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Author KR Meera on her book, Hangwoman, being shortlisted for the DSC Prize and writing an even bigger novel

This 440-page work of fiction is set in the historical streets of Kolkata; on the cremation grounds located opposite the city’s red-light district, where the soil is black with pollution and a young boy who died of starvation is tossed into the Hooghly river because his parents can’t afford a cremation. Amongst this morbidity lives 22-year-old Chetna Grddha Mullick, who narrates the tale of her family—who’ve been the state appointed executioners since the 4th century BC—and how she becomes the symbol of women’s empowerment, when she is asked to assist her father and become the world’s only hangwoman.

Hangwoman: Everyone Loves a Good Hanging is penned by author KR Meera, who says that inspiration struck when she decided to write a novel that explores the place of women in India. “Chetna has been in my mind looking for a name, job and a background. And it struck me that I could say what I wanted to say by making her a hangwoman,” explains the 45-year-old, who is known for her piercing prose that puts forth women’s sexuality without any coyness. Originally published in Malayalam as Aarachaar (in 2012), the book has just been shortlisted for the 2016 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, alongside five other books including Booker shortlist entries The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee and Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy. “Till today, translated works have not been awarded the DSC Prize (which comes with a $50,000 award). If it happens this year, it will be a great recognition for Malayalam literature and writers of regional languages,” says Meera, whose earlier book, Yellow is the Colour of Longing, was long listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Meanwhile, she is “working on a bigger project, a novel bigger than Aarachaar. But I believe there is no point in discussing a novel before it is written,” she concludes.

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—  ​P Peter

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