For as long as Parvati Sharma can remember, every summer vacation during her teens was spent at a desk, as she toiled over her novel, writing and discarding drafts that were doomed from the beginning. The young writer would resume the school year and it would be a few months before another summer rolled by, and another attempt made at scratching out a story on the page. Nearly 15 years after those first tentative stabs at writing, Sharma is now ready to exhale as her debut novel, Close to Home (Penguin Zubaan), is out. Her second offering after the short story collection, Dead Camel and Other Stories of Love (2010), Close to Home took four years and six drafts to come into its own.
“The English writer Alan Hollinghurst said in an interview that when you’re younger, you grow out of ideas before thinking them through. The same happened to me, I just didn’t have the stamina to hold on to a thought,” says Sharma, 36, at her home in New Friends Colony in Delhi. The living room is peppered with artifacts from the family’s travels across the world: her parents are retired bureaucrats and Sharma spent a large part of her early years travelling with them through Europe and Asia. The family stead is spacious and yet, it seems as though the books it houses have taken over every bit of space — in the hallway, on a row of built-in shelves in the bedroom, where some spines stand sturdy and straight while others lean against each other. This is a reader’s paradise and a writer’s safe haven.
“I began writing short stories when I was about 30 and once those were published, people were nice about it. When I began writing again, I was acutely aware of how I was a writer now. It’s what I have always wanted to call myself, what I really want to do. But I suffered from a bloated sense of self which made me very conscious and I couldn’t write. I wondered, was this the only book I was going to write?” she says. But once she got over it, Sharma began mapping out the semi-charmed existence of Mrinalini Singh, a young woman who, at the beginning of the novel, is indulging in a wispy lesbian love affair with her flatmate and friend Jahanara in their barsati in Jangpura.
The two drink cheap alcohol, muse over thumris on lazy afternoons and share an intimacy that does not bleed into Mrinalini’s primary relationship with her boyfriend Siddhartha. She possesses an effortless ability to buy groceries for her shared life with Jahanara and make time to call her fiance in private; there is nary an upset in the delicate balance of her life.
“She’s not the most likeable person in the world but I did not want her to be an evil person. She’s got some little …continued »