Hello Ruma, thank you for being a part of IWI’s Incredible Women Writers of India 2016, and sharing your journey as a writer.
How would you define yourself?
I define myself as a person who is in love with people and the stories that they have to tell. It is always illuminating to discover pieces of myself in others and vice versa.
What was your childhood like? Any incidents form your growing up years that shaped you as a person?
My childhood was quite amazing when I think about it. I grew up in fairly remote parts of Africa. My parents both worked as doctors and I was largely left to fill the hours with pets, walking in the local bush and by reading all the books I could find. The only friends of the same age were hundreds of kilometers away and I think this made me a person who has always been comfortable with silence. At the same time it also made me appreciate people when I was with company. My parents never told me that I was a girl and that there were certain things that I would not be able to do. That was the greatest gift that any parent can give a child I feel, the confidence that they will be okay in whatever they do and that mistakes are not obstacles but learning opportunities. I cannot think of any specific incidents that shaped me as a person.
When did your journey as a writer/poet began?
I began writing when I first began living in India. A poem I wrote was awarded a prize in class and for the very first time I saw that I had an ability to make words work for me that not everyone else did. However I would say I really began writing for pleasure about five years ago. Anything I did before that was never meant for an audience.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?
Life and people are my inspiration. The way people respond, to real life situations is often so different from what one hopes they would do – these are the sorts of things that I try to delve into and write about.
Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?
I have done both. I think going with the flow allows me to work freely, but working to a plan provides a framework for the story building process. I prefer going with the flow.
For you, what’s the easiest thing about writing and the hardest thing? Do you have any weird/funny writing rituals?
I find it easiest when I write about things that I have experienced, be it happiness, loss or love. The hardest part of writing is trying to make sure that other people see it through their eyes and that I am not force feeding my views to them. I do not have any rituals except for waking very early and staying up late to get any serious writing done. I find I work best when I have silence, within my mind and outside it.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?
I usually write several things at the same time. I have not experienced the sort of writers block that would stop me from doing all of them.
How have you evolved as a writer since you have started? If you could give one advice to yourself, what would it be? What are you working on now?
I think I am more aware of what sells now. I do not think I have let that affect me much though. I have definitely learned to edit my own work a lot better since starting to write full time. I give myself the same advice I have always given myself; the world is at your feet, you just have to get up and make the effort to take it. No one stops anyone from achieving what they truly believe they are capable of.
At the moment I am working on a couple of translations that are to be published in 2016/2017. I am also finishing my first novel. There are a few other projects that are also shaping up.
What’s your opinion about the future of writing/reading/the publishing industry in India?
I think the future of books is in safe hands in India. As the West turns from books due to high cost and electronic devices as well as a growing unwillingness to read, countries like India see the birth of more newspapers and more authors who are writing uniquely Indian stories in the vernacular and in English.
Favorite food: Kolkata style rolls
Favorite Book: Rebecca
Favorite author: Annie Proulx
What are you afraid of: Something affecting my children’s happiness.
What makes you angry: Any form of deceit.
Childhood crush: Lenny Kravitz.
Things that you can’t live without: My family, my garden and my phone
Any message or advice you want to share with our readers?
Try writing down your own stories honestly. There is always someone out there who has been waiting for you to tell the world what they were too shy to talk about. And if you cannot write, remember that for all the writers in the world, the reader is God. Either way, you are needed and you are a winner.
Excerpt from a story:
It had been bothering Maeve all morning. She thought about it while she pulled Henk’s stained overalls out of the machine, noting the lint bag obscenely distended and shiny from the mica in the ever-present dust. As she coaxed the clothing trolley over the cracked pebblecrete path to the backyard and began hanging them out, an army of legs goose-stepped on the heat that came blowing out of the scrub that stalked the farm. The first pair was already drying by the time she hung out the last and it scraped her face as she rattled back with the trolley till she was in the scant shade of the red bougainvillea growing over an old eucalyptus stump. As she looked back at the washing, the raised seams that had brushed her skin reminded her once again. She picked absentmindedly at the scratch and looked at the faint red smudge on her thumb nail. Each year the bougainvillea grew taller seeking something to hook on to, finally flopping on to the ground where it sprouted like embers from a bush fire. Then Henk would get a thorn in his foot as he stood outside drinking in the fading evenings. The next day he would get a chainsaw and butcher the fallen branches back. Somehow he never got around to putting up some rebar around the stump to do a proper job of caging the bougainvillea.
Beer and sweat, Maeve thought as always when she pictured Henk. Grabbing a bottle from the fridge she went to the enclosed verandah where a television set played all day. She put her feet up on the table, took a drink and set the bottle down barely noticing the piles of magazines, ashtrays and dried rings that marked both table top and paper where other bottles had rested over the years.
It was the suitcase of course. It was odd to see someone walk down a highway with a large suitcase. When she slowed down to have a better look he picked it up and held it close to his body with both hands. If she had not been rushing to do her errands while the wash was on, she would probably have stopped to ask him his business. People still did that in these parts. The city was far enough for people to think of where they lived as a different world, free from the bad stuff that one might associate with stopping for someone you did not know. And it was true with all the residents knowing each other in the town of seventy seven as the two signs bookending the main street announced proudly.
POPULATION 77, ELEVATION 70.3 m.
Scrawled in the empty space underneath on one of them was a scribble that bore witness to a sense of humour in at least one of the seventy seven;
AND TWENNY THOUSAND FLIES.
The oldest residents still remembered the town’s glorious past. The tallest silo of the region had been in Kerowie. Today, wheat still sifted through the town into steel silos scattered like exclamation marks on the horizon. But now they belonged to the large agricultural companies, twinned to others all across the country from Parkes to Perth. The tallest silo had never been as tall as these upstarts but it had been made by hand from cinder block by the founders of the town. For a long time, even when the blocks at the top started peeling off, their mortar ties weakened by rain and lack of maintenance, the signs into and out of town had read:
HOME OF THE TALLEST SILO IN THE WEST.
Then suddenly five years ago, the town council took notice of Godden Beelitz ,whose house was next to the tiny information kiosk and public toilet and finally painted over the tallest silo claim on each sign. Godden had been complaining for years about visitors to Kerowie who stopped for a toilet break, took a look at the dusty fibre glass sheep inside the kiosk and disappointed in their quest for more information, trampled the gerberas in his front yard. While his wife was still alive, Godden had enjoyed playing the part of friendly rustic – posing for photographs with the visitors, eyes surreptitiously taking in the swell of breast and the dusty calves of any women in the group. But after she died, he had so much to do that he began to see the city cars as an annoyance. When he finished all the work around the place, he only wanted to sit down and watch the choreographed couplings of the people in the films he ordered from interstate. Five years of not having to explain where the silo was – Maeve could see why Godden preferred that. As for the films, well what else was a man without a wife supposed to do amid the fecundity of the grain? Country people were forgiving of men in things like this as long as they came in unmarked parcels. Her own Henk liked the occasional dirty picture too. Maeve always knew by the way he would go into what he called his study straight after they had finished their dinner of steak and chips. She woke only when he came back and started moving on top of her with all the finesse of the Brahman bull they had bought a few years ago. She need not have bothered waking most times, he was done within seconds and she found herself staring at the slab of his back as he slid off and began to snore. Not that she minded much; she was sure that decent women were not meant to enjoy sex.
She wasn’t bothered about the man on the road being new to town. It was more the fact that she had not heard of anyone having a visitor in the past week. Where had he come from Maeve wondered, a little more urgently this time as she heard the dogs barking outside. She walked to the front of the house, smoothing her dress over her hips. She could see the suitcase outside the fly screened door.
‘Hello Maevey, it has been a while,’ he said.
Nearly half a century, Maeve thought as she silently stood to one side to let him in.
‘Looks like nothing has changed.’
‘Hasn’t been a reason for that.’
Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI.