Debutant novelist Anuradha Vijayakrishnan’s Seeing the Girl, long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize (2007), was launched last month. She talks to Anasuya Menon about the process of writing it

…There would be a great white noise in the air and the colour of blood on everything. My life would be laid out between a pallid toss of cotton sheets and gauze and rubber limbed machines that would send out blue and green messages in sudden jerks to my nervous family. In a little while, my unconscious mind would have slipped away like daylight, dragging the rest of me cleanly along and everyone would break out into grudging applause and tears at the same time. Janaki, Janaki....

--Seeing The Girl

Anuradha Vijayakrishnan did not set out to write this book. It was not a grand goal; there were no commercial interests in question. The novel pretty much wrote itself. Janaki, the lead voice in the story, would talk to her in her head, even at times when Anuradha was steeped in work, leading a busy career as a retail banker. “I never had to reach out to Janaki. She was always waiting to talk,” Anuradha writes in the preface. For a year (2006-2007), Anuradha was entangled in Janaki’s tale, writing it out furiously without a pause. “It was as if I was in a trance. There have been times that I could not go to sleep after I had finished writing,” she says.

Soon after it was completed, in 2007, Seeing The Girl was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. The recognition brought in encouragement as well as publishers. But Anuradha did not proactively pursue publishing her work. Instead, she went back to reworking the manuscript which she felt was raw. So, after a bit of fine-tuning, the book was launched last month at the World Book Fair in Delhi.

Born and brought up in Kochi, Anuradha has been living in Dubai for the last four years, working for a banking consultancy firm. But writing has always been a part of her life, all through her chemical engineering days at the Government Engineering College, Thrissur, and later, while pursuing MBA at XRLI, Jamshedpur. “I was always writing something, I mean creatively, perhaps as a reaction to the pressures of engineering,” she says. Also, growing up in a house where “books were more important than bread” shaped her writerly instincts. “I was surrounded by books. My parents are avid readers, too. I have always been reading,” she adds.

The novel is the story of Janaki and the relationship between the women in her family. It is a take on the toxicity of familial love, Anuradha says. The complexity is not really in the craft, but the characterisation. Janaki has no autobiographical element, but she was a compelling presence until she was done with, Anuradha says.

She describes the process of writing as euphoric, intensely pleasurable. “It has always been like that for me. If I don’t get a high out of my writing, I know it is not working,” she says. As a banker, she carefully kept the two worlds separate. While she was writing the novel, she was also juggling a busy job and taking care of her three-year-old daughter. “There was so little time to write. I would sit up late at night to do so. I was practically leading two lives at that time—one as an aggressive banker, and another parallel one as an author. But, I guess, all that stress stoked the creative fires in me.”

Seeing The Girl actually began as a short story. The first chapter was intended to be one. A few friends and writers who read it saw the potential for a novel and Anuradha decided to follow the train of thought.

She calls herself a poet first. “It is what comes naturally to me.” But publishing a poetry collection is near impossible for a new name in the industry, she says. Though she had always written poetry, even on the margins of her engineering texts, it was an interaction with legendary poet Kamala Das that reassured her of her talent in verse. She gave Anuradha a two-page space for her work in a leading women’s magazine, which she was handling at the time. “That gave me huge confidence and encouragement.”

Another book is already brewing in her head and a poetry volume, too.

An engineer, banker, singer, poet and novelist, wife and mother (her daughter, Vishnu Maya is nine-years-old and son Dev Narayanan is three), Anuradha says, people have multiple dimensions to them. “There is a lot in each person. I was just confident/lucky or crazy to do all that together,” she says.