Anita Nair is a bestselling and critically acclaimed author of novels for adults and children. In 2012, she wrote her first detective novel featuring Inspector Gowda and the second detective novel featuring the same inspector was published in 2016. The third installment of the Inspector Gowda series will be released soon. She also writes poetry and has published a collection titled Malabar Spirit. His books have been translated into over thirty-one languages around the world.
In a free-wheeling conversation with Scroll.in, Anita Nair explained how her collection of poetry came to be, creating fiction for adults and children, why a transvestite is at the heart of her crime thriller series, and more. Excerpts from the conversation:
What types of events are more likely to bring out the poet in you?
I started as a poet. When I started writing, it was with poetry. For a very long time, I was a hidden writer, a hidden poet. Eventually what came out of it was the prose part – somehow writing poetry meant laying bare my vulnerabilities for the world to see. It took me a long time to find the resilience to spread my poetry.
Anything that moves me – very intensely and very violently – can be intense happiness, intense pain, intense anger, and it is in this degree of intensity that the poet in me emerges. Whereas, when I write my novels or stuff like that, I’m a more deliberate person – someone who has thought everything through. When I write poetry, it’s because I need to find some form of inner calm.
It took you almost a decade to put the poems together in Malabar Spirit. How was this collection born?
I had all this poetry written but rarely published it or showed it to anyone. I was doing an event with Malayalam poet TP Rajeevan for the University of Calicut where he read his poetry. I told him how wonderful it was, and he asked me if I wrote poetry, and I said yes, but I didn’t publish it. He then asked me if he could read them. I agreed.
Then some time later he wrote to me saying that he and his friends were starting a small publishing house and asked if I wanted to give them my poetry. I said yes, they could publish it. that is how Malabar Spirit was born – it was really a token of friendship more than anything else. The book came out and it went very well. It went into a second reprint almost immediately. Unfortunately, this publishing house quickly closed its doors.
Then, in this case, the University of Ahmedabad decided to include Malabar Spirit in their BA program. It was then that HarperCollins stepped in and released a reissued edition, which contained all of the poems from the original.
You have written fiction for adults and children. What is the common creative process between the two? How is writing in these two genres different?
In terms of how I think about the story and how I process it, it’s all the same. The base I laid down before I started writing the book is pretty much the same as well. However, thereafter, the writing changes. I realized that when I write for children there is a lightness in my mind. I go back to my childhood, or what my childhood meant to me, what it meant to me, and I’m able to draw stories from it – both good and bad.
When I write for children, I have many opportunities to find humor in even the most ridiculous things – that doesn’t work in adult fiction. What makes a child laugh is very different from what makes an adult laugh. I really like this part where I can write ridiculous things and yet it’s so good.
When I write adult fiction, there’s so much more going on in those stories – I have to constantly watch my steps. I have to make sure I don’t make stupid mistakes in terms of fact-checking and stuff like that. Adult fiction requires me to pay attention to factual detail, to grapple with complex emotions – vast, gray emotions. I’m two different people when I write the two genres. The basis is the same, the writing process is the same but the mental states are very different.
What or who inspired you for Inspector Borei Gowda? What inspired you to write crime thrillers and how Inspector Gowda convert to series?
The first four novels I wrote were literary, including my short fiction. I had reached a point where I felt the need to get out of this space. I was also a little tired of this world – I wanted something where I could have an objective connection to the book itself rather than going to that deep recess in my head where I retreat when I write literary fiction.
It was a time when I had just published lessons of forgetting. The book had been published in a few European languages and I was touring the book across the continent. After a while, I realized that everyone was asking me the same questions, but in different languages. I remember telling my son, who was quite young at the time, that I was so fed up. We were then in Rome, sitting in a cafe, and we saw this transvestite pass by. It was suggested that I write about a transvestite next.
Somehow the idea got stuck in my head. From there, I had this whole image of a man disguised as a woman and, at the same time, I also had the image of an inspector on a bicycle. The next question was – How do these two characters meet? Until then I had written about small town Tamil Nadu and rural Kerala, I realized that these new characters had no place there. But things finally fell into place – I live in Bangalore and decided that the story should be set in this city.
I had no intention of writing a crime novel…it just happened. In fact, I had never read a detective novel until then. I’ve watched a lot of detective novels and television series, but never detective novels! I had put a lot of effort into building this character, you know. I also had to research the police forces. It was a huge investment of my time and mental space. When I was nearing the end of my first book, I thought, I can’t put it down so soon! By then, he had become such an integral part of me that I couldn’t stop – I wanted his story to continue and that’s how the show was born.
Between fiction and poetry, as a writer, which medium do you feel closest to?
Oh, I really couldn’t choose! You see, I’m not someone who can write poetry every day. For me, poetry comes in spurts. But fiction – I work with it every day, in one form or another. Fiction is an important part of my creative existence and poetry is an important part of my creativity.
What is your poetic inspiration and what kind of poetry do you like as a reader?
As a reader, I really like contemporary poetry. I have a few favorite classic poems and poets, but I love contemporary poetry more. Poets like Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg, I read them so often. I also try to read poetry in all Indian languages I can understand – so it will be Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil.
What are you working on at the moment? Has your creative process changed over the years?
I’m working on the third Inspector Gowda novel at present. A children’s book is also in preparation. My creative process has stayed pretty much the same – I think it’s that part of you that ideally shouldn’t age. If you start to get jaded, your writing will show it too. I think it’s imperative for any writer to keep a freshness of thought and perception, no matter where they are in their career.