1. You went with a mythology theme but instead of writing mythology you wrote a retelling that everyone could relate to. That’s a little different for the current atmosphere here. What made you do it?
I was quite certain that I did not want to simply retell a story from a different point of view. One of the ideas behind writing the book was to reexamine our epics with respect to their continued effect on our contemporary sensibilities and relationships. More than anything else, I wanted this book to ask questions, not to provide answers. Does devotion towards a brother justify the desertion of a wife? At what point does filial love turn into an unhealthy attachment? How much of a relationship is actually only an imagined reality? There are no fixed answers; hopefully each reader will arrive at his/her truth.
2. Are you an artist yourself? If so what mediums do you normally work on?
I cannot draw to save my life! I’ve actually failed an art exam in school – I didn’t think it was even possible to fail in art. However, my mother (to whom the novel is dedicated) is an artist; she works with oils on canvas and usually explores abstract landscapes. I relied on many inputs from her while working on the art scenes.
In some regional Rama kathas, Urmila is said to have spent the 14 years of exile painting the scene of Rama and Sita’s wedding (which is also the scene of her wedding to Laxman since the four brothers married four sisters in a joint ceremony). This got me thinking of why a woman would not paint her own wedding scene while waiting for her husband to return. Certainly, she must be the hero of her own life or at least her own wedding – why do these narratives impose a large, grand story even on the other characters? And more importantly – why do we passively internalize these versions? Hence, this Urmila spends those years away searching for her husband on canvas, probably searching for those versions that have been denied to her.
3. Tell me more about A Tinge of Turmeric. Would you be publishing another book of poetry soon?
A Tinge of Turmeric is a collection of poetry published by P. Lal of Writers Workshop, Kolkata. The poems are largely explorations of internal landscapes and the growing perceptions of societal structures and cultural texts.
I’ve been working on a new collection and it’s quite different from the voice in A Tinge of Turmeric. I find myself now engaging with myth and folklore, working towards a new, edgy, raw iteration of questions, of relationships, of desire.
4. What’s next? Genre and other details that you’re willing to share.
I’m working on my next novel, which is historical fiction set during the time of Indian Independence. It explores the relationship between a very Anglicized Parsi ICS officer and a young, Hindu woman freedom fighter. They are both deeply devoted to their country but are on opposite sides of a revolution, and find themselves getting drawn towards each other in the middle of this charged environment. I’m using this journey to explore and challenge ideas of nationalism, patriotism and placing the political over the personal.
5. This was the first book I’ve read about Marathi customs and it was a lovely read. Are you planning on sticking to this community? (Which would be great)
Thank you – I have even received reader responses asking for the recipes mentioned in the book! It was not a conscious decision to emphasise Marathi customs; my character needed to be rooted somewhere and I reached out to the community that was around me to serve as references. The next novel is set 70 years in the past. Part of the joy of writing is to unearth the interesting mannerisms, relationship dynamics, idioms, obsessions and concerns of a person living in a certain place at a certain time. So I’m excited too about how the social and cultural environment of the next novel will take shape!
6. Who are some of your favourite authors, poets and books?
I’m indebted to more writers and their works than any list can hold. However, the first names that come to mind are Kiran Nagarkar’s ‘Cuckold’ and Jean Rhys’ post-colonial novel ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’. ‘Cuckold’ combines history and mythology to tell the story of a Rajput prince whose wife is in love with someone else. Except his rival isn’t a man but the Hindu god Krishna. It is based on the legend of Mirabai, a poet and saint of the Bhakti tradition. Nagarkar superbly weaves together an epic of love, longing and valour, through the perspective of the prince who is usually portrayed as the antagonist in Mirabai’s divine love for Krishna.
Jean Rhys’s book is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ written 139 years after Bronte first described the ‘mad woman in the attic’. The narrative explores the fictionalized internal truths of a white Creole heiress and her eventual descent into madness, giving not just a story but also agency to a character who was earlier little more than a speed bump in Jane and Rochester’s relationship.
I also find myself revisiting the poetry of Arundhati Subramanium for its depth and freshness, particularly the poems ‘Prayer’ and ‘Home’.
7. The age old question, any tips for upcoming an author?
Yes – write more! I found this to be very helpful for me when I was struggling with my stories. Sometimes one just has to write more in order to get those unnecessary words out of the way and allow the words waiting underneath to surface. Not everything that an author writes is published – and later, one is glad about that! So to access the sections that are powerful, we sometimes have to write and empty out the other words, sentences and explorations. Write more, play with your stories, and wait for that moment of deep satisfaction of the last full stop of a beautiful story.
8. Last, I really liked the cover. But I’m surprised you didn’t choose Urmila’s infamous painting as the cover. How was the process of choosing it?
We did consider using that painting on the cover but since it had very traditional elements to it (two men and a woman in exile, in orange robes, in a forest), I felt that the association with the Ramayana would be very strong. Readers might expect a traditional retelling – something that I have consciously avoided in the narrative. So the publishers designed the cover as it is now, with just a hint of the epic, with the background of a white canvas and with red tones suggesting love, marriage and heartbreak. I wish I could take credit for the cover but that goes to Nita Satikuwar and the team at Jaico.
Inspired by the story of Lakshman’s wife from Ramayana, Urmila traces a tale of rejection and a woman’s passionate search for love, rekindling questions of devotion and desire.
The talented and passionate Urmila Karmarkar has recently married into a wealthy, politically connected family in suburban Mumbai. When Urmila’s brother-in-law is compelled to move to Dubai, her husband leaves her behind and chooses to follow him instead. Fuelled by this rejection, Urmila seeks solace in her art as she battles to keep her dreams of love and motherhood alive, waiting for her husband to return.