Shalini Srinivasan, the author of Vanamala and the Cephalopod, was interviewed by Vaani Arora, an avid online traveller, bathroom singer and a foodie.
VA: My skin feels wrinkly and pale with being underwater and I am choosing not to take a bath till this gets better (much to the annoyance of my mother).
What kind of paper is ideal to put up an ad for selling one’s sister? I have a sister, what kind of a bargain can I get for her?
SS: This depends on how fancy your sister is — you need the quality of your paper to reflect the quality of your sibling. (Yes, it works that way for brothers too!) If your sister is mean and cruel and eats all your food, you should sell her on something cheap and thin like newsprint. If she’s a fine and upstanding person, you should try selling her with an ad on the kind of smooth thick paper they use for wedding invitations, all posh cream and gold. Of course, if she’s that fancy you might not want to sell her, but that is between you and her, and none of my business. (Sorry Vaani’s sister!)
VA: Vanamala, Pingu and Girish realize that people, er…beings from other worlds detest humans because they are greedy. Am I greedy if I want to sell my sister? Will the Cephalopod know about this? Am I in some sort of danger?
SS: Yes, you are clearly greedy. However, if you sell your sister cheaply, you will be only a little greedy. Don’t worry about your safety. You’ll be fine! Your sister, on the other hand, should be very anxious.
VA: Are there some laws that you would suggest to keep people like me safe from the Cephalopod, just in case the Basavan is on vacation?
SS: None at all. Sorry. Cephalopods are lawless beasts. You are probably (most likely) ok, as long as you stay away from water, and your family doesn’t sell you. I think your not-bathing campaign is a smart move.
VA: I’ve never had sea-cucumbers in my life? How long can one survive on them? Also, are they vegetarian?
SS: I haven’t either, since I’m vegetarian and they aren’t vegetables. But I imagine they taste a bit like sponge gourds, which I dislike. They look similar, no? Ugh! Personally, I’d rather starve than eat them.
VA: How does one poop and pee under water? Has the Lettuce Grower written a fable about it?
SS: Just so you know: I did some really hard googling (with a lunch break in between) to be able to answer this question.
The answer is this: if one is a human being who has been turned into a sea creature — like Vanamala and co — one poops and pees like the sea creature in question. Fish poop. Cephalopods have a wonderful and complex digestive system and can excrete all kinds of things. Jellyfish poop through their mouth — and I really wish I’d read this earlier. The gross plot-lines that might have been! This might seem awkward to us, but since jellyfish have no brain I s’pose they don’t worry about excretion as much as we do.
Human humans on the ocean floor will find that their internal organs will crush up under the weight of the water, and their respiratory system will fold up, and then they’ll be too dead to worry about pooping. Or peeing. Special (ie, still alive) humans like the Lettuce Grower and the orange ladies just go behind rocks or bushes, like any other human with no immediate access to a proper loo.
VA: After all the talk in the book about living underwater, I am now even repulsed with the sight of a tumbler of water. Was this intentional? Is this a plan to save water and save the planet?
SS: Perhaps. You’ll have to wait and see as my cunning plan unfolds!
VA: I don’t know whether I should ask this aloud or not, and I am absolutely ok if you choose not to tell me explicitly, (even a complex hint would do) – are the sea-serpents coming for the greedy humans?
SS: Erm. If I tell you, you’ll know about my cunning plan. Which may or may not be the sea serpents’ cunning plan. This might be a hint. But no! My keypad will be unmoving and unhelpful on this subject.