I read Madhavi’s latest book Doppelgänger Short stories and was impressed with the simple yet charming way of writing and I had to speak to her and bring her life to you. So here is what happened when Madhavi Talked to Tiger. Madhavi opens up in a rare discussion about her childhood, her motivation and also shares her secret of success. So here you go.
Hello Madhavi, introduce yourself to our audience.
My dad chose my name because he liked the sound of it: Madhavi. In later life, I rather liked it myself. It’s an illustrious name. King Yayati, of Mahabharata fame, had a daughter by this name and hers is a very interesting story – more than mine – but too long for this space. While I mean different things to the people in my life and they will remember me accordingly, to my readers, unknown and yet very close to me, I would only like to be remembered as someone who could tell a damn good story.
Where were you born? Tell me about your childhood, parents…
I was born close to Dehradun, Uttarakhand, where my maternal grandparents lived. I was the first grandchild from both sides of the family, and was always treated with the respect due to numero uno. Having said that, I have to add that my parents, especially my mother, firmly believed that discipline has to be introduced into the diet as soon as the milk teeth are shed. I was her first project and she still treats me as a work-in-progress. My dad, who passed away some years ago, rather rejoiced in my very existence. He left me with a deep love of books, a particularity for the precise work and an irreverent attitude. Nothing is sacred except, of course, the Oxford Reference Dictionary.
What and where did you study? Any influences that inspired to write?
My father was in the Indian Army, so I was a scholastic nomad. The only constant was that wherever we went, Dehradun, Delhi, Jhansi, Allahabad, was always a girl’s school, a convent. As for writing influences, a sense of place plays a key role in my writing process. It is very important, I feel, to blend ‘atmosphere’ into your story telling.
What were your dreams like when you were a kid?
I was a bookworm, so I dreamed up every possible career I read about, from acrobat, animal trainer and archaeologist to, detective, flying doctor and explorer. Now that I think of it, I wanted a life of constant action in my dreams, while in real life I have always wanted the exact opposite: quietness and a good book
Thought process behind the book? It is a rare topic.
The thought process is never a straight flow from source to sea. Doppelganger was prompted largely by the changes in the city that I had lived in for decades. Bangalore, as its long time citizens know , was green, quiet and charming. It had an ugly makeover and is unrecognizable. When the setting changes what does it do to the characters who inhabit it was the larger question that intrigued me. As the city acquires the sameness of other cities, eg: KFC, mall culture, high rises etc, do the characters, too, acquire an identicalness? Doppelganger, as you would know, is German word, literally meaning ‘the double who walks elsewhere.’
What kind of research you had to do for the book?
It varied, but every story needed some amount of research. For ‘Homecoming’ I had to learn a bit about Alzheimer’s, for ‘Being Nothing’ it was about fighter pilot training, for ‘Parthenogenesis’ it was about phantom pregnancies, for ‘Agony Uncle’ I trawled through dating websites, for ‘Stone Man’ I read up on domestic abuse and its aftermath.
How did you come up with that name for your book?
Though the themes of the stories vary, they are all centered on the idea of self. What is the basis of this identity? How is it affected by the many roles that society requires a person to play? What happens when a society that is traditionally patriarchal begins to change? What kind of individual dilemmas does this impose?
Any one character you like in the book? What was the thought process behind that character?
I have liked all the characters in my book equally, but if I were to pick out just one it would have to be Ina, the woman in ‘Water child’. This story was prompted by the questions around pregnancy and Motherhood, supposedly the big role in a woman’s life. Women are, even now judged by their ability to have babies; the idea of The Mother has been exalted to almost divine status. But when exactly does a woman realise that she is a mother and what does this mean to her? Does it for instance, bring on a sense of responsibility, compassion and caring? Through the character of Ina and the choice she makes in the story, I had some kind of clarity on this matter.
How do you arrive at the story? When do you know it is ready?
For me a story never really arrives because that would mean the journey’s end . I don’t want that to happen. Instead, what I would love is that every time it is read by another person it starts on a fresh journey. Coming to the writing process, the story is ready when every word is in its precise place, and together the sum to total of their meaning is beyond computing. A story’s meaning has to be layered, and every time you read it, a new layer is revealed.
What can your readers expect from the book?
Their money’s worth, I hope. Also some hours of forgetfulness, some characters that stayed, some lines that lingered. Again I hope.
Tell me your best experience after you your book came out!
The book was dedicated to a dear friend who passed away. So placing it in her younger sister’s hands felt good.
Please tell me how do you prepare yourself to write. How do you beat writers block?
I prepare myself by throwing everything and everybody, except my dog, out of my immediate vicinity. I listen to instrumental music and stare at the computer screen till I manage to hypnotize it into conjuring the right words.
Beating writer’s block requires me to follow all of the above actions in the order listed.
Any message, tips for aspiring authors? An author’s secret?
Write only if you are certain that your sole dying regret will be that you never told the story you were meant to tell. However, if you feel that there are other things you will regret more, such as never being size zero, making up with that friend you fought with, travelling the world or learning piano, then do all that first. Write only because you must.
Any quote from the book that is your favourite?
This is one among several. But as it’s short enough, I’m sharing it:
“Maybe Happily Married is an optical illusion and all husbands are a disappointment to their wives.” From One last Song
If you have a story to share with us, mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org