Metroplus

Women in the fray

WRITER’S TERRAIN Renu with her book ‘Four Aleys’. Photo: V. Ganesan

WRITER’S TERRAIN Renu with her book ‘Four Aleys’. Photo: V. Ganesan  

“I am most familiar with my own community so I chose to set my book in that milieu. But what I am exploring here is human nature,” says Renu Kurien Balakrishnan, whose debut novel Four Aleys was launched in the city recently. The book tells the story of four Syrian Christian women named Aley, short for Aleyamma, (Malyalam for Elizabeth), and the unravelling of their lives as they knew it.

“The whole book is seen through the eyes of the youngest Aley. She grows up and becomes a successful politician.

Then she goes back to her hometown, where she visits her family tomb and remembers her childhood,” she says. Set in the politically-volatile devanidhi (a metaphor for Kerala) of the fifties and sixties, the book explores the troubles of a hitherto feudal society that has to deal with sudden upheavals. In this setting are the four women, “who are totally different from each other, but have the common thread of strength and honesty running through them,” says Renu, adding that, “Three of them, however, are worn down by the system and their own emotions, despite the feistiness, as they cannot strike out on their own. But the youngest does.”

The story, which was written over the last eight years, is not chronological says Renu, “It takes place in loops; through the memories that the young woman recollects while sitting on the family tombstone,” she says. “I didn’t write every day, the story had to come. I wrote it in scenes — a fishing scene, a baptism, a murder — and then connected them in order. Since it was a series of memories, it worked really well,” laughs Renu, who has done a course in creative writing from the New School, New York.

“Teaching is my biggest passion; it is something I always wanted to do. I was teaching high school when I realised that there wasn’t enough material available in the market for children. So I went ahead and did a writing course,” she says.

Renu, who now teaches creative writing at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, says that though she had written a few short stories, her impetus to write a novel came from one of her students, who asked her what she had written. “I realised that there was a story inside me. I have always been aware of social justice; I am non-judgmental, and love animals and Nature. I combined all the things I loved to write this book,” she says, confirming that another is on its way.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 6:26:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/interview-with-author-renu-kurien-balakrishnan/article6852726.ece

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