Irony in hindsight

HISTORY, MYSTERY, ROMANCE… Radhika says she wanted to write a novel that highlights multiple, subjective views on a war. Photos: Bhagya Prakash K  

While most writers would approach a publisher with an idea, an outline or a couple of chapters, Radhika Nathan did that exact opposite and sent the publisher a completed manuscript! “I wrote to Westland and they said they liked it enough to publish it,” says Radhika. And thus The Mute Anklet (Westland, Rs. 295) was born.

Set during the third Anglo-Mysore War in the 1790s, The Mute Anklet tells the story of Uma Brooke, an English girl brought up by the Maharaja of Mysore. There is a mystery of Uma’s birth and romance in the dashing form of Captain Ashton Trevelyan. There is a grim battle on as the British slouch towards Bangalore after victory at Malabar to spice things up further.

“I had not started with the intent of publishing,” says Radhika. “It was not daunting when I started out writing just for friends. I have been blogging for 10 years. A novel is a completely different beast; it requires persistence.”

The hardest part according to Radhika was “Polishing the manuscript. I wanted to give a finished product.”

The Bangalore-based writer says she “liked writing the novel. Fun is essential and research was part of the fun. For the clothes, it was easy. Most of the clothes that I describe are traditional. There are several English texts about the textiles of the time. I would have loved to find pictures but there aren’t that many. Whereas for the London bit, I had so many fashion plates and detailed costume/clothing that I could refer. There are so many images on the net.

‘For the battle Radhika referred to the book, “A narrative of the campaign in India which terminated the war with Tippoo Sultan.”

The author says she chose the 1790s “because it was before the Raj. There were different religions and races at play. There is a sense of history from a vantage point. I have not taken sides. I deliberately didn’t want to take a jingoistic stand. I don’t think history is that simple. This period is one of those what-if moments in history. It has a lot of diversity in it. You have two Hindu kingdoms, two Muslim kingdoms, the British all involved. There is also the shadow of the French and the Americans. A century later or before, it would have been hard to have a character like Uma—white on the outside and native on the inside. Also the central mystery cannot be set anytime else. That was what drove the period setting really.”

“I liked to write a novel that highlights multiple subjective views on a war such as this. So a comment by the subedar on the way his family was treated can coexist with Uma’s views on the Sultan. A character like Warren or that nameless British soldier who assaults a young girl can co-exist with a character like Ashton.”

Of the ending Radhika says, “I intentionally left it open-ended. I would be the first to mention the book is superficial but I have tried to push the boundaries of a romance.”

Most of the characters, Radhika says, “are imaginary. Uma didn’t start off so rounded. One of the comments I got from readers is Ashton sounds more American than British—maybe because he is laidback. So I gave him a Welsh name to explain his differentness.” His first name has nothing to do with Ashton from M. M. Kaye’s tome The Far Pavilions. “It wasn’t a conscious choice. I read the novel long ago and maybe some neurons fired when I was looking for a name. In the first draft it was William but it is too famous a name and so I changed it. Thanks for asking me this rather than if the name was inspired by Ashton Kutcher!”

Radhika says she gave more thought to Uma and Meena’s names. “I wanted names that are short and easy to consume.” The name of the novel was “a working title for the longest time. It is a play on Silapathikaram story of Kannagi and the stolen anklet.”

Radhika is working on her second novel, “which is set in the Eighties before the media revolution and the internet.” Of historical settings, Radhika says: “It is not so much the period setting, but more of the history, the irony in hindsight. Also the wonder how we as mankind have changed so much, yet not changed at all in the past few hundred years.”

Admitting to being haphazard about her writing, Radhika who counts, “Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer as her inspiration for this genre of history, mystery and romance,” says: “There would be days when I wouldn’t even open the document, and then I might write for two or three days continuously. I keep thinking about coming up with a set routine and bringing some discipline.”

Radhika studied in Madurai and “Hence the book is set in Madurai as well. For me to show an outsider view of the conflict, I had to set the first part of the book in a place which is not part of one of the warring kingdoms. I figured it’d be entertaining to set it in a place where I grew up. I know the heat I am talking about!”

The author moved to Bangalore 10 years ago and talking of the changes she says: “Less trees, more traffic how could the changes be for the better? But then again, it is more vibrant, inclusive and has more job opportunities than most places. So like in my book, most changes have more than one dimension to it.”

Radhika is happy with how the city engages with writers. “There are a lot of book stores, greenery and empty benches in parks to sit and ponder the next scene. And really nice coffee shops and artistic crowds that sort of make you want to do something creative.”

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Printable version | Sep 13, 2021 7:13:07 PM |

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