Have you ever wondered what goes on in the head of a 44-year-old man who's having an affair? “At an age when he's expected to have all the answers, he goes and falls in love and struggles with it. There is an ironical side to illicit love, an absurd element,” says Nirupama Subramanian, author of Intermission, a sensitively told tale that deals with illicit love.

Two years after the launch of her bestselling debut novel Keep the Change, Nirupama is back with Intermission, a book set in the face of changing India. The Gurgaon-based author, on a visit to Chennai, her home-town, talks about the new India “booming, with all the opportunities” that the middle-class, middle-aged people, often hearing the call of their families, are returning to from abroad. “There is a lot of affluence in India now; and this affluence seeps into relationships, changing the way it's conducted. Take gated communities (Intermission unfolds in a swanky one in Gurgaon, similar to the one where the author lives); the cosmopolitan lifestyle, proximity, seeing people day in and out, all this results in some kind of attraction,” explains Nirupama, adding laughingly that there's even some action, in the book, in and out of elevators.

And yet, Nirupama insists, she did not set out to write a novel about affairs. “I wanted to explore several issues — a middle-aged couple — Varun and Gayatri Sarin moving back to India after several years in the U.S.; their adolescent son Anirudh and the issues he grapples with; and the fast-changing relationship between domestic help and their employers. But somehow, the story of Varun and Gayatri took over, especially his mid-life crisis and how he ends up falling in love with Sweety, a neighbour.”

Nirupama's strength has been the very normal, very real characters she fleshes out, striking a chord with her readers (in her first book, she traces the journey of a conservative girl from Chennai, Damayanthi, moving to Mumbai, one that anybody from the South can relate to). “While writing Intermission, I put myself in my protagonist's shoes,” says Nirupama, “as he tries to discover who he is, when he's thrown into this situation; because an affair in middle age is really a moral dilemma. It is a true test of character, and also shocking, horrible, when other people are involved.”

And while she drew inspiration for the very plausible plots from the world around her, she insists the characters and their experiences are purely fictional. “Both my books are not my story at all, the characters are all there only in my head,” she says. “Nobody shared any confidences with me. In fact, it's only after people knew I had written about illicit love in the second novel that I came to hear more about it. But then, I'm not here to be judgemental; I'm only giving a perspective; illicit love is, after all, not new (she laughingly asks ‘how did they manage it earlier without mobile phones?'). And while it's not the best thing, it happens; the people who are involved are not bad people, they're normal people, who're struggling with the choices. Finally, it is the choice that you make that defines the person that you are.”

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Aparna KarthikeyanJune 28, 2012