Love is like milk. With the passage of time, it sours, splits and becomes poison. Madhav gave me that poison. I did not die; instead I killed him. I, the widow, came to Mathura’s Vrindavan. That was twelve years ago.
These are the opening lines of the novel The Poison of Love by multi-award-winning author K.R. Meera. The narrative is woven around Tulsi, an academically brilliant woman who graduates with “record marks” from IIT Chennai, and is living in Vrindavan among widows who have been rejected by their families. Her head shaved, decay festering in her body, she fights with the monkeys that forage for scraps of food on the temple premises.
A chance visit to the holy city triggered Meera’s interest in writing a story about a widow living in the city. “It is strange, but I believe the story was meant to be written,” says Meera, adding, “I was in Delhi with my family to attend a conference and we suddenly planned to visit Agra to celebrate my birthday. We had no reservations yet boarded the train. On the way, the train stopped at Vrindavan and my husband suggested we stay in Vrindavan station for a day before heading to Agra. The temples and the beautiful architecture were inspiring but I got greatly disturbed with the plight of widows living in the ashrams. I think that triggered my subconscious mind to create this narrative. Also, I have described the ashram exactly the way I saw during my visit.”
Meera effortlessly transports the reader into the world of each of her protagonists, whether it’s Tulsi from The Poison of Love or Prema of The Gospel of Yudas.
Women are her muses. “This is my way of political activism. I try to record the life of women. In all my works, what I have attempted as a writer is to narrate and record the way we (women) evolve emotionally, culturally, politically and even creatively. Also, we have read numerous stories centred on man. So, in all my stories, women play the central character. They are not naive or damsels in distress; they are strong independent thinkers who stood the test of time.”
Her characters are inspired by real life encounters. According to her, every work of art is motivated by human relationships. “It need not be man-woman relationship. It can be with an unknown person and your interaction with them. For example, the male character Madhav in The Poison of love is inspired by a story a married friend shared with me about finding the letters written by her husband in reply to his ex-girlfriends and how shocked she was to realise that he had written the same lines to all of them.”
Her previous book Hangwoman being termed as a ‘modern day’ classic increased her responsibility to produce another equally great piece of work. “It gives me immense pleasure that my novel, which questions the establishment and is chronicled from the viewpoint of a woman appointed as the first hangwoman in the country, got critical acclaim. At the same time, it is a lot of pressure to match up to that level of expectations. I take it up as a thrilling challenge to produce another good piece of work and a gripping narrative centred around strong-willed women.”
Talking about her hugely successful book Hangwoman, she says, “I had been planning to write a novel on the evolution of women’s lives in our country since many years. The metaphor of death sentence and death by hanging had remained an obsession with me from the beginning. The novel happened when it struck me that I could tell the story I wanted to tell through a hangwoman. But there was a problem. In India, women are not eligible to apply for the post of hangman. So, I decided to tell the story against the backdrop of Kolkata, so that it would be more convincing, as the 2004 hanging in Kolkata had created much media hype.”
Being a vernacular writer — this book is translated from Malayalam — there is always a doubt if the story will get lost in translation. But Meera differs with that view. “I have been very lucky and my narrative retains its essence in translation. One of the key reasons is that there are brilliant translators who consider translation as a labour of love. It is a two-way process, we discuss it whenever necessary and I give them my suggestions at each stage,” states the Sahitya Akademi winner.
Going forward, she plans to work on her new book centred in Delhi. “I am currently working on the plotline of my new book. I am yet to develop the storyline but it will be based on a girl living in Delhi. But before that book, I am planning to bring out a collection of short stories,” she concludes.