Sonia at close quarters

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Sonia V Narayanan, 32, has always looked at things from close quarters. Whether it’s ‘early morning traffic choking Delhi’s broad-necked roads’ or ‘two well-respected families whose reputation begged her silence’, her pen has captured it all. “All the characters are inspired from life but none of them is me,” says Narayanan, who is out with her first book, At Close Quarters, a collection of ten short stories running into 130 pages.

The characterisation is her own. “I don’t dislike any character because they are neither black or white, but are essentially human… which is the most endearing quality.”

Is there any character in it that she finds most lovable? “Yes, Anand, who has a Sufi way of thinking. He thinks all happiness is within him and does not depend on external factors. Therefore, you have a man who can see nothing negative or unpleasant about life. My book is all about ordinary people leading ordinary lives. About what appears, and what actually is… there is more to life than what you see, and that’s what I show at close quarters, and this theme runs throughout the book.”

Not only has she found writing ‘orgasmic’, the topics she has touched upon are close to her heart. Case in point is the story, It’s Been Arranged. “The institution of arranged marriages have at times puzzled me and that’s what I have tried to bring out in this story. And writing is a craft. You have to pay attention to every aspect… the more you work on it, the better it gets, whether it’s the language, characterisation or the plot.”

The book was two years in the making. “I started work on it in early 2001 and the manuscript was ready in May 2002,” she says. “It was read by my friends, journalists, writers and publishers. And P Lal, the publisher of Writers Workshop in Calcutta, said the deal was on, and the book was published in November 2002.”

This is not her first foray into fiction, though. Narayanan’s first short story was when she was 12. “I wrote for a school magazine. It was a grim story about a young girl falling ill and dying.”

Then again, she was not always into story writing. With a master’s in English literature from the Delhi University, Narayanan’s first shot was at advertising. She was a copy trainee at Lintas (Delhi) for a year. “I handled campaigns for clients like Lufthansa, Reckitt & Coleman and JK Tyres and then moved to Contract to work on Netscape and Uncle Chipps. And that’s when Cupid struck. She fell in love with the account manager at Lintas (Vijay). And they have been husband and wife ever since. “His job brought him to Bangalore and I moved with him,” says Narayanan. “I worked for one-and-a-half years at Chaitra Leo Burnett as a copywriter and worked for Louis Philippe and NECC (national egg coordination committee).”

Maa Bozell was her next stop. And then she became a mother. “I quit and got down to doing what I always wanted to do… write stories, something I used to do when in school.”

Writing is not just it. “I love watching movies and actors like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, John Travolta and Nicholas Cage.”

And that is, when she is not spending time reading Roald Dahl, Gita Mehta, Chitra Banerjee, John Irving and Ian McEwan.

Sonia Narayanan’s book At Close Quarters will soon be available at Gangarams.

(Published in City Reporter, 2003)