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'The Timeline Of The Novel Was Tricky To Write'

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Why this book? How did the idea of writing this book come to you?
I have been thinking about the messed up reality of mothers and motherhood, of children and childhood and above all of the shared powerlessness of mothers and their children. It’s hard to miss out on this idea. It’s all around us. Of course, to think about it as a novel required a different kind of interest and curiosity than the rather abstract one I had entertained up to that point. I had to force myself to sit with the blank page and have the confidence to believe that sitting in that chair I would get somewhere in three years.
 
Tell us a bit about how you zeroed in on the book title Not Only the Things That Have Happened. 
Our childhood stories teach us that once upon a time such and such happened and then something else and then something else and then they lived happily ever after. Even the dullest child will question this premise and wonder about what didn’t happen.
 
When she is still a child, the main character in my story finds life just doesn’t go her way — she doesn’t, for example, get fed. She grows older, and life does not get a whole lot better. As an adult she is pressured into giving her son away. A huge tragedy. But a mounting litany of grief in the form of a novel, while it might make for a cathartic read would not have served my character well. 
 
She was a woman who put as much store in what might yet happen as she did in what had already happened, a woman who would have been pissed to find her story turned into a cry-fest. Annakutty is my creation but she was also my inspiration.
 
What kind of research did you have to do to put the book together, considering as the blurb says the story takes place in a span of 36 hours?
The timeline of the novel was tricky to write. It begins in the present day on one side of the planet — in Kerala and delves at length into the past and flashes very briefly to an imagined future. This is Part One of the novel. Part Two is the same 36 hours on the other side of the plant, in the US where a boy given away in childhood is now a grown man. 
 
I created a graphic timeline, thirty-six hours in time that was also concurrently sixty years backward and forty years forward, a chart travelling sideways for about four feet, something like the ones our social studies teachers had us do — those timelines that hung above the blackboard in front of the class — to be read as a recording of sequential events. But all of us have had the experience of squinting at the chart to see that it also presents the possibility of seeing all of time, explosively, all at once — so that dinosaurs and the end of the Roman Empire, our exploration of deep space and once upon a time when we were apes, are all also concurrent. This novel is less a result of research than it is of experimentation.
 
Not Only The Things That Have Happened By Mridula Koshy
Not Only the Things That Have Happened; by Mridula Koshy
Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
Pages: 360; Price: Rs 499
Tell us about your writing habits. Considering you shift between Delhi and Portland, when and where do you write?
In Delhi, I try (mostly successfully) to write five days a week. I began by giving up the idea of any career other than writing, giving up on behalf of my children whatever income and toys this other career would have ensured I brought home (they haven’t complained too much, but remember: the powerlessness of children). And I hired a nanny to keep an eye on the toy-less children while I wrote. The relatively low wages we pay household help had much to do with the success of this formula. The relatively high wages in Portland means I have a whole lot of juggling to do. I am neither efficient nor productive in Portland. Often enough I am not even a writer. In this I am like most women workers who have to juggle their professions and their children all the while keenly conscious that if they were given the world to run quality childcare would follow hard on the heels of world peace.
 
Where all did this book take you? 
Starting at about age three and till he was six or even seven my middle son used to wake up every morning and tell us increasingly elaborate stories about the planet he visited every night, the planet he was king of — Baby Planet. In fact, he never left his bed. I know. I checked. He was simply making these stories up. 
 
I too barely travelled, barely researched, had to make it all up. What little travel I did was to Kerala where I lived for two years in my childhood.
 
Though my protagonist, the mother who loses her son, is quite the contained human being, I tend toward weepiness. So yes, I let the book take me to a place where I too lost my children, where I was bereft, where I could not survive the loss. 
 
How did you find a publisher for your (first and current) book? Tell us your journey of writing the manuscript to a printed format...
In American English: I put myself out there, I hung myself out to dry, I got out on a limb and proceeded to saw. Okay, free-fall might be a bit of an exaggeration. Delhi is a friendly city. You don’t have to get out too far, that is, attend too many public readings and open mics before someone very friendly approaches you and asks if you have more material than what you have shared. In my case, this person was Nilanajana Roy, then head of Tranquebar Press. Luckily, I had material, some two dozen stories I had been working on for the previous two years. And of course, she was approaching me not only on the strength of the one story she heard me read but also on the recommendation of a writer friends, Shakti Bhatt and Samit Basu. I don’t think there is friendlier city with a more loving group of writers than Delhi. I have countless writer friends to thank for my becoming a writer. 
 
And I didn’t know a single one of them back in 2006. I didn’t meet them in graduate school or in writing programmes and my mother’s cousin is not married to anyone’s father’s uncle. 
 
According to you what makes a book a really good read or a bestseller?
Probably, a good story. But many good stories, best-sellers even, are forgettable. As a reader first, and now a writer I tend to prefer unforgettable books, and not all of those are bestsellers.
 
In Acknowledgements, you have thanked Barista, Costa Coffee and Cafe Turtle workers. Surely coffee is your energy drink... What else?
As indebted as I am to my children’s nanny and my writer friends is how indebted I am to the workers at the coffee shops where I write. The majority of them have known me for years as the woman who overstays her cup of coffee by hours. Never has anyone made me feel unwelcome. They are, in a sense, my colleagues.
 
I read your profile on Sangam House site. Reproducing it in part here: She was many other things before she became a writer: a cashier at a Kentucky Fried Chicken,swap-meet sales clerk, backstage dresser at fashion shows,waitress who set a table cloth on fire, polisher of silverware ...writing adviser, a professional advocate of multiculturalism (it was the late 80s), a painter (not of the fine arts variety), receptionist at a law firm...

Does this eclectic experience help you as a writer, by way of being an insider to these professions so to speak? 
Indeed many of my jobs have been colourful and interesting. But having interesting and eclectic experiences is not the basis of writing. The only job requirement for becoming a writer is that one writes, actually, physically sits down and writes, preferably a lot, because a lot of it is rubbish and has to be thrown out, and only by writing can one learn to write. 
 
Most of us don’t get to choose our experiences. I have never been to Paris. I would love to go. It would be silly for me to get hung up on a need to go to Paris before I could write. The important thing is to take an interest, a deep interest, in one’s life, whatever it might be, whether it be the Paris kind of life or a mother of three children kind of life. 
 
What's the hardest thing about being a writer?
The pay. The lack of respect. The pay. The lack of respect. Oh heck, it’s all one, isn’t it?
 
What are you reading now?
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
 
So, what’s next?
A young adult novel, Bicycle Dreaming, and a collection of short stories, The Hangman of the Centuries. 
 
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