Anita Nair and my crush—Mammootty

Nair's understanding of police procedurals blew me away

Till last year, I used to be a lit fest junkie. Now, I am done! I outgrew the circus and decided to spare myself the tedium of being reduced to a performing flea. But am I glad I accepted the invitation to the recent Colombo Literature Fest, where I ran into Anita Nair at breakfast…. And forgot all about string hoppers. We were sharing a panel the same evening. The topic was provocative: The Empire Strikes Back. I asked if she had ‘prepped’ for it; I hadn’t! She reassured me it would be a cakewalk—all we had to do is respond to questions posed by the moderator. Well, the panel turned out to be unwieldy and directionless, but later, on the lawns of the majestic Galle Face Hotel, Anita and I had our first ‘proper’ chat. And I sincerely hope, a long-term friendship was forged that balmy night, when we talked about our work and discovered we had a common crush—actor Mammootty! I breathlessly asked Anita if she had met the actor, and she had. And when she promised to send him Malayalam translations of her books, Mammootty replied, “No. I don’t want translations. I want to read you.” Ufffff. Such a loaded response. We both blushed like schoolgirls and gushed some more. It was not yet 10pm, and Anita announced she was calling it a night. I stared in utter disbelief. I was instantly fascinated by her daily regimen, which begins at 4.30am and includes daily practice (carnatic music) and so much else, efficiently packed into a writing schedule, and mentoring via Anita’s Attic, while prodigiously writing her award-winning books. “You must tell me what you think of Gowda,’’ she said casually, about Borei Gowda, the cop-character she has meticulously crafted for her immensely popular trilogy of crime thrillers. “Is Gowda like Mammootty?” I enquired mischievously. “Yes,” replied Anita. Oh ho… I am in love with Gowda, already!

Anita Nair | Bhanu Prakash Chandra Anita Nair | Bhanu Prakash Chandra

I have started on the trilogy after Anita generously sent the books. Her plotting is impeccable, but it is her knowledge and understanding of police procedurals that blew me away. Combine that, with her penetrating psychological insights into human behaviour along with her descriptive powers of the landscapes where the action takes place, and the reader immediately recognises an original voice in a crowded field. To merely call these three books crime thrillers is to take a lot away from Anita’s masterful control over language and structure.

Anita’s personality and poise ensure public attention and it is tempting to describe her using the same words publishers use for blurbs—“tempestuous” and “exotic”. She speaks with a certain quiet certitude, which often throws unwary interviewers. A Republic Day baby (her birthday falls on January 26), Anita, at 58, cuts an arresting figure, and exudes a no-nonsense air, which belies her vulnerable charm.

She frequently makes her own early morning chai, before the household awakes (her grownup son lives on his own), and she has quiet, contemplative me time, to write, think, make notes, sing, dream. It’s a writer’s life all the way.

I am looking forward to my personal discovery of Anita’s complex and intriguing world, which explores gender, class, sub-cultures, inequalities, discrimination, corruption and rot, expertly decoding what it means to be a woman who writes in contemporary India and addresses multiple social dilemmas as seen through her very specific, sharply focused lens. Gowda, her charismatic, taciturn, blunt cop, sounds like a delicious blend of Anita herself, with dollops of Mammootty thrown in for garnish.

It is time for Eating Wasps… and celebrating Anita some more, methinks!