You would have seen her articles in whichever newspaper you take in. Be it the Deccan Herald, The Hindu, The Times of India or the Hindu Metroplus. As a free-lance journalist, she reviews books, restaurants, events, and writes about a wide variety of topics that catch her fancy. These range from “On Ageing”, to “The Nilgiris.” Not that they are linked except in minds like mine since I spent my childhood in The Nilgiris and now can more readily relate to issues associated with ageing. But we won’t spend too much time on that! Even though a disclaimer is not strictly called for, I must tell you that Sheila’s husband, Col. Sunil Kumar, Indian Army, (retd) and I go back a long, long time, when we were kids together at the Lawrence School, Lovedale, hence the hang up on The Nilgiris and the Army and stuff like that.
Today, we have something far more interesting to talk about. I would like you to meet Sheila Kumar. She is an accomplished writer who has worn many a hat, which I will leave her to describe to you in her own way. As she maintains, “Good writing will stay the course.”
Her book “Kith and Kin- Chronicles of a Clan” a collection of short stories set in Kerala has received wide acclaim. Here are two of the many favourable reviews of the book, the first by Winnowed, and another in the Timeout, Mumbai. You can order her book easily from Flipkart. Don’t you love that cover? Your mind takes you back to the green paddy fields and the blue backwaters of colourful Kerala, which is the backdrop for some of the stories of the Melekat clan.
Through this interview, the third in the “Meet the Author” series in this blog, I would like you to hear what Sheila has to say about her writing and about herself.
1 Tell us a little bit about yourself. To what extent did your life as an Army wife fashion your thinking and outlook. Was it an advantage or a disadvantage? What led to your becoming an author?
I was an army brat before I became an army wife. My life became somewhat compartmentalized: there was the wife of Capt., then Major, then Colonel Kumar, clad in chiffon and pearls, going about her various quasi-official duties as an army wife. And there was Sheila Kumar, somewhat wild, somewhat wacky, avid reader, avid theatergoer, avid word wielder. Actually, army life had little or no impact on my far- from- secret life as a writer.
I was a published writer at the age of 12….it was a given that I would end up a writer. Of what, was yet unclear at the time but that too fell into place eventually!
2. Who were some of the authors you admired? Who, in some sense, influenced your writing style and choice of subjects?
It’s a Holy Trinity, the authors I admire: Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse and Ayn Rand. It’s all about their style, substance and context. However, truth to tell, none of the three has actually influenced my writing style. I write because there is a compulsion to write. I don’t pick my choice of subjects, they pick me to tell their stories.
Adwoman with HTA/JWT/OBM; journalist, features writer, book editor, army wife… it has been many hats through the years. At some level, I’m sure that has shaped my writing, just as it has my life. I am an instinctive writer. I write and watch what I write take a definitive shape of its own. Nine times out of ten, I’m happy with that shape.
3. You have a hectic schedule as I can imagine. How do you find the time to pursue your passion for writing? What would you recommend to so many people out there who would love to write but fear they “don’t have the time.” How different is it for example to write a book as distinct from writing articles for the newspapers?
Writing is more than a passion for me, it comes to me as easily as I breathe. So, making time for writing is akin to making the effort to breathe. I hold the crown for the laziest person I know (!) and it is a crown I am loath to give up. Despite that, I meet all my deadlines, I write about anything and everything that catches my fancy.
I’d say that all those years in journalism does give one an edge: the language gets more fine-tuned, the turns of phrases gets more adroit, everything one puts down on paper or the computer, gets a thorough makeover.
I’ve always preferred feature writing to reportage, so when I started to write a book, playing kingmaker and creating a motley set of characters…and they don’t come more motley than the Melekat clan in my book! … was good fun.
4. Tell us briefly about your book. What prompted you to choose this theme?
I’ve been a journalist (with The Times of India, with Femina, with Delhi Times, and now as a freelance) for many years, carving out a niche as travel writer, food writer and book reviewer. `When are you bringing out your first book,` people would ask me; everyone was certain that I would author a book, many books, perhaps! Well, for years there was no book inside me. And one fine day, there was. The book had a gestation period of six months in my brain, then the words came pouring out. And Kith and Kin, my first book, a collection of short stories linking all the characters to one central Kerala clan, was done inside seven months.
Let me tell you about Kith and Kin The stories are a funny, wry, sad, bold and timorous take on life. What happens to the Melekat clan happens to people everywhere. Life throws all sorts of things at us; the real story lies in how we deal with the onslaught.
Is any part of Kith and Kin autobiographical? Only in the broadest sweep. I will quote Zadie Smith here: it is not autobiographical but it has the intensity of the personal.
Kith and Kin has been reviewed by just about every major newspaper and the reviews have mostly been good. I don’t for a minute take that for granted…I give thanks instead!
5. What would you say as parting words of advice to new authors, budding authors and the many who would love to see their work in print?
Write. Keep writing. Write, rewrite, polish your work and send it off to publications. Every book has its reader and in the process, has its publisher, too. If it’s good. I firmly believe that, in the long run, only good writing will stay the course. The rest will fall by the wayside…some moments in the sun and then, oblivion. Where quality publishing is concerned, the doors have opened wide but it is still a by-invitation-only event.
My blog: http://bindersfullawords.blogspot.in/ is a repository of some of my published work.
Thank you, Sheila and we wish you every success for “Kith and Kin” and the books we will see from you in the future.