Updated: September 26, 2021 8:19:41 pm
There may never have been harmony but the aspiration was coexistence, says author Anuradha Roy who mourns the death of this ideal in her latest book The Earthspinner that delves into the heartbreaking story of a potter and his dream project a terracotta horse.
Elango the village potter was set for all the big things in life with that horse for which there were many takers. Then appeared strokes of Urdu calligraphy on it and whispers of his inter-religious affair with Zohra and, in the flash of an eye, his creation was destroyed and his picture perfect world turned into a nightmare. “That was the thing about religion: it could lead to a kind of insanity .. Muslims and Hindus — it wasn’t so much about religion as a blood feud like Romeo and Juliet’, remarks a character in “The Earthspinner”.
“Especially for people of my generation and older, I think, we do miss a vanished country where harmony between very diverse people was at least an ideal we aspired to. There never was harmony, and there were always oppressed, brutalised and excluded people, but still, the aspiration was coexistence. In that sense, the book is about the death of this ideal,” Roy told PTI in an e-mail interview.
Published by Hachette India, The Earthspinner is the story about the changed ways of “living and loving” in the modern world and death of the aspiration of coexistence in India. “I want to write fiction that responds to my present, to all that I see around me, but which tries to find its connections with the larger world and to the past. ‘The Earthspinner’ in the title of this book refers to the Creator god, who is represented as a potter, across religions,” said Roy, who has been dabbling with pottery since her college days.
“In the way that the Creator has created the earth, which is being destroyed by human action, Elango the potter’s beautiful creation too is destroyed by human action,” she added. Set in the 1980s, the 223-page novel recounts Elango’s passion for creating a terracotta horse, destroyed by a community driven by “inflammatory passion of a different kind”, his love for Zohra and his dog Tashi. It is narrated by Sara, who is studying English literature in England, and likes spending time at wheel-throwing, something she learnt from Elango during her childhood.
Sara’s personal story, like her tutor’s, is also of multiple losses the loss of her father, Elango as her teacher and the land she was born and brought up in. Roy, 54, the author of “The Atlas of Impossible Longing”, “The Folded Earth” and “All the LIves We Never Lived” and Sleeping on Jupiter, said her newest book was in the making for a long time. She said she has been exploring its themes by writing shorter pieces — some of which were published and some remain just as notes.
“Sleeping on Jupiter” was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2015) and won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (2016). Her last book “All the Lives We Never Lived” was the winner of the Tata Literature Live! Book of the Year Award (2018).
The awards are valued because they are “decided upon by peers” but are also “very random” with “deserving books” often missed, she argued. “I think it’s a little unfortunate how fixated we have become on prizes the result is that books that haven’t made it to them can just fall off the reading map, and this is a tragedy. What we need is to recover the joy of reading a book that may not have won any prizes but draws you into its world, takes over your mind and heart so comprehensively that it alters your way of seeing somewhat and you have a hard time starting another book after it.”
Asked if the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns led to any creative slump, the author who lives in a quiet cantonment town of Ranikhet in Uttarakhand replied in the negative. “When the pandemic began I was already well into the writing of it, and when I am writing, I lead a life that is even more than usually isolated. So the lockdowns did not affect anything in that sense. As the pandemic intensified, anxiety for friends and relatives made it hard to focus. Yet I was grateful to have something else to focus on, so I did not give in to a sense of powerless panic,” she said. Roy also detailed her process of writing.
She puts emphasis on the “music of sentences” and “prose that is structured well, taut with meaning, poetry, wit, images” and will go on “revising and revising, every sentence” until she is happy with the way it falls on her ears — also why she likes listening to the book being read out aloud many times. “It is different for me with each book, and I feel each time as if I’m on the edge of a precipice and feel fear and vertigo as well as fascination. If I am completely consumed by ideas and images that don’t let go of me then I know I will be back at work, writing. I am not the kind of person who writes a certain number of words even into a journal, come what may,” she explained.
“The Earthspinner” was released on September 3
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