SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Streams of subversiveness

Multifaceted: Manjula Padmanabhan’s works traverse many genres.   | Photo Credit: Photo: K. Pichumani

RANVIR SHAH

With her latest book released recently, author Manjula Padmanabhan on the various issues that influence her choice of genre and the varied formats that affect her work.

She’s an author, illustrator, cartoonist, artist and playwright. Her books traverse the genres of science fiction, travelogues and fiction. A conversation with the multi-faceted Manjula Padmanabhan gives glimpses into this extremely private but talented person.

There is always a great sense of the subversive in your art and drawings and somewhat in your writing. Where does this come from?

I think that’s probably a question for future scholars — if there are any! — to dig into. For myself, I write/draw what I see — I’m reminded of a title from a Playboy cartoonist called Gahan Wilson, famed for the astonishing monsters that appeared in many of his cartoons. I Paint What I See, he called his collection, suggesting that he really DID see horrors on a daily basis! I don’t see monsters, but when I look around, I seem to “see” more social and cultural deformities than most other people. So ... I don’t set out to be subversive, but everything I am interested in looking at, turns out to be sort of subversive anyway.

Do you find you are more visual in an exciting way in your writing because you are an artist?

Can’t answer that without appearing to praise myself but ... I think in sound and pictures, and a lot of my writing is based on what I can “see” and “hear”. I don’t know whether that translates into exciting writing but I don’t mind hoping it does!

Will Escape be made into a film?

I’d love that but only if I had total control over the script. No film director will give me that freedom, so I guess the answer’s got to be “no”! Not because I don’t want it to, but because it simply won’t get made.

Where from the fascination for science fiction and what do you think of it as a genre in Indian writing in English?

I’ve ALWAYS been interested in science fiction. I began reading SF as a pre-teen and have never stopped. I believe it appeals to me, and people like me; rootless people. I’m never hard firm roots in any culture because of spending my early childhood in different countries and SF is an excellent medium for anyone who wants to break out of boundaries — boundaries of class, culture, language and race.

Did the book develop through the course of its writing or you had the outline and filled the details?

I had a general sense of the direction in which I wanted it to go — from the security of the Three Brothers Estate through the devastated landscape created by the Generals and finally to the City, where there MIGHT be safe haven for Meiji or at the very least, a place where she will not be so conspicuous. But the details of what happens along the way, who exactly they meet, and what these places and people look like — those were developed as I wrote the book.

Will there be a sequel as threatened?

(Grins) Maybe.

You have done children’s books, a travelogue and short stories plays; now this novel. Which works the best for you to share an idea with the audience?

Whatever works best for each idea is what I do. I don’t choose the form to suit the idea. I allow an IDEA to choose ME ... then I find some way of presenting it.

Are there any cross transferences to your other skills like drawing/painting that you use as a resource when writing.

Not sure. I tend to produce each item of work separate from the other work. Sometimes I can see connections, but most of the time, I’m simply not thinking about it. But obviously, there MUST be some spill over! Just a couple of days ago, one of my nieces reminded me that a tiny detail from the book — the General’s eyebrow-piercing of a tiny pair of scissors — was something I had told her, years ago, I’d like for myself if I ever had a facial piercing!! The funny thing is, I didn’t remember this at all until she reminded me (and when I remembered it, I thought I had said I’d like a tiny silver bell. Not scissors!). So there’s probably a constant spilling over, most of which I am unaware of.

What would one phrase as a Manjula Padmanabhan style... in writing.

Ummm ... Stream-of-Subversiveness?? (grins again!)

How challenging is it to survive as a writer in India? Would you like to share your journey to success?

It’s difficult everywhere. In India, it’s not difficult to get published, but it’s almost impossible to earn a living solely as a writer. Abroad, it may be possible to earn fantastic sums of money from writing best-sellers but the competition is ferocious! I always advise would-be writers to start out by writing reviews of books/movies for their local magazine or newspaper or at the very least to be sure to maintain a diary. The most important thing is just to Keep Writing. Still, the rewards are very meagre compared to the time and emotional energy that goes into every piece of published work. It is always astounding that there are so many people who continue to be writers in spite of it all and so many millions more who WANT to be.