As a writer, she says, she can’t close eyes to the unsavoury truths around her. “Why wouldn’t I write about something which affects me deeply? A writer’s job is not to make a tourist brochure of the country.” said Roy, whose previous books “An Atlas of Impossible Longings” (2008) and “The Folded Earth” (2011) had won several prestigious awards.
Roy was nominated for the coveted prize for her third novel “Sleeping On Jupiter” (Hachette India) which explores the issue of sexual violence against women and children in India.
The author, based in Ranikhet (Uttarakhand) said she could not believe it when she was told about the listing. “It was complete disbelief, when my husband broke the news to me. It is satisfying and wonderful to make it to the list, which is open to the world,” Roy said adding that the controversy surrounding the new rules of Booker Prize hasn’t taken any sheen off it.
“The opening up of Booker to the world has not gone down well with the British. They feel that when Pulitzer is not open to others, so why the Booker Prize should be open to the Americans,” asked Roy, who runs a publishing house, Permanent Black, with her husband.
Roy’s new book traces the journey of the protagonist Nomita Frederikson from Oslo to make a documentary on Jarmuli, (a fictional place), the Indian temple town by the sea.
It traces Nomita’s experiences, as a child – of violence and sexual abuse.
At the age of seven, Nomita goes to the orphanage in the temple town run by a world-renowned guru, after losing her family in a war. Though she was adopted and taken to Norway, she continues to be haunted by memories of being sexually abused by the guru in the orphanage.
The author also slammed reviews describing the book as an expose on Indian hypocrisies. “If somebody chooses to say the book is about Indian hypocrisy, it doesn’t mean the book is one. In the book, I deliberately refrained from specifying the wars and tried to universalise war. It applies to everyone affected by war and displacement,” Roy opined.
The book talks about communal violence, war and a larger than life holy man who turns out to be a sexual predator.
The idea of the book came from a long short story which Roy wrote in 2008. “The protagonist and the temple guy are mere glimpses in the short story. Later I kept thinking about the characters and thus the novel,” said Roy adding that there are three older women characters from the story. “The three women were also in the short story. It’s about their first and last holiday where they are in search of happiness, which is fragile,” she said.
Though Roy’s well-crafted prose exposes the unequal and unjust gender reality in India, she doesn’t want to make any statement on the condition of women. “One starts out with a world of imagination while writing fiction. As it happens, the theme develops towards characters and situation. Though I don’t have a huge statement on the condition of women in India, I really wish I can take a public transport instead of hiring a car at night for home. That is never possible in Delhi,” she rued.
Calling herself a feminist, Roy felt that feminism was more relevant now. “It’s absurd to disassociate from the term feminist. If not for the radical feminism of the 60’s, all the rights we take for granted now, wouldn’t have happened. Every woman, who fights for her rights, is a feminist on her own terms,” Roy felt.
Roy confessed that the novel was a tough task as she adopted a different structure compared to the previous ones. “I wanted the complex mystery of a short story in the novel. I wanted to place the action in a five day-span, and it nearly killed me,” she said adding that being a publisher helped her immensely to induce discipline in her work.
Though there is an intense visual appeal to the book, Roy has no plans to make it into a movie. “I am not ready for it,” said the author who loves well-written crime fiction.
Pitted against the likes of Man Booker Prize-winning Irish author Anne Enright and the Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Anne Tyler among 13 others, does she harbour any hope of making it to the distinguished title? “I am not thinking about it now,” Roy quipped.
The Man Booker shortlist will be announced in September and the finalist will be decided in October.