Revathi Suresh: Meeting Catherine

(Revathi, the author of Jobless Clueless Reckless, on her first ever newspaper interview.)

I was supposed to meet Catherine in the morning but it got postponed. We met in the afternoon instead at the uncomfortable hour of three. Uncomfortable, because I normally tend to be fast asleep and snoring around that time, dreaming siesta dreams. Instead I was required to be alert and on my toes and I was really nervous. Not only had I never done a newspaper interview before but Catherine had told me there’d be a photo shoot too. Just the kind of stuff to make you go ulp and want to throw up many times over, so just to be on the safe side I kept lunch really light. I got to Koshy’s minutes before she did and when she turned up, this young writer from The Hindu, I relaxed at once because to tell you the truth, though my book is about teenagers, young people really freak me out. But Catherine isn’t one of those scarily dismissive I-am-sharing-a-joke-with-myself-at-your-expense-types. On the contrary, she has this really pleasing manner that can put you at ease immediately.

‘Tell me about yourself,’ she started brightly.

‘I’m at the back of the book,’ I stammered.

‘Oh no. Not that. I need something more,’ she smiled.

I swallowed and began to narrate a garbled version of my CV. And it was pretty horrible because most of my CV had happened a lifetime ago and is now yellow with age and greyer than my hair. In the brand new now, did anyone care about IRB and Manas and translations?

‘Have you heard of IRB?’

She looked a little bemused and shook her head. Who was I kidding, she’d have been in KG then.

“Well. Then I can tell you many of your readers won’t know of it either. Can we talk about the book instead? I’d like this to be about the book and not about me,’ I insisted.

That made her pause longishly. And suddenly we were sitting there staring at each other, full of doubt, no idea where we were going to head next.

‘Have you read the book?’ I tried to restart the conversation.

‘About half way through,’ she said blithely. ‘There’s the Barbie thing in the beginning,’ she started and I perked up, but she trailed off into nothingness almost immediately with a vague comment that I had nothing to add to.

‘So … teens these days—there are so many issues, right? Smoking, drinking, drugs…how did you deal with all of that?’

‘It’s all there … it’s all been touched upon, you’d have come to it. Not like there are paragraphs dedicated to those subjects but … it’s there. You’ll see. Haven’t you come to those bits? How much have you read, did you say? ’

‘A couple of chapters. ’ Not half after all. ‘Will you be writing a sequel and taking these characters forward?’ Catherine suddenly switched lines and I was left scratching my head again.

‘Not thinking of a sequel right now.’

‘So did you read a lot of books in the genre before, or even when you were writing your book?’

‘No. I haven’t read anything worthwhile in years actually. That way I really relate with Kavya and her fear of sounding like someone else—’ I tapered off again because Catherine was looking blank. ‘You know, the bit where she’s talking about the Opal Mehta book …’ I prompted helpfully but she just shook her head. Come on. Opal Mehta happens in the first chapter.

‘Exactly how much of the book have you read anyway?’ I asked resignedly.

‘Um … couple of pages,’ she admitted. ‘You know what? This is not a genre that interests me. I don’t like to read about teenagers and their lives and it’s not a time that I want to revisit—I remember reading Sweet Valley High—’ and WTF was Sweet Valley High? ‘— and a gazillion other books about American teens and their problems and I don’t want to go back to it … it’s not my thing at all—’

‘My book is not any Sweet Valley. Know what? Just read it and I’m betting you’ll come back to me with a different set of questions when you finish.’

‘I will,’ Catherine promised earnestly. She’d come in thinking I wanted to talk about myself, which many writers may want to do and there’s nothing wrong with that. But all I had wanted was someone who could write about JCR and put the book in the spotlight. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so disappointed in my life—my very first interview and I’d flubbed it. I should have been able to talk about myself and give her good copy and now I didn’t know if I’d get another chance. And the worst of it was, even though it had been a flop I could see that Catherine would have been great for the story she had been assigned to write if only we’d been on the same page. We spoke lightly for a bit and decided we weren’t going to give up. Clearly she had nothing to write about based on our short chat but she had five days to meet her deadline and that was plenty of time to rescue the failed interview.

I stood up to leave and smiled what I hoped was a winning smile. ‘I guess I’ll just keep after you till you finish. Trust me, you’ll be in and out of the book in no time. JCR is an easy read…it’s funny…and many non-readers have succumbed to it and emerged happy,’ I said persuasively, like a salesman making his last pitch, and she laughed and we parted ways.

A few nights later she messaged me: ‘You were right, good night,’ and I knew we were back on track.

The next day she got back to me with a solid set of questions that made me whoop with delight and the rest is in the paper http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/this-too-shall-pass/article4539877.ece.

(Dear Reader,

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written on these pages, you’ll know that most always I have my tongue firmly tucked in my cheek. Therefore, I would like to clarify that this piece, while not being a work of fiction, is only my version of events. And that I did run it past the very lovely Catherine who has since moved on from the job. And that she okayed it with a grin (a grinning emoticon, actually). I have also since noticed that newspapers carry at least one author interview every day and there’s no rule that says that a reporter has to read every little book that is sent her way as part of an assignment because, of course,there are many ways to present a story. Thank you Catherine for so graciously allowing me to arm-twist you into getting my way.)

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