K.R. Meera has a way with her words that seep deep into one’s psyche and stay there for a while. Most of those who read her book Aarachar (Hangwoman) were left with exactly this emotion, that made them conclude that only a woman with strong convictions can portray another woman with so much intensity. Earlier this week, the book brought her one more accolade, this year’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award. Earlier, the Vayalar Award and Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award had also found their way to her home.
“I did not foresee so much success when I started writing the novel,” she says. She adds, “It was no incessant flow. I started writing Aarachar in June 2011 and in between I suffered a fracture in my leg when I was around the 14th chapter. There were also other commitments to address, after which the matters were slowly slipping from my hands as serialising the novel had already started.”
“I had to rush through chapters. All I wished was to be able to finish the novel on time. Even when the book was well received as a series, I had no idea how the book would do later on.”
Much has been said about Aarachar, since its publication in 2012. The book has been read, reviewed, dissected and loved for the strong portrayal of its female protagonist. When asked if she had to face any criticism, she says, “I believe once a writer finishes a book, it is no longer in the hands of the writer. Criticism is an innate character of every human being but for Aarachar, there is none that is noticeable.”
A unique aspect of Aarachar is that it is unconventionally set in Kolkata and the story is that of a Bengali protagonist. When asked why she did not want the story to unfold in Kerala, she says, “The book is a complete work of fiction but it is also based on certain incidents. When a factual description is added to a fictional story it becomes more believable to the readers. I started writing the novel in 2011 and the last execution by hanging till 2011 happened in Calcutta and this was the most important reason to choose that city.”
Speaking about the effort that had gone into the creating the novel, she says, “I had researched the archives of Telegraph and the Statesman, besides referring to almost 50 books to unravel the past and present political history of the city, while writing the novel. When I was working on Aarachar, Ajmal Kasab was still not executed. The location would have definitely been changed to Maharashtra had I begun writing after Kasab’s execution.” She adds, “It is not that I did not consider Kerala but it would not have sounded credible. Choosing Calcutta had its own plus points. Moreover, Malayali readers can easily relate to the city.”
When asked about leaving journalism, a field that she loves, Meera says “I did not think I wanted to be known as a writer and I had no intention to publish my stories. It was my husband who published some of my works without my knowledge. My readership slowly started growing and after that there came a point in my life when I had to choose between continuing as a journalist and becoming a professional writer.”
When the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for Aarachar was announced, Meera said she was accepting it even as she was registering her protest against the growing religious intolerance in the country. Why then did she not reject it like some of the other literary giants?
“The Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award are the two awards that I had wished to receive. Moreover, I really respect the jury that selected me and they do not support any religious intolerance. It was none other than the Kannada writer K.S. Bhagawan who is under a death threat from the fundamentalists who encouraged me to accept it. He said it was important to accept it and keep it as a weapon to voice our concern against the ills in the society.”
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