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The Rediff Special/Arthur J Pais in Mumbai
April 18, 2003
More than 150 pages into his second novel, One Day, Ardashir Vakil decided it wasn't going well. He had been putting pressure on himself to find a right voice -- and he suddenly realized it wasn't working.
"After working on it for nearly two years I decided to let it go," he says. "Things began to happen then. I got the proper voice." Though the new writing took about a year and revising it about two years, Vakil, 40, feels the book took a lifetime.
"The clich� you hear about writers working on their second book, the tension they go through was very much true to me," Vakil says, answering a reader's question. The reader also wanted to know why it took him five years to come out with his second novel.
He is talking to some 70 people who have come to listen to him and discuss his new book at the Danai Bookstore, which his mother Jeroo Mango owns in Khar, northwest Mumbai. A rather shy and reticent person, he speaks softly with much of his Mumbai English accent still intact. Some organizers of the event are edgy, beckoning latecomers to come right to the front of the narrow passage at the bookshop. "Don't be nervous," he says with a small smile. "It will go right."
He remembers the time his first book Beach Boy won the Betty Trask Prize for first novels in English (published in the UK or unpublished) by Commonwealth citizens under the age of 35. Some judges had admired his book particularly because it was tightly constructed and used language effectively. They surely must have realized how much he had revised and chiseled the book. There were many books that had held wonderful promise, he recalls hearing from the judges, but the writers had not worked on them enough. He kept those thoughts firmly in his mind as he reworked on his second book.
A hilarious, haunting and sensitive evocation of adolescence in Bombay, Beach Boy revolved around Cyrus Readymoney, son of a pushy mother. Salman Rushdie found the book 'sharp, funny and fast,' and in America, prize-winning novelist and critic John Updike wrote in the New Yorker that the book 'gives us an India remembered, a land like Nabokov's Russia, glistening with the drew of early impressions.'
The new book is about very grown up people, who nevertheless exhibit adolescent traits from time to time.
A story of a fractured relationship of an Oxford-educated, mixed-race couple, Ben Tennyson and his Indian wife, Priya, it unfolds during the 24 hours of their son's third birthday.
The second novel has also drawn favorable reviews.
'One Day is a hilarious and keenly observed comedy of north London manners,' The Guardian said in a long review recently. And The Observer called it 'an ironic masterpiece.'
But Vakil cautioned admirers of Beach Boy that his new novel is very different. He also feels it might "take it some time to find its place" and a large number of readers.
"Beach Boy was lighter although it too had painful passages," he says. "Things pass much more quickly there." But thinking about the new novel's theme of conjugal relationship, he says, "some things here are more universal than in Beach Boy."
The new book, a meditation on marriage, infidelity and honest relationships is more complex and demanding than Beach Boy says Mumbai-born Vakil who lives in England with his British wife and two children and teaches English at a girl's high school. He says the book challenges readers to think about love and hate in a marriage.
It is difficult for many people to acknowledge, he says, "but sometimes we hate the people we love."
"Love and hate are very close," he continues. Experiencing both isn't necessarily bad, he says. For what is important is how a couple can forge an understanding and build a new relationship. "Some people can survive well through love and hate."
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