The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

Meet the author
ďThe epithet of well-known socialite is inappropriate for meĒ

KUSUM SAWHNEY KUSUM SAWHNEY was born and brought up in England but a chance encounter with an Indian businessman brought her back to the land of her ancestors after her marriage to him. Coming from a family of academicians, she was fond of reading right from an early age and went on to earn an M.Phil in English literature. Before making her mark as a fiction writer, she wrote for a magazine in London and later for India Today.

Her very first novel Kindred Spirits created an uproar for its candid account of womenís sexuality when it was published in 1995. An year later she came out with the collection of short stories which were characterised by sheer diversity. Now six years later she is all set with her second novel to create ripples in literary circles. In this interview to Aditya Sharma, she talks at length about her life, writings and other subjects.

What took you so many years to come up with your latest novel?

My little son required a complete attention from me in his days of infancy. So there was practically no time left to work on any literary project. Later when he grew a bit I was able to devote a few hours regularly to writing fiction. My new novel that took me more than two years to write is now in the editing stages. It shall be released simultaneously in India and abroad.

Tell us something more about it.


The novel deals with incest. It is written in the first person and the main story revolves around a woman who describes her physical, emotional and mental experiences. In this novel I have tried to portray some very realistic situations for this I undertook extensive research which included querying a lot of people.

You were earlier into journalism. At what point of time did you decide to switch to fiction writing and how did you adjust to the solitary life of a writer.

Right from an early age, I had always wished to be a story writer. Only I didnít have enough ideas then. On coming to India, I discovered a storehouse of absorbing narratives waiting to be written upon. And no sooner did I find myself in the thick of appealing details than I tendered my resignation and started working on my first novel. Regarding my adjustment to a solitary existence, I think that I rather enjoy it. Besides, while writing I usually listen to some classical or semi classical music for companionship.

You have written both a novel and short stories. What difference do you find between these two and in which one do you consider yourself more effective?

The range of subjects that can be dealt with in short stories is enormous. The novel is a different medium altogether. It generally has one chief story in the main plot and some sub plots. I think in my case itís clearly the shorter version of fiction at which I find myself more proficient.

Besides reading and writing what other interests occupy you?

Right from childhood, I was quite keen on sports and mercifully I havenít forsaken these old hobbies. I still enjoy going for a swim, play tennis and work out in a gymnasium. Other than that I am an enthusiastic collector of paintings and matchboxes.

You have lived both in England and in India. What difference do you find between the literary life of these two places?

Literary activities are more organised in England. There is practically no book piracy and the writers get better royalties for their works over there. Other than that the people there are more enthusiastic towards literary books and their authors. In India both the piracy and the lukewarm attitude of the people when it comes to book buying robs the fiction writers of their necessary due. And if they donít have any private means, such authors are forced to take on alternative work for their bread and butter.

And what do you think accounts for this indifference of a majority of Indians towards creative writing?

Itís partially due to the defects in our education system and partially due to the ignorance of the common man who isnít aware of the everlasting and wholesome effect of good writing. Other than that our materialistic pursuits and the other numerous pastimes leave little time for such reading. Despite these shortcomings I must say that lately there has been a rise in the number of readers, albeit marginally.

Despite the advantages, why has England virtually stopped producing the writers of the calibre of Somerset Maugham, George Orwell and the still read novelists of the Victorian era?

I think that is probably because of the different circumstances in which the British are living these days. A writer is often the product of his times and the fast-paced and mechanised life of England is a far cry from what it was prior to the two world wars.

Would you like to be known as a feminist writer?

I wonít mind that, In fact itís through my writings that I want to voice the stifled aspirations of Indian women in particular and strive for their liberty.

The works of which writers have impressed you the most?

Roald Dahl has been my all-time favourite and I think he created some very original, regaling and uncommon stories. Then the works of Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Amy Tan and Timothy Mo have been quite inspiring.

You are also a well-known socialite. Do you enjoy partying and meeting people at social gatherings?

Occasionally I look forward to meeting individuals at a bash but clearly the epithet of a well-known socialite is quite inappropriate for me.

How would you define yourself as an individual?

I think I am very moody and rather passionate about certain things in life. Besides that I am also a bit superstitious.