‘Of Peacock Tears and Holy Cows’ saw Nilanjan Choudhury and Aruna Nambiar in conversation with each other about their novels. The first half of the session focussed exclusively on Nilanjan Choudhury’s mythological satire, ‘Bali and the Ocean of Milk.’ ‘Bali and the Ocean of Milk’ was subversive in showing Gods suffering from human problems like erectile dysfunction. As a result, the novel offended the religious sentiments of some people. Nilanjan recounted the difficulties he faced in getting the novel published. His publisher’s offices were vandalised, and he was forced to change his protagonists’ names so that the novel could be published without further incident.
The next point of focus was a yet-to-be-published courtroom drama by Aruna Nambiar. The satirical short story, which will be published in an anthology, is about an MLA undergoing a trial on rape charges. The story pokes fun at feminists and politicians alike, with the odd joke about the beef ban snuck into a single line.
The discussion moved on to Aruna Nambiar’s novel, ‘Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth’, which is a coming-of-age story set in the Kerala of the 1980s. The novel also has elements of satire and comments brutally on the social malpractices of various communities. The novel also draws from her experience of living in Kerala and is partly based on people whom she knows. When asked if she felt inhibited about writing about people she knows, she replied that had she felt inhibited, she would not have written the novel at all. Further, she stresses that humour and social satire are at their best only if completely uninhibited. Nilanjan Choudhury concurred readily, and cited the example of his own novel, ‘The Case of the Secretive Sister’, as a case in point.
‘The Case of the Secretive Sister’ is a comic detective novel, and it is also satirical. The novel is replete with quirky characters from various communities, and one of the characters is a nun. Nilanjan Choudhury confessed to being a little inhibited about writing about the nun because he was rather worried about the ensuing backlash. However, he went ahead and included the character without any alterations.
The session was punctuated by readings of excerpts from both the novelists’ work and was greeted by riotous laughter from the audience.
The session ended with a question-and-answer session. The first question directed at the authors was whether they did research for any of their novels. Nilanjan Choudhury admitted that he did not do any research for both his novels because he did not need to. Aruna Nambiar said that she did research on 1980s Kerala for her novel. Her research mostly focused on getting the little details—such as the music, food, fashion, and cars— right.
The writers were also asked if they had any process of writing—a question that most authors get asked nearly all the time. Nilanjan quite honestly said that he does not have any process for writing. He said, “Writing is exactly like going to the gym.”Most writers have a ritual around writing so that they can mitigate ‘’the terror of the empty page.”