Chayant Gonsalves was an early reader of JCR. He had some questions for Revathi Suresh.
CG: Why tell the story from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl?
RS: I didn’t choose Kavya, she happened to me…I could hear her voice in my head and just followed it. But she wasn’t actually sixteen when I began to write the book. She was younger and I wasn’t able to make up my mind on the range of experiences I could put her through at say, thirteen or fourteen. Sixteen just seemed like a good age.
CG: Are the personalities of the protagonists and incidents in the book borrowed from people in your life?
RS: The dog is. Some are a mishmash of people I have known but no one is entirely someone I know. That bit about ‘This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to characters living or dead is purely coincidental,’ applies here. I think the characters in the book are familiar to all of us actually. We all feel ‘hey that could be this guy I know’, ‘that could be this girl I know’ or ‘that could be me’. That’s what makes it so easy to identify with, I think.
CG: While writing, was it clear to you how parts of the book would pan out? How did you decide on what events Kavya would experience?
RS: I had a broad idea and some episodes were just begging to be written. It was filling in the blanks between them that was difficult. I struggled a lot with how I was going to convert a series of events into a cohesive book and initially there was a tendency to be funny without purpose where I suppose I was hoping the laughs would keep the reader going till the next ‘meaningful’ episode. It was awful and I could see it was taking away from the pace and tautness.
CG: On some level it seems as if the characters developed themselves and the story progressed on its own accord. Yet writing a book like this is hardly smooth sailing throughout, I imagine. What were some of the hiccups, asides from simply finding the right voice?
RS: My biggest challenge was believing I could do this. Every now and then I would lose confidence and just give up altogether. I’d wonder if it was normal to think and speak like a teen—even if in a book—and worry what others would make of me. I think there was a period of about six months or so when I didn’t even look at the manuscript. Then, once it got written, I sat with a draft that didn’t sound quite right, got rejected and dejected…all the usual stuff.
CG: In the initial stages of the book there is much introspection and Kavya is quite reflective. Later, the narrative focuses more on incidents and happenings in her life. Why do you think this shift takes place?
RS: You agree there is a dramatic turning point around page 60? I think that’s where things change. Suddenly she’s around people her age a lot more and then there’s action, reaction and all that jazz.
CG: Kavya has been a part of your life for several years now and that must have been a very personal experience. Now that she’s in full view of countless readers, where does that leave your relationship with her?
RS: Kavya is a fictional character and I have never thought of her as anything other than that so there is no relationship in that sense. I have never visualised her and have no idea what she looks like—which is strange because I know her so well—and I always knew I would have to let her go someday. But it’s kind of funny that she’s so private and doesn’t want to talk about herself at all and now she’s out there for the whole world to judge because she chose to break the silence. I don’t think she’ll do too badly, do you? It doesn’t matter if you agree with everything she does or says, she’s easy to like, to love even. Maybe she’ll finally make friends.
CG: The title, I have to ask! Is it a comment on the author, the reader, the protagonists or the subject matter? Or something else entirely?
RS: The title. I know it intrigues some people, some think it’s hilarious and I haven’t quite figured that out, some disapprove because maybe they feel I was trying to be flippant or something. Now you’re saying there are some very touchy readers out there who think it’s about them! The entire book is in Kavya’s voice, why would the title be any different? It’s her comment on her state of affairs. And yes, it’s also what I felt when I set out to write and I’ve said it before. It changed, by the way. In the middle I tried calling it something else—I can’t quite remember what so it must have been utterly idiotic—but I came back to JCR and Sayoni and Anushka loved it so that’s the way it stayed.
CG: The book talks about the media and technology and how these find their way into our houses whether we like it or not. Everyone responds differently – the children are curious and eager, their mother restrictive, their aunt and uncle radical, etc. What relationship do you have with the mass media?
RS: I’m not a TV buff. Often I don’t even read the papers but I do get into pointless browsing sometimes. It’s these smart phones, I tell you!
CG: Another strong theme in the book is that of family and the communication gap between different age groups. How do you experience this with adolescents today?
RS: My kids think I’m loony. ‘Ma, you’re insane!’ is something I hear a lot. So I think everything’s ok with the adolescents at home. I can’t really say I have too much experience, beyond the superficial, with children that age outside of home, actually. There are ways in which they seem different from how I remember myself or my friends from my youth, but that’s the typical thing isn’t it? To say, ‘In our times we’d never blah blah blah…’
CG: Without giving too much away, what is your reaction to readers who say the book ends on a happy note?
RS: I’m actually quite bemused by that. My standard reply when someone says they are relieved things turn out ok after all is, ‘You think so? How did you figure that?’ But the thing is, if it makes the reader feel happy that Kavya’s going to be in good hands at the end, I’m ok with that because I realise that feel-good is important for a lot of people. On the other hand if some others wonder if all will indeed be well, that’s great too. Because I don’t know. I don’t know what happened to Kavya after that. Like you said in an earlier chat, I think I just dropped her off at a turning point in her life.