Author Manju Kapur talks of the challenges of writing a novel
Manju Kapur is making difficult decisions. The author of “Difficult Daughters” bloomed into writing in her 40s, but teaching had been a passion for long by then. Now, torn between her creative urges and her commitment to teach, Kapur has decided to call it quits as professor.
After almost 27 years on the faculty of Miranda House, Kapur will now cocoon herself in an imaginary dwelling — creating and negotiating with fictional people.
“I have applied for VRS (Voluntary Retirement Scheme),” says Kapur softly. The author of “The Immigrant,” “Home,” and “A Married Woman” says it was a “very hard” choice to make.
“I really want to teach and write at the same time,” says Kapur. For someone who pursues both with ardour, the pressures of writing and teaching were overwhelming. Writing, she knows is a solitary pathway.
“Writing is an isolated life. The job was my window to the world,” says the author. Words and more words will now re-build Kapur’s new life brick by brick. Her novel “The Immigrant” hit the stands late last year, but Kapur is already well-drenched in fresh stories. She is into the third draft of a novel based on child custody and is working on three other storylines.
“I write each book about 10 times,” pitches in Kapur hinting at the long way ahead. “I write books together. I don’t wait after I get an idea,” she says.
Art of perfection
To constantly engage with a work in progress, edit and discard, till it acquires perfection seems to be a lesson Kapur learnt with her first novel “Difficult Daughters.” “I started writing it when I was 41 and it was published when I was 49.”
Eight years and eight rejections speckled the time in between. However, Kapur never lost heart when rejections became the norm.
“I went on trying. To get a work published is some kind of a vindication. If the first work doesn’t get published, there is nothing to motivate you for the second. Writers need to be read,” says a spirited Kapur. In the days of being denied, Kapur says the feedback from a publisher on why her novel was rejected, helped her.
“I was told it was too languorous and meandering. I went back and cut 30,000 words,” says Kapur. Before long, the international publisher Faber & Faber picked it up, and “Difficult Daughters” went on to win the Commonwealth Prize for First Novels.
Though there are four novels in her armour, Kapur still has to fight the demons writing brings on. “I now know I have an audience. That has removed one anxiety. But every other anxiety is there. You want to be some kind of writer in your head that you aren’t,” Kapur is candid.
She didn’t smoothly sail into writing. “I never wanted to be a writer. I thought I could never create a world of books, it seemed distant.”
A quaint realisation led to creative writing. “I started to write because I turned 40,” she says casually. “I just felt the desire to achieve something, a sense of mortality makes you want to leave something behind.”
Kapur puts herself in a different league with her disarming honesty and unpretentiousness.
At her time, she says, girls “grew up and taught.” “Job was something that could accommodate family life. I was a mother and a teacher. Then I needed a mind space to look at my life with just me, apart from my husband and family,” says Kapur.
Surprisingly, writing was not her first choice. “I thought of business and painting. It had to be something that I could pick up and drop. Writing fit the bill; I became a writer,” Kapur puts in simply.
Tales tumbled out of her, about families and lives of women at home, wrapped in different times and waging varied battles. “I didn’t know what I had inside me. I didn’t know what I wanted to say,” she reveals.
Kapur writes about lives she is “familiar with in some way, even in terms of feelings and emotions.” Reviewers have commented on her slant to record ordinary, middle class lives.
“I don’t look at it as ordinary or not ordinary,” she says. It is “the dynamics between men and women” that lures her. “I don’t listen to what people say, I write what pushes my pen.”P. ANIMA