S.Anuradha, a financial journalist has just published her first novel, ‘The Friendless God’. Set against the backdrop of Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the protagonist Kodanda is a seeker struggling to free himself from the clutches of an atheist mother Vaidehi. A short conversation with the author on what triggered her to write a novel, choice of her story, and the language. Vaijayanthi MC is in conversation with the author.
Tell us about your journey from being a student of history to a financial journalist, and now a novelist?
I majored in history from Mumbai University and went on to become a financial journalist. The combined background of history and journalism made me write a novel which has a fair bit of history and contemporary social and political setting. While recording history and writing news stories involves dealing with facts and using less of one’s judgements, a subjective interpretation of events is possible only in a novel. Sticking to facts and expressing thoughts through fiction are two different facets of myself.
How difficult has it been to move from facts based writing to fiction?
It is not difficult. It is much easier to write anything on a subjective basis. News reporting involves fact checking and putting out corrections when one gets it wrong. The only challenge in writing fiction is that your imagination is not in your hands. You don’t know when it will stay with you and when it will desert you.
Why did you choose to write on Lord Rama and specifically in the context of Ram Janmabhoomi movement?
When I was in college and then my early years as a journalist in the 1990s, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was one of the most important socio-political issue. In campuses, and news rooms that was the topic of discussion. The 1990s was also the time of great economic reforms in India and the nation was preparing for a new world. At the same time an event from the past was still close to people’s hearts. As a history student I had studied about the attacks of invaders on Hindu temples. But, to think that many centuries later people would come back to fight for something that happened in the past amazed me. I lived in Bombay in the 1990s and Ram Janmabhoomi movement brings back memories of the evening aartis, the riots and the bomb blasts. A decade later when I visited Ayodhya, the sight of a tacky tent that housed Ram Lalla hit me. I used to wonder how Ram devotees would feel seeing their beloved God under a tacky tent.
The larger context of the novel is the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, however, the underlying theme is one of conflict between a believer and a non-believer. How did that come about, and did those two converge into a single narrative?
Basically the story is from the standpoint of the protagonist Kodanda and his efforts to see God and get closer to him. While his is an individual battle, which he is waging with his own mother Vaidehi, there is also a collective battle between those who want the temple at the birthplace of Rama and those who are opposing it. What is happening to an individual is also happening at a societal level. The hero Kodanda is actually symbolic of the skepticism and resistance that people of faith face.
We can presume that the novel is set in South India since the languages spoken are Tamil and Telugu. There is a feeling that South Indian was not involved in Rama worship and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement as North Indian effort. Please comment.
Growing up in a South Indian family I have seen how ingrained the worship of Rama is. In many South Indian families the framed photographs of Rama are prints of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings and children learn songs of Tyagaraja. From the River Godavari to the Indian Ocean, so many places are associated with Rama and images of Hanuman are next only to Nataraja in beauty in Tamil Nadu’s bronze sculptures. To sum up Rama is appreciated in all aspects of life. That is why even for a simple person like Kodanda the mention of the birthplace of Rama triggers the desire to see it and for Dasharatha the idea of the birthplace is an opportunity to politically bring people together.
Your mother tongue is Tamil, you grew up in New Delhi and chose to write in English. Was there a conflict about the language in which you wanted to express yourself?
I belong to a generation that has more proficiency in English than one’s mother tongue or a local language. However, we still think in our own traditional languages and for some terms we simply don’t have any English substitutes. It is for this reason that even ‘The Friendless God’ has a fair amount of terms in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. I have chosen not to give a glossary because many of us are capable of simultaneously thinking and expressing in multiple languages. Google is of course always there to help those who don’t know these languages.
Who are the authors you read the most, or were your literary influences?
Earliest influences were the works of Amitav Ghosh, R.K.Narayan, John Steinbeck. In recent times, S.L.Bhyrappa has been a big influence.