There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Up Close & Personal: Mridula Koshy

By Ananya Mukherjee

From being a cashier at Kentucky Fried Chicken, backstage dresser in fashion shows to working as a trade union and community organiser and finally being a writer. No, am not giving you a quick skeletal outline of a Bollywood or Hollywood rags-to-riches flick. This journey is not a figment of my imagination; it’s the personal experiments and experiences of a woman encapsulated in a few phrases. Ladies and gentlemen, may I have the exclusive honour of presenting celebrated author of If It Is Sweet--- Mridula Koshy.  
Needless to say, her journey so far has been a mixed bag of opportunities and extremely interesting if not different from many others in her league. Mridula says what she shares with the readers is the experience of mining that life, not the actual, possibly boring, facts of life.
"Perhaps there are writers who write to escape their lives. I write to immerse myself in it. There is a hunger inside me to be productive and I don’t think it is a particularly unique or remarkable characteristic; it is one I believe all of us share. My work life has always been satisfying to me in that it met my need to be productive,” she elaborates.
But has her sense of self esteem been challenged by the stigma placed on some of the work that she has engaged in before her book hit the bestseller’s chart? Yes, she admits. “My sense of self-worth has certainly been challenged by the poor value placed on most of the labour I’ve engaged in—particularly the unpaid labour of being a mother for the last twelve years. And yes for all my fellow Indians who share with me our national bathroom phobia, the experience of scrubbing toilets at KFC played itself out very much like all my other jobs – low pay and low esteem at odds with a natural sense of rightness about bringing order into the world, about cleaning up dirt. With the years gone by I can report that rightness and order have prevailed. And as a side benefit, my kids know today to always leave a public bathroom cleaner than they find it. Bathrooms are not dirty places unless people make them so.
When I look around me and see people being phenomenally productive—climbing scaffolding, blow-torch in hand, building the metro rail in Delhi, building, in effect, our country, and sometimes losing their life in the effort, I am moved by the unrecognized labour and sacrifice of an entire class of people,” she points out.
Interesting to note, Mridula shares how her work-life is a strong influence on her writing. The koodawallah (garbage man) on her street is someone she observed because she is interested in the way in which his work is forming him, even as her own work has formed her. How? She explains, “Because I look at him, with eyes that are simultaneously interested in seeing myself, I cannot fail to notice the bare hands sorting my daily waste, are stunningly bejewelled, a ring on each finger.”
Does that mean she has been able to strike a perfect balance on the other more challenging work-life tightrope, of juggling commitments between those of a mother and a writer? Not really, she agrees. “My kids suffer some. My writing suffers some. This is what I conclude when I am angry about the whole crappy deal. But when I am feeling sorry for myself I focus on how I suffer—a lot.”
However, putting a positive spin on it, Mridula continues, “The labour of parenting and the labour of writing feed each other. That is, I am a better parent because I am a writer. And a better writer because I am a parent.”
But the above is only half-true, she immediately adds. One doesn’t become a better parent by being distracted, emotionally unavailable, lost in one’s own head space, cranky--in other words a writer. “The kind of intelligence and honesty it takes to be a good parent does help me in my writing life. I guess not every yin has a concurrent yang,” she observes.
And both the yin and the yang in her case are not easy jobs, especially for a writer of short stories in the current times, where a novel is apparently considered a more value-for- money investment than a collection of short stories. “I think the issue with readers not being willing to plonk their money down for a short story collection cannot be addressed by selling the reader on how the brevity of the form will fit into their busy lives. It’s going to take leadership and courage from publishers to brave the marketplace truth, which is that readers think novels are more bang for their buck. A rich meaty novel that transports one to another century, another part of the world, filled with compelling characters, whose trials and tribulations can be followed in excruciating detail all the way to their conclusion is an entirely different experience than the short story, with its elliptical, tangential telling of the tale, its requirement that the reader engage and not escape.”
So how can the reader be convinced that the difficult and often dissatisfying form of the short story is for them? “First, publishers must publish short stories. Then readers will read them. They will discover that a short story lingers as a novel cannot—lingers, to haunt, to irritate, to continue its unfurling in the reader’s mind. They will be convinced,” she shares.
Mridula, after the stupendous success of If It Is Sweet, is ready with her first novel. “I am in the process of showing the manuscript to other writers whose opinion matters to me. Once I have their feedback I will put a final polish on the whole thing. Then comes submission. The only thing more important to being a professional writer is the actual act of writing. Write first, submit next. Rinse and repeat.”
From our team here on My Little Magazine, we wish her all the very best!  

Image courtesy of Gihan Omar
 Mridula’s fanpage is at


  1. An article worth reading!
    Good job!

  2. Very nice interview. Mridula is a friend of mine. Always impressed by her.

  3. well written piece. good read. mridula's book is awesome and i like the way you have delivered the article beyond the book.

  4. Ananya..........Great write up and good concept for the blog.Will be visiting you more,where is the follow up link for your blog?Add that too here so that more people come to read you regularly.

  5. Enjoyed the article...

  6. what a nice article.

  7. Wonderful post on Mridula. Very impressed by If It is Sweet- the way she gets us to consider so many different angles and facets of a life. But best of all, I like the way Mridula speaks,the words she chooses to tell us who she is.

  8. I know her as Susan and she gave the best gift of all to her children, the gift of the Indian culture, language by uprooting herself and moving back to India, so they could experience the richness of their mother's roots and culture..I am not surprised by her success as a writer, as she is passionate about anything she does including her role as a mother.

  9. Very good article. Beautifully written...
    What a beautiful way of describing oneself!

  10. I got a chance to meet and hear her in the literature fest. Her words bring about an aura and when she herself is reading it, the aura is simply enchanting.