Into the realm of creativity
Thursday, December 07, 2000

IT WAS a very different meeting on November 29 for the Madras English Association, at the British Council, Chennai. It was a face to face with two creative writers. And it turned out to be an interesting detour into the unfathomable depths of creativity. Their work, a tangible outcome of their creativity was ready for analysis. And with the select audience (Some of whom had read the works), the writers themselves found it difficult to pinpoint it. At the end of the meeting the creative process still defied any unfolding. And perhaps this is what makes the creative process an exclusive and rare one.

Unpretentious and forthright was the novelist Shreekumar Varma when asked to share his creative process. His first novel, 'Lament of Mohini' had been recently published by Penguin. As he spoke, one felt that his is a mind that constantly gets hooked on to those vibrant moments of life and human nature that eventually constitute the plot and characters of a novel. When asked about the autobiographical element in his novel, he said "The book started early in my life. But the novel was actually written in the span of two years. For an author who is a first time writer, many things are certainly drawn from his life." So he had within his consciousness all the material for the story. And once he started, the writing literally started flowing. The closeness of life and fiction became an actuality when he found that many instances featured in his novel were also happening in the life around.

The matriarchal way of life in Kerala that had coexisted with the patriarchal style of living prevalent among the Nambhoodiri community a century ago is the motif of the novel. As far as the setting is concerned, Killikara, is just an imaginative name compounded of Mavellikara and Killimanju. It is not listed in the map. But the life and social-cultural milieu is certainly authentic. He created the background and built it bit by bit. There was a long incubation period before he had put the pen on paper or the mouse on the pad. Every moment is an opportune moment. The story keeps taking place at every moment. Was he in control as an author? Yes and no. He is sure of one point. The characters went easily out of hand as also the events. What about a plot? Yes to begin with. But it did take a different turn and shape eventually. Did he revise the manuscripts? Yes, certainly. He would go back to it polishing and paring to capture the rhythm.

On today's publishing scene, Shreekumar says the editor is a big entity. The editor can control the writing to a large extent and the novel is more of a collaborative effort.

Favourite authors? R. K. Narayan and Marquis, who can present a story in simple terms yet beautifully. Also Arundathi Roy and Vikram Seth, especially his "Equal Music". With a smile that reflects his enthusiasm he says that he never tires of writing and comes back to writing with renewed energy.

Equally sensitive and forthright was K.Nandhini as she interacted with the audience that day. A representative of the emerging young talent in Chennai she is a plus two student of Padma Seshadri School. She claims that her love for the English language began early, fascinated as she was by the twists and turns the language could take. The encouragement from parents, school teachers, and friends had helped her all through to go ahead with writing. Nandhini feels that most teenage fiction is written by adults, and is based on their experiences. Her novel tries to capture a teenager's viewpoint.

Her succinct summary of the novel in manuscript form, "The Calm Before the Storm", captured in a nutshell, not only the teenage experience, but also the dimension and depth of the plot and characters. As she read out excerpts it was easy to discern her complete control over the story and evocation of experience. The emotional turbulence of a teenager who has to confront overbearing but well meaning parents, the generation gap as perceived by the teenagers, are all the motifs interwoven in the story. When this young writer was confronted with questions from the audience, she displayed confidence and maturity that comes from the ability to view her own novel from an outsider's viewpoint. There was an assurance of quality in her work and in her answers.

When in the near future, the novel gets published and gets reviewed, then this select audience would recall this experience as privileged and special.

Shree with Nandini at the MEA meet