'Not Only the Things That Have Happened' is a novel about the stories that make us and break us and then remake us. The novel takes place over a thirty-six hour period, travelling between far-flung places, characters, the past and the future. Time is a character here, revealing that though the story of our present is always told for us, the story of the past and the future is ours to tell.
The author, Mridula Koshy, joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on her book 'Not Only the Things That Have Happened'.
Q. What can we look forward to next from you, after 'Not Only the Things That Have Happened'? Asked by: Sohini
A. I have about half of a young adult novel, set in Delhi. Literature elevates those who participate in it - elevates the characters, the reader, the story. So this little girl in my story - Noor - is someone not often seen in literature in English. She is the daughter of a kabbadiwallah and like daughters everywhere she lives in an agony of love for her parents and embarassment hat she belongs to them. I wanted to explore this tension in her which is a tension we more easily credit to middle or upper class kids. She also wants a bicycle. So the story is about her wanting to ride, wanting to be her father and wanting to not be him. I've got a ways to go yet. But maybe in another year. I am also writing short stories, not sure these stories are about any one thing. They seem to be about all sorts of things. So might take me a while to pull a collection together.
Q. Did you find it easier to write the Kerala section or the American? Asked by: Doel
A. The Kerala section. But that surprised me. I thought the American section would be the easier of the two.
Q. Do you have a favourite character? Asked by: Aanchal
A. Oh I don't know. How can I admit to a favourite. I do have this silly thing I do with my kids all the time. I whisper (sometimes a stage whisper) in each one's ear: 'You know, you are my favourite. Don't tell the others.' I think I probably did that with my characters, as well.
Q. What is/are the technical maneuvers you use to keep the coherency of the read intact while switching back and forth both geographically and temporally within the story? Asked by: Aditi
A. It would be boring for me to show you the petticoat so to speak of my novel, the underpinnings, the foundation garments. A little nip, a little tug and the sprawl of sixty plus years told in the novel is brought to order so it achieves some sort of tidy figure. But yes I had to construct rather mechanical time lines for myself - on paper joined on the 8.5" side, on epag to the next so there was a long ribbon of paper. On one of these ribbons I worked out nearly every half hour of the 36 hour period of the novel so I knew where on may 19, 2001 Annakutty dies, and what time that was in Dubai and what time in the US where her son lived oblivious of her death. I had a similar length of paper on which I plotted Annakutty's life from her birth to her death on a timeline, and below that timeline her son's timeline from his birth to her death so that I knew where he was at twelve in relationship to where she was that same year.
Q. Is the story of Annakutty and Thambi one of love or one of convenience? Asked by: Paromita
A. Love. It is of course a convenient thing for any of us to be able to love. It helps in raising children, arranging one's finances and provides life long companionship. But Annakutty most definitely falls head over heels. I think perhaps nothing engenders love like the someone else's love. To be desired, that is everything. And he desires her and she falls for this desire first and then for him.
Q. Mridula, what about your background, were you born in India and then migrated to US or vice-versa? Asked by: John
A. I was born in Delhi and after a stable first four years there we, my family and I - took to the road. I've lived in Kerala, Haryana, the US, Delhi again and then came the second and this time more or less permanent move to the US at the age of 14. Unlike my siblings, I never gave up my Indian citizenship and was glad when in my thirties life finally allowed me to return.
Q. How do you keep yourself motivated and free from distraction while writing a book? Asked by: Anna
A. I try to write about what interest me deeply. The work itself motivates me. If I am bored when writing I cant finish the work. So I tend not to pick up stories that are of passing interest. My writing is not the kind that has mass market appeal. Often family members will encourage me to think about turning my abilities toward something more saleable. And yes, the thought goes through my head: 'would be nice to make some money.' It might even linger in my head long enough to take the form of a plot of a character but I rarely can do more with it. As for distraction, the internet is the one I loathe and love. Everything from fashion blogs to window-shopping online. If I catch myself at it during work time, I scold myself and close my browser. Back to the story at hand.
Q. What was the most difficult and easy part of the book to write? Asked by: Smita
A. The most difficult chapter to write was the chapter when I wrote my protagonist's last thoughts. Though she dies on page one I wrote her dying thoughts in a series of chapters that are interleaved within Part One of the novel. The last of these last chapters left me bereft, as if she was real and I would never hear from her again. I still have trouble reading that chapter, on page 158 and 159. It was also the most difficult chapter because aside from my emotional connection to her death, I was pushing myself hard to figure out exactly what goes through the a person's mind when it is the final moment of her life.
Q. How/why did the transition from short stories (If It Is Sweet) to this novel come about? Did you find the writing experience differing as you shifted forms? Asked by: Payel
A. When I read the writers I admire, I am aware that they are changing my mind for me. That is, not the same thing as changing opinion n an issue, but rather 'literally changing my mind/thinking/brain structure. This is the best part of reading, accessing not only what someone else thinks but also how they think, how their brain maps an idea. I get smarter when I read those who are smarter than I am. So when I wrote short stories I had brain rewired by the act of writing in that form. The novel was difficult at first because my wiring was so tied to this form. But as I went along I felt myself change. It was quite a remarkable experience. My conclusion: thinking is how we become thoughtful.
Q. 'Not Only the Things That Have Happened' deals a lot with the substance of big, universal themes. Does questioning the nature of time, and fear, originate while you are building the characters or do you work the musings from your personal life into the situations and characters' thoughts? Asked by: Sohini
A. I write as a way of handling the big things in life. They are the most interesting and also the easiest to convince myself that I have thought enough about, the easiest then to walk away from. Writing forces me tho think it through to some end. End is of course not the same thing as conclusion or closure. This stuff gos on in one's head, especially as life throws up new events and one re-thinks all over. Its the business of being truly alive. Yes, a lot of my writing comes from what I have seen, heard, witnessed, experienced. But I don't know that my life will have the same resonance to anyone else, so yes, I may start from my life but I do look for a story outside of my own life in which to chase the big ideas.
Q. Hi mam, I am currently pursuing journalism and have hidden hopes of being a writer someday ...any tips you would like to share? :) Asked by: vinny
A. Read a lot and write a lot. If you are interested at all in narrative non-fiction, ie journalism that looks like novel-writing, then do look not only at Indian papers, but also at the free online pages for New Yorker etc. Brilliant essays. Also look up Longform.
Q. How long did it take to write the book? Asked by: Tiger
A. Two years for the first draft 2007 - 2009 two more years for the re-write 2009-2011
Q. Who is your favorite Indian Author? Asked by: Srikar
A. No one favourite. I love the writing of my two favourite friends who are novelists - Rana Dasgupta and Jeet Thayil. Then there are writers I don't know as well who really make me stop in my tracks. Vivek Narayanan comes to mind. Amitabh Bagchi. Anindita Sengupta. Amitav Ghosh for sheer story telling. Midnight's Children was of course foundational reading although I stopped reading after the disappointment of Fury. I need to pick the recent two novels though. People are saying good things.
Q. What is your writing schedule like and do you write everyday? Also what is your least favourite part about writing a book? Asked by: Anna
A. I have not written in a few weeks because I have been traveling since the early part of Jan, a book tour of sorts. I really need a free and clear space/time to write. I create that for myself when I am in my regular home life. That is, I write Monday through Friday, generally from about 11 am to 5 pm. Some of this time gets frittered away on the internet and I do have to stop earlier on Wednesdays to take my ten year old to her tabla practice, but yes, that's generally what my routine looks like. I don't write at home. Too much laundry piled up. I write in coffee shops. My daughter imagines I spend the day eating cake. My least favourite part of the writing life is getting a hundred pages in and realizing I have backed myself into a corner. Someone, a character, has died too soon or is born too late or whatever plot point that just isn't jiving with the story I am trying to tell. Its re-write time. ugh.
Q. Hi, Do we have a facebook page for the book ? Asked by: Raghu
A. I have an author page, not a book page. Its where I announce whatever readings and book related events, the reviews etc as they come in. And here's the link https://www.facebook.com/mridulakoshypage No baby pictures of my kids, not too many of me, just book stuff. Readers are invited to post there.
Q. Hi. which has been the most interesting chapter from the book? Asked by: Himanshu
A. The chapters that were most fun to write - 2 of them, but linked so they are almost just one chapter - were Bus Stop 1 and Bus Stop 2 The main character falls in love in these two chapters and its lovely to write about love. It is such an an act of faith and one I was glad to see my protagonist, Annakutty undertake. But first the lover, Thambi, has to persuade her and who doesn't like to be persuaded. I loved writing him persuading her. I think in some ways I was Thambi in love with Annakutty and trying to persuade her. And she is persuaded, she realizes the act of choosing love, which is akin to choosing life, to keeping faith with life, would not be a second abandonment of her child. She could continue hoping to find him, as slim and tragic as that hope is, and all the while live her life.