Ratika Kapur is the author of the new novel The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma. She also has written the novel Overwinter. She lives in New Delhi.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new novel and for Mrs. Sharma?
A: Like most ideas for novels, this one had clearly been germinating in my head for a while, nourished by the occasional sighting of a face on a metro station platform, at a traffic signal, or at a mall.
Perhaps the fact that my world is adjacent but disjoint from the world of those women who live in Mrs. Sharma's world engendered a curiosity--a yearning almost--to reach out and try and enter that world.
Q: The story is told from Mrs. Sharma’s point of view. Would you describe her as a reliable or unreliable narrator?
A: We are all, in a sense, unreliable narrators of our lives, aren't we? We hide things from each other and from ourselves. I think the notion of the reliable narrator is really just a fantastical notion, like a unicorn or the Yeti; it resembles things that exist in the world but is very different from them in essence.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes as you went along?
A: No, I didn't. Rather than making changes as I go along, I typically move forward very slowly, spending days, weeks, months in my head before embarking on the next section of the work at hand. It took me almost four years to complete this book.
Q: Most of the book focuses on Mrs. Sharma’s relationships with three male characters: Vineet, Bobby, and her husband. Are there any common threads running through those three different male-female dynamics?
A: There certainly are common threads that run through them, common threads that I hope women the world over will recognise as versions of the threads that run through their own relationships with the different men in their lives.
Even those women who do not struggle to fit their relationships into clearly marked boxes the way Renuka does (or is compelled to do?) will, I hope, identify with the way she thinks about the men in her life. I don't want to say more than that because I would like my readers to come to their own conclusions.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: More fiction, a set of connected short stories, perhaps, but I haven't fully decided on the form. I have the main character in mind, however--a man, for a change!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Just that while my protagonist is Indian and my setting is Delhi, I'd like it if readers did not consider this a tourist guide-like description of "what life is like for women in India." I'd like readers to relate their own lives, wherever they are lived and however, to Renuka's life.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb