Sharmila Kantha brings many different viewpoints to ‘Just the Facts, Madamji’, the compulsive story of a murder in one of Delhi’s wealthy enclaves. Her protagonist, the bank-clerk-turned-private-eye Ramji, cruises around the Delhi avenues and gallis alike, meeting a range of interesting characters in his quest for the truth.
1. What does it mean to be a writer?
SK: For me, writing is a form of escapism from the daily grind of life. When I am at my desk, worries about what is happening in the rest of the house, whether the kitchen is clean enough, if I need to get something from the bazaar, etc can be relegated to the sidelines. This is not always good for my daily life, but it keeps me content!
2. Who are your book mentors?
SK: I get my inspiration from people around me, family, friends and the ordinary person I meet at gatherings. I find people’s quirks and mannerisms very interesting. Mentors are basically other writers whose books I have enjoyed.
3. What do you do when you are looking for inspiration, or facing a writer’s block?
SK: Since I write professionally, I cannot afford to have writer’s block! The only way to deal with a temporary hurdle to the flow of one’s thoughts is to remain in front of the computer. At most, one can surf Facebook and take one’s mind off what is to be written. but ultimately one has to soldier on.
4. Your regular working/writing day?
SK: My professional writing takes up the whole day. Creative writing can come only in the late evenings. There are days when I have spent more than 12 hours on the keyboard. Somehow I just can’t bring myself to think over weekends, and my brain just shuts down!
5. What book do you wish you could have written?
SK: Camus’s The Stranger. What a perfect tone!
6. Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?
SK: Hah, I don’t think my books in any way inspire anyone. But I am inspired by the satirical writers, the ones with a sharp eye on social and individual mannerisms, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, and the best of them all, P G Wodehouse. They bring out the absurdities of a vain and self-absorbed society.
7. How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have
any name choosing resources you recommend?
SK: My first book ‘Just the Facts, Madamji’ actually came about entirely because I liked the name Ramji. I know exactly what JK Rowling means when she says that Harry Potter just walked into her imagination fully formed. This is what happened to me with Ramji. But otherwise, I have a big problem thinking up names that do not belong to family and friends. Sometimes, I go to friends lists on Facebook for names!
8. What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
SK: ‘Just the Facts, Madamji’ is my best work, even though it was my first book. It is completely apt and observant, and written in a mordant but amusing style. It depicts how the constrictions and struggles of daily life in a metro can make an entire society intellectually dull. Although I wrote it ten years ago, when I was revising it for re-issue by Rupa Publications, I did not have to make major changes.
9. What is the worst criticism you were given? And the best compliment ?
SK: My second book ‘A Break in the Circle’ received horrible reviews. That was because reviewers do not like to think or read between the lines. One reviewer called it as flat as a chapati! The best compliment was when I read out extracts from the same book at the Galle Literature Festival, and the audience was in splits of laughter! It just needed me to explain
10. What next?
SK: The re-issue of ‘Just the Facts, Madamji’ just came out in the Indian market so now I have to do the promotion. The sequel to this is ready for publication and should be in the market soon. I also have a contract for a fourth business book, but this does not appear to be the right time so I am conveniently avoiding writing it. Let’s see what inspiration strikes next!