Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers


 Author Kalyani Kurup
Interviwed by Tarak Ghosh

About "The Vanished and Vanquished"

1. What is the background story of writing "The Vanished and Vanquished"?
Most of the characters and incidents in “The Vanished and Vanquished” are from real life. I wanted to tell the story of these very very real people – people who bore their pain stoically all their lives, and managed to keep a smile on their face even when their innards were being torn apart. I can’t say that I had a correct target market in mind when I started writing the novel, but recording the story was a mission for me.
I also wanted to freeze a picture of the matrilineal system, a system which is now defunct but was very powerful when it existed. The setup allowed women to retain their maiden identity after marriage, inherit more property than men, and pass on their surnames to their children, at a time when women did not have such freedoms in most parts of the world.
2. Where do you get the information or ideas for "The Vanished and Vanquished"?
I did not have to do too much research. Some of the characters, their stories, and many of the scenes that I have described, were stacked in my mind.  For example, there is the scene with which the novel opens – the woman Devi running berserk around the house shouting. I still have a clear memory of that scene which I saw in a relative’s house when I was a child. At that age I was afraid of that woman. It was only after I grew up that I realized how horribly tragic her story was. Her story unravels through subsequent chapters, and in chapter 14 the real reason for her problem is revealed. 
Like that, I had plenty of information from incidents I had witnessed and stories I had heard. I had only to modify the story and pad it here and there to connect the characters and conceal their identities.
3. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating "The Vanished and Vanquished"?
This is my first book and before I wrote this I had not realized that editing would be a never-ending process. Every time I read the book, there is something that I want to change. Even after getting the manuscript edited by a professional editor, I saw typos and other errors.
4. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Most of the things in my book are based on real life experiences. Of course, I have added characters and modified the story to give shape to the novel. For example, the story of the adoption of twins by Devayani, and her fight with her family is pure fiction.  I made it up so that there is some element of redemption in the midst of all that doomed love and pain and disappointment. In real life, the lady who was wrongly deserted by her husband lived a very lonely life till the end.
5. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
My favorite chapter is Chapter XX, which I have named ‘The Stranger’.  There is a very surprising revelation in that chapter.  The chapter makes it clear that no human being will ever be able to control or possess another person’s mind, however much he or she may physically own or control him/her. I like many of the scenes and sentences in that chapter, like the paragraph ‘He was prepared for the pain the sight of her might rekindle. Or the jealousy the sight of her husband might kindle. But he was not prepared for her husband’s absence. Or for the fire and smoke. Or for the flaming night. A night that would remain a question mark for nearly four decades since he didn’t dare find out the answer.’
6.   Do you hear from your readers much about "The Vanished and Vanquished"? What kinds of things do they say?
I don’t have a big readership but those who have read the book had the patience to read it cover to cover and analyze the characters.  A complaint from some readers is that I have used too many jawbreaker words and have gone into some unnecessary descriptions. About the storyline and characters, I have received only praise. Those who appreciated the work very highly are people in their eighties. They have lived through the matrilineal system when they were young and so understand all the nuances of the system. They told me that it was as perfect a portrait of the system as one could paint. I don’t know if the younger generation will be able to appreciate it the same way though some people in their thirties have also showed their appreciation for the work.
7.  Give us an insight into your main characters. What does s/he do that is so special?
It is a multi-hero multi-heroine story. Each character reacts to situations in different ways. The book is set in mid-20th century Kerala, and most characters are not able to assert themselves and lead their lives the way they want to, because they have been conditioned from childhood to believe that they should blindly obey their elders, husbands etc. The character Rathi, who slaps her husband and walks out of the house, does not dare tell her parents what she has done because she knows that it will be practically impossible to make them understand her side of the story.
Even the character Kishore, who is grownup and independent when his father makes an unreasonable demand on him, does not dare disobey his father because of the values the society has instilled in him. It takes time for him to free himself and go his own way. The knowledge of his mother’s boldness – the way she opts to live at least one night with her lover to her fullest satisfaction – works as a catalyst for him to make his choice. One of the characters makes this problem clear when she says “We are conditioned to react in a certain way. To do what we are expected to do. Not what we want to do.”
8. How did you draw the picture of India and Indian women in "The Vanished and Vanquished"?
Most of my female characters – except Dunera – belong to communities which have conventionally given a lot of freedom to women. Still, women have to submit to the whims and fancies of men to a certain extent. Women who are poor, however, are handicapped in every way and have to bear a lot of injustices. Despite that, they manage to survive with the limited resources at their disposal.
9. Do you think that "The Vanished and Vanquished" can represent India, How?
Yes and No. The concept of ‘family honor’, wherein the so-called ‘honor’ of the family is considered to be of paramount importance and more important than the individual, was prevalent in 20th century India as it was in many Asian countries. It is to protect this so-called ‘family honor’ that Madhavan – one of the characters - is forced to divorce his wife of one week, whom he loves very very dearly. To that extent, the work can be considered representative of India.
Women putting up with unhappy marriages till they snap, as in the case of Rathi, was also commonly seen in earlier Indian societies.  That said, I cannot say that ‘The Vanished and Vanquished’ is fully representative of India. The story is set in the background of the matrilineal system as different from the patriarchal system that is common in the rest of India. The matrilineal system was unique and was followed only by certain communities even in Kerala.

About the Author

1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Long ago, when I was in college. I wrote many poems and several chapters of a novel when I was in college. All those were in Malayalam. I did not know English then. However, I was (and still is) a very shy and reserved person, and was embarrassed to show the stuff to anyone. I eventually destroyed all those poems and half-written novel.
2. What does your family think of your writing?
Nobody in my immediate family is a writer. So none is able to help or guide me in any way. But there is moral support and appreciation.
3. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My basic qualification is a Master’s degree in Zoology. I studied law for two years but did not complete it. I never had a full-fledged career so that I find it difficult to define myself.  I have held office jobs now and then, and have worked as the manager of a CADD training center for 12 years. I have traveled a lot in India because of the nature of my husband’s job, and have lived in remote Himalayan valleys and come into contact with a wide cross section of people. I consider that my greatest education. Among the places I have lived, the one with which I really fell in love was a place named Tissa in the state of Himachal Pradesh. I have referred to this place extensively in “The Vanished and Vanquished”.
In 2012, while living in the USA as a guest of my daughter, I came into contact with a writers’ organization named “Writers of Chantilly”. I joined the group and they accepted my stories for two of their anthologies. They helped a lot with suggestions for improving my children’s books and were instrumental in encouraging me to publish.
4. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I am pinning a lot of hope on my latest yet-to-be-published book ‘Mystic and Mili’. My ardent hope is for it to be made into a movie some day.
5. Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet, and why?
I think I would like to meet Amitav Ghosh because I like his works very much. I especially like ‘The Hungry Tide’.  There are other books that I love equally well, but somehow I have never felt the same level of fascination for the writers of those books.
6. Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I do make a rough outline, but mostly it is just writing. Especially when writing ‘The Vanished and Vanquished’, ideas and events just flowed out one after the other in a torrent and I wrote down everything. Later I had to chop off more than half of it to control the size of the book. With ‘Mystic and Mili’, I had a clearer outline.
7. What do you think makes a good story?
I love to read period fiction/family sagas/tragic romances etc. ‘Tess of the ‘D’Urbervilles’ , ‘Thorn Birds’, ‘The Hungry Tide’ etc. are my favorites.  I feel that the more hard-hitting reflection of reality a story is, the better it is likely to be. However, a good story, while it mirrors the society, should also show it as changeable, with subtle suggestions for bringing about that change.
I find it difficult to enjoy fantasy fiction, science fiction, or the like. Despite that I have recently finished a fantasy fiction for children because I was given to understand that children’s fantasy fiction has a better market than family sagas and tragic romances.

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