Taking cue from everyday
life : Amulya Malladi
Malladi studied electronics and communications engineering
in India and then switched to journalism with a Masters
degree from University of Memphis.
She now lives in Denmark with her husband and son.
A Breath of Fresh Air is her first novel. Set in
India with the world's largest industrial disaster as its
backdrop, the book peeps into the life of a young woman,
her ex-husband, her husband and their sick child.
The Prologue takes the reader to the Bhopal railway station
where a newly married Anjali is fidgeting with a dog-eared
magazine, looking at her green and red watch and waiting
for her husband, Prakash, who forgets to pick her up because
he had spent a cozy evening with his lover and overslept.
Anjali gets caught in the ensuing chaos when she feels toxic
gas in her throat and walks away from the limp, dead body
of the Good Samaritan who tries to help her out of the melee.
Sixteen years scurry by between the Prologue and Chapter
One - In a crowded vegetable market in a small town, Anjali
bumps into her ex-husband. It creates a flutter in her heart
and she goes back a little ruffled to her understanding
husband, a sick child and a nagging sister-in-law.
use the Bhopal gas tragedy as a backdrop for your book,
A Breath of Fresh Air. In fact, you weren't too far
from the scene of the world's greatest industrial disaster.
How much do you take from life? Any character, any situation
borrowed from what you saw or heard on that fateful night?
I think a lot of the chaos and fear in the prologue, I derived
from what I heard about that night from others, part anecdote,
part research, I used all the sources I could for Anjali
to see what she did that night. Her experiences are part
of what I learnt, but her emotions are her own. The morning
after the Bhopal gas leak, most people said that there had
been a leak in the railway station and I think that's how
I came up with the scene there. It was five minutes past
midnight when it began and it never really ended.
You say, "A Breath of Fresh Air
came to me years later when I was living in Utah, thousands
of miles away in time and geography. I already knew who
Anjali was, had known for several years but I didn't know
who would tell her story or what her story would be. Slowly,
it unraveled and I was caught up in her life and the story
I wanted to tell found a voice". Did the final story come
to you as a revelation, or did it come one drop at a time?
The story did come drop by drop. I started with the scene
in the bazaar where Anjali meets her first husband Prakash,
fifteen years after the Bhopal gas tragedy. I went back
after the first chapter and wrote the prologue. For me,
writing is intuitive. I create the characters and then I
just let them go and do their own thing. It is more exciting
for me to write a story I don't know very well, as every
sentence then becomes a revelation to me.
What strikes me most in the book
is its simplicity - you choose a style and language that
is absolutely simple. Too simple, I felt. Is that intentional?
Absolutely, it was intentional. I am a simple writer, I
think. I want to tell a good, entertaining story and I want
everyone who reads it to feel the emotional turmoil of my
characters. I think this is part of my two years in journalism
school. They really hammer the concept of writing simply
Talking of style - you give each
of the three main characters enough pages and reasons to
talk about themselves; they look at life through their past
and vis a vis other characters. Does that make the job of
a storyteller easy?
I don't think it was a question of difficult or easy. For
me it was an accident, a good one, I think because the story
was enhanced when we saw Anjali's life from Prakash and
Sandeep's eyes. I didn't intend for anyone but Anjali to
speak, but all of a sudden I was writing in Sandeep's voice
and he was such an interesting character that I wanted to
get to know him better. His insecurities were a revelation,
but they also made him so real. And as the story moved on,
I realized that maybe Prakash was not all bad and I wanted
to get to know him and his reasons better.
It was more curiosity that had me tell Anjali's story in
Prakash and Sandeep's voice.
The end swerves towards general bonhomie
- Anjali, Prakash and Sandeep, all seem to walk towards
a better tomorrow - washing away their guilt, shedding their
anger and forgiving their past. In the end, Anjali's weakness
does not gel with her character - she gives in too easily,
forgives suddenly. Why?
I don't know how better a tomorrow can be when your only
child is dead, but I think it was important for them to
move on. Important because for fifteen years Anjali has
been hating Prakash and Sandeep has been blaming Prakash
as well. Prakash and his second wife, Indu also carry baggage.
In the face of a dying child, their "hate" and "anger" seem
petty, even to them. Anjali has for a long time been waiting
for Prakash to beg forgiveness and she never thinks he will,
but when he does, she realizes that it's important to let
go of the hate and the anger.
I don't think she gives in easily, I think she forgives
him because her feelings for him, good and bad are small
in comparison to this giant well of emotion and love she
has for her child, her child who is dying. Ultimately, she
comes to terms with the fact that Prakash is not to blame.
What happened was an accident and Prakash is trying to redeem
himself, make amends for his sins. Anjali would have been
a different woman, a weaker woman I think, if she had held
on to the hate and anger. It takes strength to forgive someone
who you've become so used to blaming for so long.
You are working on another novel,
what is it about?
My next book is The Mango Season and it will be
released by Ballantine Books sometime in 2003.
It is about a conservative South Indian family living in
India. The women of the family get together to make mango
pickle and it is with that in the background that I tell
my story. Priya Rao, a daughter of the family has been living
in the United States for seven years when she goes back
to India for the first time. Her family wants her to get
married, the arranged way, and she has to break the bad
news that she is in love with and marrying an American.
The story is about how she tells her family and what happens
after she tells them.