Event: The panel discussion on City Lights: On Urban Writing, at the Bangalore Literature Festival, proved to be a thought-provoking treat for the audience

Usha K.R., Nirmala Lakshman, Anita Nair and Kishwar Desai, spoke to Lavanya Sankaran about writing on urban spaces in the panel discussion on City Lights: On Urban Writing, at the Bangalore Literature Festival. The writers narrated how writing entailed months or in some cases years of research, walking into spaces the average city-dweller shied from.

Nirmala Lakshman, the writer of Degree Coffee by the Yard, spoke about a fisherman whom she quotes in her book, “He pointed to the bus stand at the end of the street and said ‘that’s where my city ends’.”

She marvelled at the thought of someone who had lived in Chennai all his life and for whom the city was his stretch of Marina Beach.

The notion that a city can be so many different things to so many people ran through their narratives.

Perfect pin-up

Usha, whose Monkey-Man is set in Ammanugudi Street in Bangalore, called Bangalore the “pin-up city” for the changes metropolitan Indian was undergoing.

In Cut Like Wound, Anita Nair explores the life of the transgender community in Bangalore. She said she picked Shivajinagar in Bangalore as the setting to dispel some myths. She spoke about visiting the Ramzan market at Shivajinagar, which operates from 10.30 p.m. to the wee hours of the night. “It was like stepping into another world, another time-zone,” she said. It was also one of the safest places she had been to in her 22 years in Bangalore.

Kishwar Desai, the author of Sea of Innocence, bases her crime fiction in places not usually considered dangerous, like Jalandhar and Goa. Her books explore themes unusual to crime writing: her first book was on female foeticide. She said her works are meant to jolt her readers into seeing their surroundings in a different light. “I want to make you, the reader, uncomfortable. I want to bring discomfort to an area you know very well.”

The discussion moved on to the things that made them tick. Anita said she could write anywhere, she didn’t need to be in a particular space to write about it. Kishwar claimed she wrote non-stop; sometimes writing for weeks at a stretch without remembering the world around her. The writers found simple ways to relax: watch a movie, take a walk.

As Sankaran said in the end, soap operas and walks were much better options than the drunken haze writers from a different age fell back on!

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