The one with the affair in Gurgaon (and a conversation)
Nora Ephron, in one of her columns - possibly in 'Esquire' though I can't be sure - had wondered about the exact time the word "adultery" became irrelevant - and politically incorrect - in America. I am not sure if metropolitan India is quite there yet, but Nirupama Subramanian's recent novel 'Intermission' is a layered novel that in some ways raises this rather sensitive question. Set in a gated community in Gurgaon - and Subramanian raises all the points that sociologists agonize over, with a keen eye and a quiet sense of humor - 'Intermission' is the story of forty-four year old Varun Sarin, a suave entrepreneur, a newly-returned Indian, resident of the seventh floor of Trafalgar Towers (incidentally, I chuckled at how Subramanian has chosen the name of the colony with spot-on irony that grand Gurgaon namkaran provides). Sarin's wife Gayatri, in my opinion one of the most finely-drawn characters in the book, was wrenched from her California home when he decides to come back to address the two common NRI tropes: guilt and giving-back, and is struggling with life in Gurgaon.
On the other hand, Sweety Singh (seventeenth floor, Trafalgar Towers) is luxuriating in the freedom that this new home provides her, away from the large boisterous joint family home of her husband in Green Park. She tends to the whims of her twin daughters - Sanya-Manya - and her slightly bumbling husband Amandeep, and buys trinkets and dust-gatherers for the house happily enough; if there is a void in her life, it is inchoate yet.
In the middle of all this everyday commonplace aana-jaana, Varun, uncharacteristically swerving from the straight and narrow, falls in love with Sweety. Eventually they embark on an affair, replete with all the intrigue and guilt it engenders, and complicated fallouts.
Subramanian's prose is gracious and her gaze, at once compassionate and dissecting, tells a difficult story without sacrificing readability.
I caught up with Nirupama Subramanian briefly before the Delhi launch of the book later today:
1) What are the books currently by your bed? (If it's a pile, tell all. If it's Fifty Shades of Grey, tell us what you think of it!)
I'm afraid I have not yet succumbed to Fifty Shades of Grey.
I usually have a small pile on the bedside table, a mishmash of books in various stages of reading. Right now there are The Tell Tale Brain, which I am reading in small chunks, Agatha Christie's Autobiography and Alexander McCall Smith's The Unbearable Lightness of Scones. I am almost through with Amitabha Bagchi's Above Average.
2) Was the second book more difficult to do than the first?
I breezed through Keep the Change and enjoyed the process enormously. Intermission was more difficult in some ways. It took more time since my work assignments also increased over the last year. The subject was more complex; I had to get inside the head of a 44 year old man who was having an extramarital affair. It was enjoyable in its own way but required more effort and thought.
3) In Intermission, given there was such complex human drama happening all around, did you find yourself steering the book towards an ending you always had in mind or did you find the characters telling you what to do?
There is no conventional happy ending to an extramarital affair. When I started the book I knew what I didn't want to happen at the end. The women were not going to throw themselves in front of a train. But I had no idea what would happen otherwise. The ending evolved with the characters and by the time I finished it, I was quite convinced that this was the only way it could be, at least in the short term. The end itself is a kind of an Intermission. Anything can happen after that.
4) Are you generally relaxed about your writing while you're in the middle of a book? Or are you very edgy and anxious? And who's the first reader usually?
I am quite relaxed. When I am writing, I am completely in the world of the book. I let it take its own pace without worrying about deadlines and what potential readers would think. I had shown the first three chapters to my editor and the response was very encouraging. There was no anxiety as to whether it would be published or not. I need to enjoy the process of writing and it is a break from other anxieties. My first reader is my husband Rajesh who has an amazing quality of liking whatever I write and being able to spot errors.
5) What are you writing next?
Nothing that could become a book. I do a monthly piece on Gurgaon for Times of India and some assorted articles. I am toying with the idea of blogging.
('Intermission' has been published by HarperCollins India. The book will be launched on July 28 at The Westin Gurgaon)
More about Devapriya Roy
Devapriya Roy has degrees in English literature and performance studies from Presidency College, Calcutta, and Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and adds a languishing PhD (on the Natya Shastra if you must know) to her list of mustfinishes. Her first novel, The Vague Woman's Handbook, was published earlier this year by HarperCollins. At the moment she is working on The Heat and Dust Project, the story of an eccentric journey through India on an extreme budget, along with spouse Saurav Jha.