinna. Some become more loved than others. It is based on a lot of dogs that I have known. They are mistreated and victims of so much violence. And yet, you cannot imagine our streets without them, their awesome and anarchic presence.
In The terrestrial spinning topRoy frequently uses the act of creating a pot or pitcher as a metaphor for life. âIf you compare pottery to writing, you can draw an infinite number of parallels between the two,â she says. âPottery starts out like a bucket of slop. From there, through many steps and a lot of thought and work, it becomes a beautiful vase. Writing is a bit like that.
In search of time
While Roy had written pieces of this novel for several years, she spent more than two years giving it its final shape and form, writing in the midst of the pandemic and lockdown. âIt helped me stay sane during this time,â she says. âI could come back to it every day. “
Whether it’s writing or pottery, the arts and crafts require uninterrupted slices of time. âI really have to fight for this,â she said. âI hear about writers, mostly men, who lock themselves up for a year and make themselves wrapped sandwiches, and then they write something amazing. This has never happened to me. Nor to any other woman, I think. There are a hundred other things that require your attention. You have to be fierce to find time and be prepared to let go of the things that take you away from your writing. “
Roy has been writing ever since she knew how to form words. âIt’s something I did instinctively. Before I could even start school, my mother gave me a hardcover notebook to occupy myself with and I wrote little poems and five-line stories. Her love of writing and books led her to pursue a career in publishing. âI wanted to make books that are also objects. Editing combines all the things I wanted in a job. It had to do with the mind, I could interact with the interesting and inspiring people who were writing, and I could do something aesthetic. At the publishing house that Roy runs with her husband, Rukun Advani, she takes care of all the book designs and works on the covers.
Does she have any advice for aspiring young writers? âRead,â she said. âThe more you read good writing, the better your writing will be. “
The Writer is a senior writer based in Bengaluru who specializes in food, travel and lifestyle writing. She has edited several major mainstream publications in the past.
From Brunch HT, October 3, 2021
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