by R K Biswas

Pervin's Book Urmila Cover Page ImageUrmila by Pervin Saket
Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Jaico Publishing House (February 5, 2016)
Language: English

The year is still young, and Pervin Saket’s newly launched book, Urmila, all of two months old, has already gone into reprint! That is happy news indeed, especially for a debut novel. I am not too surprised though, because it took me about two sittings (the second was required because I have chores to attend!) to polish off the book.

(Read an interview with Pervin Saket here)

These days, feminist interpretations of almost anything that has lain for centuries under the Indian sun, has become so common that one becomes predisposed to suppose this must be the case with every book by a female Indian author. So right at the onset, I’d like to state that Urmila is not a feminist take on any female mythological figure. Even though in Kaliyug (and I am not referring to the old Bollywood movie of the same name here, though this novel does have its filmy indulgences) parallels have been known to occur. Similar situations and characters as the ones in our epics, sometimes occur in our own lives and times or within the pages of a book. It could be a half-forgotten figure, a little mentioned character, a persona pushed to the margins that intrigues us enough to seek him or her in both real and conjured worlds. Urmila, Lakshan’s wife is one such. Teased out in Pervin Saket’s novel of the same name, her story is neither a retelling nor a retracing of her namesake’s biography. Though there are parallels here as well.

While Rama’s Sita has almost been deified to death, with her real persona being left to the conjectures of the somewhat incredulous and often severely questioning women of today, Lakshman’s Urmila has remained elusive, and hardly any poet has thought it necessary to examine her story, let alone her soul. In The Ramayana, Urmila was destined to endure. As is Saket’s Urmila. Though how she endures is an entirely different story.

by R K Biswas

Pervin Reading from Urmila at Mumbai Launch 2

Pervin Saket is the author of a collection of poems A Tinge of Turmeric‘, (Writers Workshop, India) and her poetry has been featured in Kritya, Platform, ‘The Binnacle’ (University of Maine, USA) and others. Her short fiction has appeared in ‘Journeys’ (Sampad, UK)  ‘Breaking the Bow – Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana’, (Zubaan, India) ‘The Asian Writer Collection’ (Dahlia, UK), ‘Aliens’ (Prime Books, USA), ‘Earthen Lamp Journal’, ‘Khabar’, ‘Love Across Borders – An Anthology by Indian and Pakistani Writers’, ‘Page Forty Seven’ and others. Her fiction was shortlisted for the Random House India ‘Writers Bloc’ Award 2013 and her debut novel, ‘Urmila’ (Jaico) hit the bookstores in January 2016. It is also available on Amazon and on Flipkart.

RK Biswas: Why Urmila? Give us the story behind your inspiration

Pervin Saket: This is a question I’ve asked myself often since Urmila is not typically the kind of heroine I would be inspired by. As a child, I found her rather passive; she didn’t have the feisty assertiveness of Surpanakha or the stoic wisdom of Mandodari. However, in a text like the Ramayana that dwells so much on right and wrong, on the ideal man, the ideal woman and the ideal king, in a narrative that is not just descriptive but also prescriptive about how one must conduct themselves, it is important to examine not just what is said, but also what is left out. And this is the space that Urmila occupies. The margins, the footnotes, the silences. I find that the silences have a story as much as the rhetoric. And this is the space that I am drawn towards.

This is probably a reflection of the kind of person I am; very often I find myself tuning out the talk and listening to the silent person in the room. And I’m quite convinced that all sounds such as speech, discussion, music, noise are actually background; the foreground, the little bursts that actually mean anything, is silence. This perspective finds its way into my reading as well, and probably explains why I find my themes and concerns reflecting in the silent or silenced story of Urmila.

(Read a review of Urmila here)

Pervin's Book Urmila Cover Page ImageRKB: What were the initial days like, when you began the book? Your writing world, routine, thoughts and interactions with friends and family.

PS: When I first began working on Urmila, it was like the start of a love affair. There was some shyness, a few hesitant explorations, the temptation to dress up the text, sleepless nights, questions of “will this last” or “where is this going”. At that point, the direction of the narrative was so uncertain that the very act of writing seemed like an indulgence. I remember for instance, my husband returning home every evening after a very long day at office, having been through a dozen crises, and he’d ask me “So how was your day? What did you do?” And all I could say was “I thought of a new scene” or “I wrote a page of dialogue”, all of which sounded terribly inadequate.

My biggest help at that time was a sense of routine. I set weekly targets (daily targets I found too unpredictable with the responsibilities of a day job and many other factors) and I made sure to meet them. I’m very fortunate in my friends, and am part of a wonderful group of talented writers; we initiated a system of sharing our experiences, the writing process, writing goals, giving feedback etc. We called this “the writing sprint” – though sometimes it seemed less like a sprint and more like a craw! Urmila, in many ways, was nurtured by this process. Anil Menon’s recently released Half of What I Say (Bloomsbury) was also drafted and redrafted during the sprint, so clearly it was a very enriching and rewarding process.