Muezza and Baby Jaan
Author- Anita Nair
Publisher- Penguin Random House, Rs699
Anita Nair talks to AVANTIKA BOSE about her thoughts on feminism and Islam, the difference between writing adult and children novels, and her latest book, Muezza and Baby Jaan
You write different genres, ranging from novels, books, poetry, prose, essays, articles, book reviews, travelogues and non-fiction. Is there a specific reason behind thisIJ Or do you write whatever your heart tells you toIJ
Honestly, I write whatever I feel I should be writing. Also as I’m a full time writer, in many ways I’m trying to make it exciting for myself by experimenting with different kinds of writing.
Was there a particular incident in your life that made you realise the power of writingIJ
It was when my first novel The Better Man came out, people from everywhere were writing to me and it was as if they were confiding their life-stories to me. It must be because on some level they related with my writing and felt as if I understood them. They felt a familiarity with me even though they didn’t know me. So that for me was kind of a wake-up call in the sense that how powerful writing can be and how it can reach a total stranger, even though it wasn’t meant for them in that sense but they see it as if I’m writing a personal letter to them.
What according to you is feminism in the Indian contextIJ
For me not just in the Indian context but feminism as a concept for all over the world is basically a woman feeling comfortable about being a woman, not feeling any less due to her gender and not allowing anyone to put her down despite what society tells her.
Can you tell us your life philosophyIJ
Here and now — I don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow really.
To what extent do you think that English novels by Indian writers have had an impact on India’s image around the worldIJ
Only a small percentage of Indian authors writing in English are getting recognition all over the world. It isn’t like the American or the Swedish novels which have a presence all over. In fact, Swedish novels for instance has become almost like a genre by itself. I don’t think that India is there yet to make that kind of impact with Indian novels written in English.
Do you feel someone can be a writer if they don’t feel emotions stronglyIJ
Your writing could be very steely, it could almost be contained in a way or be neutral but unless you feel an emotion strongly enough, it’s not going to make an appearance in the way a character is.
Did you face any controversies when your latest book Muezza and Baby Jaan: Stories from the Quran came out given that it’s based on Islamic fablesIJ
No. As of now, nothing.
Why did you choose to write a book based on stories from the QuranIJ
I started reading the Quran because I was working on a historical novel called Idris and the character lived in Somalia and this was the first place where Islam appeared in the African continent. My character was a Muslim and to understand his mental makeup better I decided I had to read his religious text. So I started reading the Quran and was very interested by the information I was stumbling upon which was very contrary to my perception of it.
Then in 2013, there was this shootout in Nairobi and one of the things that the terrorist group did at the Westgate Shopping Mall was to segregate the Muslims from the Non-Muslims. And to figure out if someone was a Muslim one of the things they did was ask them the name of the Prophets mother. Now even among Muslims this knowledge isn’t very well known until and unless you’re a very devout Muslim. This seemed kind of strange to me because if you ask anybody around the world what’s the name of Jesus’s mother or Buddha’s name before he became Buddha or Rama’s wife’s name or the name of any of the characters of theMahabharata, they’ll tell you.
For me it was like how is it that one religion doesn’t seem available to a lot of people and this knowledge gap really bothered me. And I thought maybe no one wrote about it cause they were afraid as it’s perceived as a dangerous territory to go into. I am not afraid of anything really in that sense. If I believe in something the I will go ahead with it no matter what the consequences.
Moreover, in my opinion Islam is a religion which has wonderful things about it but it is viewed with hostility and suspicion only because we don’t know enough about it. let us not forget that every religion has an extremist element to it, as far as Islam is concerned its just more blown up as there is so many other things that is linked to it. It’s not about the religion alone but it also becomes about where the religion is located and all those things.
What is the difference in writing a novel for adults and writing for childrenIJ
There’s a lot of difference between writing for adults and children. Having written books for children earlier also, I have realised one thing that you can’t talk down to a child. The fact that I’m writing for a child is something I’m very conscious about. For instance, while writing for adults I don’t even think who my reader is. I don’t even spare a thought for them. But when I’m writing for a child, I’m careful about a lot of things like the kind of words that I use, the sentiments that I express etc.
I am not saying that one has to be boring or politically correct but there is this fine line you have to work on without turning it offensive or putting wrong ideas into children. It has to be written in such a way that it’s not boring but is entertaining in such a manner that the child isn’t influenced in a bad way.
How long did it take you to write this bookIJ
I have been working on this book for a year and a bit.
Were you ever concerned that being a female writer who writes about the problems faced by women that you’ll be labelled as a feminist writer and won’t be considered to be a part of the mainstream literary sceneIJ
Not really, though in the beginning specially after ladies Coupé there was a lot of talk about women centric writing. But my next novel had very strong male characters and my detective series has a male protagonist. However, by now people have realised that the subjects or the themes that I work on is nothing that you can predict.
Being a woman is it difficult writing from a man’s perspectiveIJ
I in fact find it enjoyable to have a character who can do things that woman are sort of restricted to do. Taking a fistfight as an example, it is something that the chances of a woman getting involved in is far less than that of a man. Or certain violent, idiotic things which men can get away with. I find it great to be able to slip into the skin of a man and create those kind of situations.
What are the things that you are currently working onIJ
I am working on a screenplay, a book for children and also exploring what I should be working on in terms of my adult fiction.