CHAT Lavanya Sankaran says her book Hope Factory strives to capture the mood of urban India

Lavanya Sankaran has flair with characters. She brings them to life in the creases that mar their forehead or by the flowers in their hair. A nervous tic, an unexplained initial in his name, a sudden death — she throws them in between the devil and the deep sea, allows them to flounder with all the flaws of a human being until their feet touch land. And they dig their finger into the sand, praying it will hold but the water washes in, and off they go again to be tossed around till they find a rock to hold on to.

The Bangalore-based novelist began her writing career in the U.S. where she was an investment banker. With the release of The Red Carpet , her future was sealed. “I share a romantic relationship with words,” says the author in an interview before she went overseas for the promotion of her recent book The Hope Factory . “In The Red Carpet , I wrote short stories; it was not something I wanted to recreate. I was done with that journey. The Hope Factory is a variation of other experiences.”

And when she writes, it could be the story of an interesting character in an interesting situation or moment. “The story will emerge if you throw yourself into that situation and explore it well.” The situation is resolved, there is another, and another, and we find a journey. The Hope Factory took her six years to complete. A story of socio-political and economic class, it captures the mood of India in an urban setting. For the writer to enjoy that journey, they will need to be in love with their character. “You have to have a character that will possesses a degree of complexity,” she asserts. “If the idea is not interesting to you, it is dead. That’s the madness, for six years you engage with a world that nobody can see, you interact with these characters, and it is a constant presence that is chewing on your brain,” she explains.

The book is set in Bangalore. “Life is not easy in these cities, and for every opportunity there are 10 obstacles whether it is the government or family or poverty... India’s Hope Factory questions what is going to win eventually for each individual.”

Lavanya is ritualistic about her writing, “It is not about time or the number of words… When I wake up there are certain rituals before I sit down to write. I do some reading, nothing in particular. It could be anything; just to get the words flowing, and then by mid-day I go to a coffee shop, sit around people with my music and I write.”

No formulas

But she is careful to differentiate her writing from the formulaic. “Nothing worthwhile can be formulaic. There is a huge element of craft and you need to master it. It takes big creative leaps, supported by your craft before you can call yourself artist.” And between novels and short stories she is not going to make a choice. “I’m going to keep doing both, writing is what I live, eat and breathe; I don’t have a choice.”