Shreekumar Varma’s book Maria’s Room, which released earlier this month, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Set in Goa, Maria’s Room is the story of Raja Prasad, a writer who is grappling not just with the characters and plot of his book, but also some events from the past buried deep in his subconscious. Varma has previously written Lament of Mohini and Devil’s Garden. He tells Mint how Maria’s Room came to be. Edited excerpts:
In Maria’s Room, Raja Prasad says “it is a writer’s privilege — or curse — that he has to make a story out of everything he sees”. What did you make this story out of?
I’d gone to Goa for a break, and also to begin preliminary work on a novel set in Kerala. A silent couple sitting in my cab made me put away that story and begin a new one. Which became Maria’s Room.
Most Indian writers tend to set their book in a crowded metropolis. What made you choose desolate Goa in the monsoon?
I had gone there for a break. It was Goa itself that haunted me enough to make me write this book. Not many tourists know the rainy Goa I visited that time.
Maria’s Room intertwines dreams, subconscious memory and reality. Do each of these feed the other?
Yes, the Austrian character Fritz keeps talking about the thin line that separates the created and the real, and that it is memory that connects the two. This, you could say, forms the core of the book. So, yes, they do feed off each other. We are, after all, a repository of stories, memories and experiences—our own and other people’s.
You are a playwright, poet and novelist. Which is the most liberating medium in your opinion?
I guess they all liberate you. It’s like coming to a medium, and finding you are, sort of, boxed in by its borders. And then you get into the story—the characters, relationships, events unfolding — and everything opens out, and there you are free and running, and probably egged on by the sound of the waves, and the smell of the sea! There is such a moment in Maria’s Room when Raja climbs up a hill. He’s in a desolate mood, but the vista opens out, and the sudden sight of sea, sky and land hits him and refreshes him and gets him back into life. So exploring a medium/genre with your story is an extremely enriching and liberating experience — whatever genre it is.
What are you working on now?
I am working on two novels now. One is set in Chennai, and will have familiar landmarks and eerily familiar people, and also a harking back to the old Madras. It’s called The Gayatri Club. The other is set in Scotland, Kerala, Manali and Chennai, and is a sort of academic novel, and is called Indian Scotch. From a conversation last night, I also believe I’ll have to write a new play to be performed in September!