The Tribune - Spectrum

, September 8, 2002

Meet the author
"I write for the sheer pleasure
of telling stories"

Ravi Shankar Etteth
Ravi Shankar Etteth

BESIDES being a cartoonist and a graphic artist, 42-year-old Ravi Shankar Etteth is the deputy editor of India Today. And with the recent launch of his debut novel The Tiger By The River (Penguin), he has also become a writer. Humra Quraishi met Ravi Shankar Etteth for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

You are known to be a mischievous party animal and you have a full-time job and yet you have managed to find time for your own writings. How?

A mischievous party animal? I donít know exactly what you mean, but I can guess. I do sometimes sneak up behind unsuspecting friends and boo in their ear at parties, especially if they are gorgeous and good pals like Nalini or Sonalika. It is fun to see the astonishment on their faces, and the affectionate disapproval later. I suppose if you are a cartoonist a sense of mischief is a given.

Life is such fun. I love everything about my life; my friends, my dogs, my job, I love the flexibility and versatility it gives me. Besides, I am rather quick on the uptake, which helps me to be multi-tasked. Stephen Frey called himself, Ďthe last of the talented amateursí ó I kind of like that.

Most writers have turbulent personal lives and that seems to affect their creative flow. Comment.

I donít have a turbulent personal life. I have a calm, laid-back existence. I am usually very reticent about my private life, and if by turbulent you mean messy, noisy, chaotic and negative, I do not have a turbulent life.

I am passionate about things: my life, my work, my women, my friends. And that passion is evident in everything I do, in my loves and my loathings, in the stand I take about things. In feeling intensely, I am able to taste things better, see colours brighter and live life to the fullest.


Have personal upheavals affected your writings or have they been responsible for this creativity?

As I said, my personal upheavals have not been any big deal. Intense interactions between memory and behavior give a certain quality to the imagination. I like to sublimate even the most ordinary relationship, that way the beauty remains real, yet somehow elusive.

You have been living in New Delhi for years yet that longing for home ó Kerala ó seems evident in your novel. Comment.

I have no longing for the Kerala of today. It is a sick place, ruined by communism and communalism and the false equality that Ďpetrodollarsí bring. Its food, architecture and dress have been lost. I intensely dislike the Kerala of today.

Under that fun-loving facade there seems a great sensitivity in your writings. What particular aspects of life have touched you or left you disturbed?

You said it, I didnít! All aspects of life touch me, however minute. Is it possible to walk along a hillside and feel the air and not be touched by everything the wind has embraced? No way. Sure, you can get allergies; I am allergic towards some people and some philosophies. Everyone is. But I am as vulnerable as the next man. Loss, pain, sorrows, betrayals, affect me depending on how attached I am to the object or person in question, and in what context these things happen. But I donít like to admit it, even to myself sometimes. Letís party is my motto.

In your novel thereís that mix and match of the present and the past and also the perpetual quest for journeys. Are you torn between the past and the present and insecure about the future?

Let me clarify one thing. You talk about being torn by things, upheavals and turbulence. I am rarely torn between anything. I am very centred, and perhaps being a sorcerer has helped. My teacher Ipsita taught me about the true nature of power, that there is always something greater than you, and it is forever conscious and integral. Magic centres you. There is no need to feel small, but only to see yourself in the proper perspective.

The past is a great granary of harvests taken, the present is where I live and anticipate the future. The past, also, doesnít exist except as a library of experiences. And I am never insecure; afraid, sometimes yes, but never insecure.

You have just finished writing your second novel too. Tell us more about it.

It is called the Village of Widows. It is a tale of four murders and the face of evil in its many incarnations. If I tell you any more, Iíll be giving the story away. And then you wouldnít want to buy it. Itís got a cool male and female lead, and a villain who is very accomplished.

Do you write for yourself or do you have a definite readership profile in mind? Also, though your novel was launched here recently, it was launched much earlier in the UK; what has been the response?

I write because I am. I write for myself, for you, for the sheer pleasure of telling stories, to revel in the awesome delight of the imagination showing me things I never knew existed. Of dialogues born out of a sequence of events and postures, the sudden appearance of characters who were completely unplanned; where does it all come from? Maybe there is a Jungian creative collective unconscious where characters exist like unused clipart, dialogues and situations.

The novel was launched in the UK because it was bought first in the UK. The response from the bookshops, marketing directors of bookstore chains and initial reviews both in India and abroad have been very good.

Would you describe yourself as a cartoonist or a writer? Also, why do most of Indiaís well-known cartoonists, Shankar Pillai, Abu Abraham, Kutty and you, just to mention a few, come from the state of Kerala?

I describe myself as Ravi Shankar. I am not easy to typecast, even for myself. As for cartoonists coming from Kerala, it was an old trend. There are no new cartoonists from Kerala after 1980. In fact there are no new cartoonists, period.