says Ananda Devi, whose first book got published when she was 19. The journey from then on as a writer has not been a cakewalk for Ananda. Meet Ananda Devi, a French writer, as Janani Rajeswari S delves more into her adventures and experiences. In 1977, 19-year-old Ananda Devi penned her first book Solstices which was a collection of short stories based on the changes that take place in young people on the brink of their adulthood. Ananda almost immediately knew that this was just the beginning of a long career as a writer.
Despite being an Indian by origin, Ananda Devi has lived all her life in Mauritius. So, she began writing in French, which became her mother tongue. “Writing was always a passion. When you start writing young, it is better to start by writing short stories. This form of writing requires you to be very concise,” she conveys.
Initially, her writings were inspired by the life in Mauritius. On asking why, she replied, “All writers need to have their roots somewhere. It could be an actual place or even a fictional one like RK Narayanan’s Malgudi village. For me, it was Mauritius. But not necessarily all my books are set in Mauritius. One was set in New Delhi and my next book that will be releasing early next year is based in London,” she explains.
Between fantasy and reality
“As a writer, I was extremely fascinated by the world between reality and fantasy. My stories were pretty tragic and the characters created were very lonely,” she adds. So, were these characters in any way inspired by her life? “No, on the contrary, I had a very happy childhood. But I observed that the world around was full of problems. For instance, one day, I noticed a little girl who was very beautiful but was dressed in rags. I saw her running barefoot across the street. This made me think about what her story could be,” came a quick communication from Ananda.
Ananda then went on to pursue her further studies in London. She chose to specialise in ‘Social Anthropology.
In the mean time, Ananda continued to write while in London. She adds that her writings had undergone a profound change by way of content and expression. “London was a rather ‘cold’ place in all senses. Though I initially felt extremely displaced out there but I gradually got used to it,” she adds. Her writings became more of reflective pieces and focused on identities.
Displacement and exploration
Post her studies in London, she moved to Congo in 1982. “The place is full of inspiration for a writer. I continued writing short stories,” she says. She went on to publish two more collections of short stories. She also pursued the idea of writing a novel and began working on it. But it was a challenging task for a short story writer. “Short stories are based on brevity and do not have much description. But a novel is centered on a central character,” she explains.
She based her first novel on the life of a prostitute from the Creole community living in Mauritius. “The idea of the novel was inspired by the writings of South African writers whose themes centered on independence. In addition, I wanted to write about psychological and social subjects that were scarcely written about then,” she explains.
Acceptance and accolades
Finding publishers was indeed a challenge. “It was very difficult getting a work published in French. So, I sent my copy to publishers in France. But they expected something exotic. My work was not, so it did not get published in France,” recalls Ananda.
However, the book got accepted by African readers. “Yet, libraries in Mauritius did not readily accept it as they are very conservative. Also, there was very less readership,” she adds. But she says that it was never a problem getting her books published in Mauritius. “But it was difficult for me to find a mainstream publisher in France. They were very hesitant to publish new books,” she adds. “French mainstream publishers began accepting works by African and Indian authors (writing in French) only in the 90s,” she points out.
Ananda received the ‘Prix des Cinq continents de la Francophonie’ (Prize of Five Continents of la Francophonie) in 2006 for her book Eve de ses decombres. It was a book that recounted the story of four youngsters.
To young writers and the future
Ananda Devi agrees that she has definitely matured as a writer. “You need to change even as you mature as a writer. The process of progression happens from one book to another. I have explored with the genres of novels too. Perhaps, by even changing the point of view,” she says.
It is important to focus on writing and not on the success that comes out of it. “It is essential to aim to improve with every book,” she adds. After all, it is important for a writer to put forth questions and let the readers find the answers. About her future plans, she is pretty candid. “I wish to write something stronger,” she concludes.
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