Sreelatha Chakravarty’s maiden work, ‘An Eternal Romantic’, in prose and poetry, is about tackling schizophrenia
It took boredom, and Africa, to elicit words from Sreelatha Chakravarty’s pen. In the summer of 2006, she began writing a blog after her family moved to Ghana for she had little else to do. The vulnerability of personal blogging got the better of her though. So she opened another space under a pseudonym, this time writing only poetry. A year into writing at least a poem a day, Sreelatha realised her words had unconsciously carved the narrative of a young girl in love. She worked some of the poems into prose, left others as they were, wove some more fictitious incidents into the protagonist Indira’s life, and thus wrote her first book - An Eternal Romantic.
Published by Leadstart Publishing, the book traces Indira’s life from adolescence through middle-age, into love and out of it, and the consequences thereof.
The binding theme is that of schizophrenia and Indira’s battle for control of her mind - not surprising given that Sreelatha is a general medicine practitioner herself. Exploring disease through words was a means for her writer and doctor identities to coalesce. “I’ve always been interested in the connection between mind and body. How physical is your disease, or how psychological is it? Indira’s schizophrenia needed a trigger and in her case, failed love was it,” says Sreelatha. She adds that it was vital for her to create a schizophrenic character who could still be considered as a whole person, normal and capable of overcoming her troubles.
An Eternal Romantic follows an unusual structure in that parts of it are poetry and others, poetic prose. “Since I began writing from the body of poems I had created, I sorted them out into chapters and drew from them as I wrote. So even the paragraphs of prose in the book were once individual poems,” says Sreelatha. Her writing pays tribute to Rabindranath Tagore and most frequently to Meerabai whose worship of Krishna reflects in Indira’s diary entries addressed to the god. Sreelatha says her influences haven’t always been high literary ones though. “I love Erich Segal's Love Story as much as I do Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things,” she says.
Literary influences aside, Sreelatha says her upbringing in Orissa by Malayali parents, with frequent summer visits to Kerala, her medical school days in Sambalpur and her married life in Kolkata have crafted her stories. The book is hence set in some of these places and includes London as well. Once the manuscript was done and accepted by her publisher, it dawned on Sreelatha that Indira had not left her.
“There was an entire sequel forming in my mind, and I knew there was a lot more to Indira than I had written of. I had, in a sense, left my readers hanging at the close of the book,” she says. The sequel is currently 15,000 words into the writing.
In the meantime, Sreelatha has finished her manuscript for a second book, which unnamed as yet, revolves around the life of a woman struggling with Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), and eventually infertility. “PCOD is extremely common these days and it has strong implications for patients because doctors and relatives want them married early to avoid infertility. They’re forced into decisions for biological reasons. The book explores the lead character’s relationship with the disease,” says Sreelatha. A subconscious idea running through the book is that of restoring femininity. “I think femininity is strong in itself. It doesn’t need to adopt any characteristics of maleness to be validated. And too many people these days want women to be like men,” says Sreelatha.
Alongside her fiction endeavours, Sreelatha is working toward a collection of 200 of her poems. Two of her pieces - Diseased, and Life as a Work of Art - have recently been included with 151 Indian poets in The Dance of the Peacock: An Anthology of English Poetry from India, edited by Dr. Vivekanad Jha and published by Hidden Brook Press. She will also soon feature in another anthology of five English poets from Kerala writing corporeal poetry. The author will read from her book An Eternal Romantic at Just Books Kochi on Sunday, August 25 at 6 p.m.