Anuradha Roy on exploring faith in her third book, and why she experimented with her narrative
When Anuradha Roy found out that her third novel was long-listed for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, it had felt surreal—as if they’d made a mistake and would call her to rectify the error. But now that Sleeping on Jupiter has been shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2016, she is more appreciative. “Writing is such a solitary occupation, and these nominations make you feel as if people you know and respect have read your work and thought well of it,” begins the author.
The book grew from an unpublished short story in which three friends go for a holiday on a beach. “As I grew interested in the tangential characters, one of whom was Nomi, the novel started taking shape,” says Roy, who runs a publishing house in Ranikhet, called Permanent Black, with her husband.
The novel revolves around Nomita, a young girl who, at seven witnesses her father’s murder, loses her brother and is abandoned by her mother—all in the space of two days. At the orphanage, she is sexually abused by the guru who runs it, before being adopted by a Norwegian couple and moving abroad. At 25, she returns to India, to revisit her roots. While hailing her chiselled prose, reviews state the book exposes the hypocrisies of the Indian society. For Roy, however, it’s an exploration of friendship and the impact of religion on people. Asked about the title, she shares, “All the characters in the novel, in different ways, are in search of freedom—from fear or from family, or from pain and rejection. What they are looking for is a different reality and one of the characters dreams of finding a new reality on Jupiter.”
With multiple storylines and shifts in time, the novel, which is spread across 18 days (alluding to the period of the war in the Mahabharata, as “the book is so centrally about faith”), has a jagged structure. “The characters had to overlap and yet remain distinct—they are like planets of different orbits that come close and then drift away again. There were also the shifts in time and perspective, so the narrative is spliced,” she explains.
Prose and pottery
Currently working on a new idea—though she says “there is nothing to talk about yet”—Roy juggles writing, designing (book covers), painting and pottery. With one foot in publishing, she says there is a lot of change in English writing in India, with new writers and translations coming out. But she is also wary. “All I hear from publishing friends is that book sales are abysmal. I can’t figure out how there is so much writing and so little reading,” exclaims the fan of crime fiction (think Karin Fossum and Henning Mankell). For now, however, she just wants to finish reading her copy of Moby Dick.
Published by Hachette India, the book is Rs 499. Details: hbcbookalliance.com
—Surya Praphulla Kumar