My late mother Louella Lobo Prabhu passed on to me a strongly creative DNA in the unconscious split second of conception, even if that significant discovery took me quite a while. My late grandmother had no such doubts- she strongly believed in the power of this transmission, always urging me to be my own person. Over the years, she was the one who strengthened and supported my self-hood, until at a later point in life, my spouse would conjoin forces with her in this delicate task. A decade on, I recollect her inputs and involvements in my creative evolution.
I can’t deny a surge of satisfaction when readers relate to my work, especially reporting that they enjoy the deft yet delicate handling of characters. When I think about it, I imbibed the storyteller’s art from an unlikely source- my grandmother. Yes, the Indian tradition is full of Dadi- Nani tales. I won’t say that she spun original tales for my delight, but from the age of seven or so, I was an audience to a skilled raconteur of stories. Her repertoire was from the store of classics she had studied as part of New Crown Readers, or from movies she had watched like Gone With the Wind. Her descriptions were indeed evocative of mood, and minute in shared detail. Most importantly, she broke down the barriers between oneself and fictional characters, finding real life parallels to those in print. She might liken me to one with sharp edges to the personality, while a contemporary may be compared to a benign character.
Her letters, during the time I was away from home were vivid and vibrant chronicles of daily life. My mother sneered at them from her literary pedestal- “ Not to be preserved,” she opined. “Hardly the works of Shakespeare.” But these missives surely possess their own worth for writers and historians of a later day. Perhaps I unconsciously took in a lively narrative spirit.
It isn’t surprising that my own writing is strongly centered on the human condition, unabashedly people-centric compared to others whose focus may be on form or stylistic innovation. This probably derives from the example of this matriarch’s insatiable curiosity about her fellow beings- it wasn’t difficult for her to ferret out the life stories of sundry people she met, usually in a spirit of empathy. She had a keen nose to sniff out the dalliances of the domestic staff, describing herself as a “ Sherlock Holmes”- an iconic character she much admired. As a writer, one goes a step further- to imagine the inner beings of notional others and bring them to life with the power of words.
Somewhere in the late 1990’s I felt the urge to revive my dream of writing. It had slept dormant in all the time that other challenges consumed me- preparing for the Civil Services, the early demands of settling down to bureaucratic life, the fulfilments of family hood…A restlessness seized me which I gave vent to in verse that explored my deep dilemmas, pondered on relationships and commented on significant events. During the years of those tentative beginnings, my grandmother and husband assured me that what I expressed was powerful, and I should definitely continue to delve into an inner wellspring of words and insights. I followed their counsel and discovered to my surprise that I had quite a corpus by the year 2001. This was a significant discovery, redefining my persona outside the safe structures of bureaucracy (to which I bid goodbye in 2000), and furnishing the balance to my new multi-tasking lifestyle.
Grandmother pressed me to expedite the book that the poems compelled- she had premonitions, she said about not being around for long, and wanted to witness that achievement. She had been in and out of hospital frequently, and her apprehension did not seem unfounded. The release of Aerial Roots, my volume of poems was surely a proud moment in a life devoted to nurturing the gifts of others. She surely saw it as a stepping stone to other things, a promising augury for the novel/s to come.
Her forebodings were not unfounded because three days later she was dead from renal failure. I was conscious of a huge emptiness- my exultant moment of self-realization turned to one of deep loss, congratulations to condolence. It was a bizarre time when newspaper coverage of the release of ” Aerial Roots” competed with obituary insertions in the same family. I guessed perhaps that she had dodged her final call with an act of dogged will, keeping my big day in mind. Thereafter her spirit succumbed with a sense of vicarious personal fulfilment.
The year 2011 has been a defining one in my life, witnessing my emergence from the solitude of the creative process to connect powerfully with the world outside as a novelist with a growing readership. Had my grandmother been alive today I know it would have surely been deeply gratifying for her. Her input to this one is more than support to my morale- I have actively drawn on her recollections of life between the 1930’s to the 60’s to inform the content of “ Blossom Showers”, and give her due place in the Acknowledgements of my book. I am indeed indebted to the valuable oral history that those narratives of the past afford. Evocations of a vanished world interest readers from both familiar and unfamiliar realms, even as their original narrator is no more.