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A life less ordinary

Abha Dawesar's debut novel `The Three of Us' is as much in the news for its explicit nature as its crisp, clear style. This Harvard graduate shares her no-nonsense worldview.

ABHA DAWESAR'S The Three of Us is a rather hatke se debut. The 28-year-old writer from Delhi's Army Public School who went on to do a thesis on Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals from Harvard chose to make her debut with a novel about a white male protagonist.

HE SAID, SHE SAID: Abha Dawesar — Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

In town visiting relatives, Abha is a petite personification of calling a spade a spade. "I am not obsessed with South Asian identity. I just want to write fiction and the whole idea of fiction is creating something, isn't it? I am not writing a memoir."

The Three of Us tells the story of Andre Bernard who comes to New York on his first job in a Japanese investment bank. Before we are through with the first chapter, Andre has been taken out to a strip club by his boss's boss, Nathan, and seduced by him.

The book follows a sexual merry-go-round where Andre sleeps with Nathan, Nathan's wife, the office secretary, a French tourist and his ex-girlfriend. While there is so much sex in the book, the treatment is amazingly matter-of-fact.

"I did not put in the sex to titillate - I was just being authentic to Andre's voice." At book readings in Bangalore and Delhi, "there were quite a few raised eyebrows but in the final count most people were pretty open-minded."

The novel started off as a short story according to Abha. "There are a lot of corporates taking freshers to strip clubs and I thought it would make an interesting story. But even 35 pages on, the story showed no signs of getting over which is how the book was born."

About the difference between writing a short story and novel, Abha comments, "Short stories offer immediate gratification as there is a specific plot and a quick resolution, while with a novel it becomes difficult to sustain atmosphere and quite often the novel develops into something totally different from what you set out to do in the first place."

Abha insists that Andre "is a regular guy in New York. Homosexuality is not such a big deal there. I am not speaking for the whole of America. But in New York the assimilation of gay people is very high. I did not plan to make Andre gay. The character just developed like that."

The description of women is striking in the book mainly because they are not objectified. "That is in character - Andre has discovered he is gay and so his vision is slightly askew. He notices men rather than women."

Working in an investment bank on Wall Street (she quit 13 months ago to concentrate on writing) provided Abha with the backdrop for the novel. Having a lot of gay friends also helped. There were other areas that Abha had to do research on like "Monk fish. I spoke to a lot of people about how it is made."

A vegetarian, Abha finds "long descriptions of meat unappetising" which is one of the reasons the book has so many vegetarians in it. "It was not conscious decision. And vegetarianism is a popular trend now."

The Three of Us was originally published as The Miniplanner in 2000 in San Francisco. "When it was being published in India, Penguin India suggested a change of name as people would not relate to the Miniplanner. I picked out The Three of Us among the titles they suggested."

Abha chose a male voice as "it is fun and partly because I wanted to see if I could get away with it." Abha has set her second novel, Babyji, (it has been bought by Random House), in India and the novel has a female voice. Abha describes the book, which is scheduled for publication next year, as having "a wider canvas."

Fond of classical music ("I cannot play music in my head like Andre"), Abha is not a fan of Hollywood or Bollywood. "Unless I am brain dead or on a plane, I would not like to spend two or three hours of my time watching these utterly predictable movies. I know they are entertainment but I would like some sort of artistic satisfaction." Abha is a fan of contemporary French cinema.

Abha chose to go West to study the arts in an atmosphere "where the arts are appreciated. I did not want to study literature as I did not want to be told how to appreciate a work of art." Abha chose to study philosophy as "life is about choices and philosophy educates us about the choices we can make."

An only child, Abha says her parents have been very supportive. Her New York state of mind is mainly echoed in her choice of clothes - "I do not like to dress up. I prefer trousers and kurtas or tops - that is the American side of me," she says with a smile.

"I am saving up all my personal memories for my 4,000-page autobiography that I will write when I am 80 years old," she says with a laugh. And then will we get all the salacious details of a life less ordinary? "Salacious or boring? There might be a reason I chose to write fiction you know!"

There does not seem any danger of that as boring is hardly a word you would associate with Abha Dawesar.


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