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A chat with vijay nair on his racy whodunit

Strong on the outside but really quite a mess within, Neha is the typical career woman of uber India. When her mother is brutally killed in her flat, Neha bottles up her rage and helplessness. But when an unknown woman is murdered in exactly the same manner in faraway Coonoor, she knows she needs to go there. That’s because Samir, her best friend from school, is the prime suspect. Can she ignore the dots that seem to connect to her mother’s death and help Samir when he needs her the most?

In Coonoor, she meets Samir’s lover Sujala, and her husband. The murdered woman was Sujala’s new lover. Then Neha falls head over heels for Sujala. There’s also a couple who were Sujala and her husband’s lovers. Yes, it’s a bit of a tangle, just like most love stories tend to be in real life.

Vijay Nair’s second fiction, Let Her Rest Now (Hachette India, Rs 295), is well worth a read. Not because it’s a whodunit with a satisfying end; not because of the well-rounded characters; not even because of the girl-on-girl action (though we must admit that we were suitably impressed). Read this slim novel because Nair shows rare gumption in attempting to tell a complicated tale simply.

A t2 chat with the author...

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I am an accidental writer. I was brought up with the typical middle-class dream of a secure job and stumbled into XLRI, Jamshedpur, to realise that dream. But when I was in my late 30s, a mid-career crisis propelled me into writing.

And a bit about Let Her Rest Now…

Ever since I started writing in the early part of the new millennium, it has been a dream to write a book that belonged to the same genre as those by my favourite English detective fiction writers, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. That’s how I came to write Let Her Rest Now.

But is it primarily a whodunit or a love story?

I like to think of it as a psychological thriller. Yes, there are murders and there is also a detective, but for me, as a writer, what was important was Neha’s responses and reactions when she finds herself in the middle of all these crimes. The murders as well as the love story were incidental.

You’ve also allowed Neha to explore her sexuality...

Neha is in her 20s. I was in my 20s way back in the 1980s and went to St. Xavier’s College in Calcutta. I have always had stronger friendships with women. Even during my student days, my women friends would talk about how they got attracted to both men and women. Some of them experimented and shared their stories with me.

But none of the men I am friends with have ever shared being attracted to other men. Indian men are very homophobic. You come across gay men making gay-bashing jokes! Look at this entire Karan Johar and Dostana nonsense he is always going on and on about at public events. It’s ridiculous!

Were you apprehensive about how readers would receive the girl-on-girl action?

Not at all. Like I said, I have always had women friends sharing with me their fantasies and even experiences about getting attracted to women and I am not talking about lesbian friends here. I think the urban Indian woman has really evolved. They are fairly open about exploring their sexuality. I guess that’s the reason why these “painted and dented women” are posing such a big challenge to the President’s son (Abhijit Mukherjee). He feels threatened.

As for the male reader, come on... do you think the Indian man has overgrown his adolescence, regardless of his age? Most Indian men get very excited at the thought of girl-on-girl action. So I had no worries on that front.

There’s a maze of relationships in this book… how did you keep track of who was sleeping with whom?

l the sex that happens in the book has to do with Neha’s evolution as a person. She is an intense person, so are the other characters. I don’t think anyone is sleeping with anyone just to titillate the reader. They happen to be in love with a particular person at a particular time and the natural outcome is that they end up sleeping with that person. Considering all of them belong to the more affluent section of Indian society and have liberal mindsets, I don’t think there was any dissonance there.

Indians have a lot of sex. We invented the Kamasutra after all.

Who is the reader of this book?

Anyone who likes to read books in the detective fiction/psycho-logical thriller genre. But I have to say I am partial to young readership. During the launch in Bangalore, a young girl asked me why did I name my protagonist Neha? When I asked her if she had a problem with the name, she answered Chetan Bhagat has used the name for some of his female protagonists. She stumped me with that one.

An older reader can never do that to me. Nine times out of 10, I can predict an older reader will ask me why there is sex in my book and they invariably do. That’s boring to answer.

Just three days into the new year, Hilary Mantel became the first author ever to win the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Novel Award in the same year, for Bring Up The Bodies, Book 2 in her three-part saga on Thomas Cromwell. Wait, there’s more. This year, a woman author features in every category of the Costa Book Awards 2012:

Francesca Segal, whose debut novel The Innocents is set in the Jewish community of north-west London, won the Costa First Novel Award.

Kathleen Jamie took home the Costa Poetry Award for The Overhaul, described by the judges as “the collection that will convert you to poetry”.

Mary and Bryan Talbot, a husband-wife duo, jointly won the Costa Biography Award for Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, an interweaving of two father-daughter relationships — James Joyce with Lucia, and the author with her father, a Joyce scholar. It’s also the first graphic work ever to win a Costa Award.

Sally Gardner, a writer-illustrator and dyslexia campaigner, bagged the Costa Children’s Book Award for Maggot Moon. As a child, Sally had once been branded “unteachable”. Atta girl!