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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Singapore Writer's Festival (Dec 1-9) A quick take on Anita Nair

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

It may indeed come as a surprise and kindly if not given to acidic overtones that the vivacious Anita Nair, famous for such probing fiction as Ladies Coupe and Mistress notwitstanding the fact that she is stunning to watch and interesting to hear, may be somewhat shy.

And bashfully reticent too at that. Never mind that the desire to retreat into an idyllic distance may claim its hardy appeal.

A thrilling contradiction and fascinating indeed as observed during the novelist and essayist's recent talk and book reading at the Singapore Writer's Festival.

Maybe the Keralite-born Nair is not a peoples' person - and one cannot be blamed for who they are - even as her fiction on the secret yearnings of Indian women reach out to you in solidarity and camaraderie, wishing only for the reader's enlightenment and understanding and even as her maternal endearment for her homeland is obvious.

Today, Nair resides in Bangalore although she stays one of the fewer novelists whose books may be found easily in the major regions of the world including the UK and Australia.

"All the characters in my fiction are shaped from the imagination and are strictly not autobiographical," she enthuses.

"That was a decision I took long ago...that I knew my life would come under immediate public scrutiny and I did not wish to answer questions about myself so I created plots away from that aspect." This would explain why although meticulously researched, none of her fiction holds a candle to the easier autobiography or discreetly-disguised memoir.

Seated with her literary agent who is also a personal friend - they have worked with each other for several years, Nair pays her tribute.

"An agent may be the best friend you could ever have," she tells us gaily, meeting the audience's eyes and yet not quite...
"You will end up telling her secrets...your agent has to know everything about you so as to protect you. You may share stories the kind that no friend knows except your lawyer or doctor."

And if such a point had to be stressed, it was clear that the serious-faced Nair relied heavily on her agent to answer difficult questions from the crowd and indeed, there appeared a cantankerous man, critical of the way Indian novelists spoke English universally...determined too, that they would display an identity that came from India and nowhere else.

Naturally, such a volatile individual merits no polish and the fact that he would give Nair a hard time, was only to be expected.

The author smiled and was gracious if not a little dumbfounded and it was here that the agent stepped in to quietly shoo-shoo him out of the way even as employing a strict businesslike appearance, she would delegate attention elsewhere with the sophisticated swiftness of a typhoon.

As Nair read from a series of personal essays to be published in the coming year, she talked of several authors' nervousness at book launches and how the fear that nobody would turn up constantly hovered in the venue, till someone did show.

"Whatever happens in my life, as far as possible as I can make it, if someone I know, invites me to a book launch, I will try my best to go. No matter the weather or the circumstances.

"Because I remembered how it was like for me in the early days, constantly worried that no one would turn up."

However, delicately picked out from episodes in the distant past, this obligation may no longer hold.

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