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Welcome to Suprose.

Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

Whether you love prose, are a prose expert, or want to learn more about prose, or to put it simply want to have anything to do with prose, this blog is for you.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Tête-à-Tête With Sarita Mandanna

Sarita Mandanna grew up in Coorg, India and moved to the US to attend business school. Her debut novel "Tiger Hills" was well received and she is currently at work on her second novel.

The fact that Sarita has no formal training in writing, and yet her first novel was longtlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011 makes this all the more creditable. 

Sarita wanted to write a story almost classical in structure - a large narrative, whose characters struggle with universal themes. What do we do when thrust into circumstances not of our choosing? And thus Tiger Hills was born. Even though this was her first book, it got rave reviews from the press. A New York Times Review said-- 
"Time and again, Mandanna steers her novel in surprising directions. More than a love story, 'Tiger Hills' explores the hazardous side of passion and the shackling grip of memory once love has been thwarted. It also vividly evokes Coorg itself - the coffee plantations, the European settlers, the age-old clans - offering an illuminating portrait of place through six decades of social change." (Editor's Choice, New York Times
Sarita took time out from her busy schedule, to answer some questions for Suprose. Besides this interview, there is another treat for Suprose readers. Sarita Mandanna's book tiger Hills will be the first giveaway for the year. Five copies of Tiger Hills will be given away, details here.

Suprose thanks the lovely Sarita Mandanna for her time and participation. 

You have an MBA… How did you become a writer?
I was always an avid reader, and that set me on the path to wanting to write. I'd had a really challenging couple of weeks at work, and one night, I came home and booting up my laptop, just began to write. It was one of those moments when you are so immersed in what you are doing that you lose track of time - I was very startled when I finally did look at the clock. That initial output turned into a small collection of stories and served as the springboard to Tiger Hills.

Do you work elsewhere as well? What do you do?
 I am on a sabbatical of sorts as I work on my second novel. I'm a private equity and fund investor by training.
How did you prepare yourself for the overwhelming task of writing a novel?
With the utmost naiveté – I took a deep breath and jumped in at the deep end. I simply started to put words down on paper, trusting that the story would find its rhythm.

Did you take any classes, courses to help you with your writing?
No, none whatsoever. 
What did you love most about this writing process, and what were your biggest challenges writing and revising your debut novel?
It’s wonderful when the words just flow, when they appear as if by magic on the screen in fully formed perfection. Those times, for me at least, are rare. For every such easy flowing paragraph, there are endless hours of wrestling with plot and character development. As for specific challenges, there are a couple of scenes of violence in the novel, and I found those extremely hard to write. I’d catch myself working with the laptop at arms length distance, as if the added physical distance would somehow make the narrating easier.
Who did you read growing up?
Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Twain, to name a few.  Westerns. Volumes of Commando comics. R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond. Tintin and Asterix the Gaul. Tolkien, Douglas Adams, Wodehouse, Durrell, Herriot and Richmal Crompton. Anything and everything I could lay my hands on, I read.
Which writers would you consider to be your role models?
I wouldn’t say I have one specific writer in mind. Dexterity of language, character development, intricacies of plot – there’s much to be learned from many. 
What are some books that are sitting on your nightstand, waiting to be read?
I find it very difficult to read while working on a draft, outside of researching a novel. As a result, my 'must read' list is filled with a few years worth of books at any time. Wolf Hall, only a quarter finished, with Bring up the Bodies to follow. DJ McIntosh's Witch of Babylon, an antiquities thriller. Unbroken. True Compass, the Ted Kennedy memoir. Shantaram. The Sacred Games. The Game of Thrones series. A long and ever expanding list!

If you were asked to read a favorite passage from Tiger Hills which one would you pick?
A passage almost at the end of the novel encapsulates, for me, everything that I was trying to say with this story:

Hurt accumulates. Unless consciously cast aside, it accumulates, building on itself. Hardening, thickening, gouging our hearts apart. We try at first to pick at the scabs, to render ourselves as untainted and innocent as we once were. Over time, though, it becomes too difficult. This forced unbandaging, this revisiting of painful memory. Easier to lock it away, unseen, unspoken. To haul it about like an invisible stone about our necks. We leave our wounds alone. Layer by layer our scars thicken, until one day we awaken and find ourselves irrevocably hardened. Rooted in a keloidal past while the world has passed on by.

To let go of hurt, to cast bitterness aside. This is the only way forward. To cast aside the pain and allow hope a chance once more. We drift through time, sometimes in shadow, sometimes blistering under the sun, laying ourselves open to the skies. Until, inevitably, we begin to heal, the lips of our wounds coming slowly together. We fill with light, with grace, capable once more of opening our hearts, of letting someone in.

The wind catching our wings once more.
What do you think makes or breaks a good novel?
Readability, believability and something that takes you outside your defined frame of reference.
What are some of creativity boosters that you employ when you have a writers block… music, writing exercises, reading, others?
Music or film from the period I am writing about, or a walk to clear my head. Switching to something entirely different for awhile also helps - it allows the story the space it needs to breathe.
How do you work, do you go by a structured writing schedule? Where do you write, describe your writing environment?
With Tiger Hills, I wrote in all the  hours I had available. Given I was working fairly long hours, I wrote on the night shift, from 11PM to 3 or 4 AM. I need solitude and a laptop - as long as those two things are assured, I can write just about anywhere. 
What are you working on currently? Where is it going to be based? Can you give us a peek?
I’m working on a second novel, but it’s very much a work in progress and difficult to talk about coherently right now. What I can say with certainty is that it is a setting and theme different than Tiger Hills.
What is your dream writing project?
I think that whatever you are working on at the moment tends to become an obsession of sorts and a de facto dream project. Having said that, one of my most satisfying writing projects has been contributing to "Of Mothers and Others". An anthology of essays, poems and short stories by a group of 21 Indian writers in support of the Save the Children NGO, the collection explores motherhood, its highs and lows and myriad forms. Such a wonderful cause, and I feel privileged to have been part of it.


  1. I was really impressed by the passage read by the author from the novel "Tiger Hills". The language is rich and the emotions spoken of here evoke a positive attitude, a survivor and realist. It should make for a very interesting read.
    Raji Shankar