OF LOVE, CHAOS AND THE IMPOSSIBLE
Usually, interviews begin with a hello. This one with Anuvab Pal, the author of Chaos Theory, opened with me saying, “Don’t waffle and don’t lie.” Full disclosure: Anuvab Pal is a playwright, a stand- up comedian, a screenwriter, a novelist and my husband, which is why I can bark instructions to him. Which is also why he can completely ignore said instructions.
Chaos Theory is Pal’s fourth book but it’s also the first play he wrote, back in 2001. Eleven years and many versions later, the story between two Indian professors whose relationship teeters between love and friendship is now a novel.
In 1999, I was asked by Columbia University’s department of theatre to write a 20- minute play. Initially, I wrote a play about two men, one of whom leaves. That was not a romance, though it could have been.
Replace Nebraska with Columbia and Chaos Theory is exactly the same. Anyway, someone suggested, what if it was a man and a woman. I said, yes.
She essentially came from my head. But it would be nice to have women like that in the world.
Impossible. I don’t know what you mean.
I don’t know any women in any Ivy league campuses.
Look, a book needs a dedication, just like a car needs a brake. It doesn’t mean anything. Well, it does in a car. Otherwise, you’d have an accident but here, it is what it is.
The charm of romance comes from the impossibility of it. In life, you don’t have love stories that end in perfect marriages. That’s what interests me about people: the petty deceits, the secret motivations. I start thinking, “What’s really going on?”, “What are her secret motivations?”, “What are his?” and so on. Love is not hard to observe. It’s not a spy story. Love lost is dramatically more interesting to me because of the inherent conflict in there.
See, writers who write about love try to come up with conflicts to keep lovers apart. For instance, can’t get to- gether because families don’t want it ( Bollywood) or can’t get together because of World War I ( Graham Greene). I’d have to come up with and use a war far better than Graham Greene did. So I thought I’d give Sunita and Mukesh a far simpler reason: they just can’t own up to themselves to admit who they are so they can’t obviously own up to telling each other their feelings.
I think when one lives with a story, one changes and the story changes with them. I mean that very literally. I was living with Chaos Theory in New York when I first wrote it. I was a dishevelled writer when writing was cool, so two professors drinking and talking about life made sense. Now, writing the novel years later in Bombay, it is a different world. Those things don’t matter here. This is a glitzy world of parties and pop and bling, and within this world, the charm and cool of that world I remember is often forgotten. I had to find Sunita and Mukesh again, which was hard sitting in Bandra in 2011.
I think as you get older, so must they and you tend to be less flippant and glib. I think by turning it into a novel, that glibness and that sort of riding out life with casual wit got replaced with a little more realism. The hardest part was figuring out who is telling us this story and why.
I always hear them in my head, performing it. I have no other way to write. Mukesh is a combination of Naseeruddin Shah, Roshan Seth, Jeremy Irons… it’s really an odd face that shows up in my head.
A Kate Winslet/ Sharmila Tagore… thing. Chaos Theory, ( Pan Macmillan), Rs499