Absentee parents and the phantoms of long-lost, missing or unborn children are poignant themes in modern fiction, be it Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time or Raj Kamal Jha’s The Blue Bedspread. In Mridula Koshy’s debut book If It Is Sweet, she dealt with the bittersweet nature of parenting. At the launch of her second book Not Only The Things That Have Happened, (at the India International Centre in the capital) Koshy was once again reflective about the highs and lows experienced by most parents. “It gets crazy sometimes, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a while,” admitted Koshy sheepishly. Perhaps the meticulous, cover-all-angles approach to parenting had seeped in a little. Introducing the extract which she later read aloud, Koshy mentioned, “I’m going to begin with a seven-minute chapter at the beginning of the book. I timed myself in the morning.”
Urvashi Butalia, who was in conversation with the author, quizzed her about her favoured writing methods. (“I’m never tired of hearing about the writing process”) Koshy termed herself as a ‘stop-start’ writer, saying that the book, too, reflected that. She recalled an anecdote about Joan Didion’s four desks (“I remember Jeet telling me about it,” she said, motioning towards the writer Jeet Thayil sitting in the first row) before opening up about her writing tics. “For me, writing isn’t about hearing a voice inside your head and transcribing. When I hear about people who experience that, I feel that’s so wonderful.” Koshy’s writing is not easy to pin down; there’s a pointed refusal to let go of its own rhythms. If she wants a particular situation resolved in a languorous, somewhat ornate manner; by the time you finish reading the passage you’ll be convinced that no other resolution was possible. Not Only The Things That Have Happened tells the story of a mother and a child who get separated and the tumultuous courses of their lives, in Kerala and the US, respectively.
Elaborating on the themes of the novel, Koshy said, “I started reading a lot of contemporary literature recently. Right now, it is very fashionable to be hopeful. But the harder I thought about it, the more I felt that hope was a pretty stupid emotion, a weak act. I wanted to distinguish it from hope; something substantially different. Zadie Smith recently wrote about the difference between joy and pleasure. I realised that I was trying to make a similar distinction through my book.” Koshy will be hoping that Not Only The Things That Have Happened matches the success of her debut work, which won the 2009 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. “Books are also about how writers are coding and decoding themselves for you,” she said. “Books are the best way for adults to re-invent themselves.”