Time tells a tale

A de­but au­thor tells the story of three par­al­lel lives set in In­dia, nar­rated by Time.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By SHARMILLA GANESAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

IT is per­haps fit­ting that L.M. Vali­ram’s de­but novel is nar­rated by Time, for time is a ma­jor fac­tor in her jour­ney to be­com­ing an au­thor.

Though an avid reader and writer since child­hood, Vali­ram never par­layed her love for the writ­ten word into a ca­reer.

In fact, her full name – Lav­ina Mel­wani Vali­ram – will alert you to her pres­ence in the re­gional fash­ion and lux­ury re­tail scene: her hus­band runs the Vali­ram Group, where she serves as di­rec­tor of the la­bels Charles & Keith, Pe­dro, and Flow Malaysia. She is also the mother of two sons, aged 18 and 19.

In 2007, Vali­ram re­ceived a painful re­minder about time, when her mother passed away.

“It was a re­minder of my mor­tal­ity. It made me think to my­self, what’s my bucket list?”

The ques­tion brought her back to her long­time love: writ­ing.

“Over the years, many peo­ple have told me I should pub­lish my writ­ing. But I’ve al­ways been quite pri­vate about it. Fi­nally, I de­cided to just jump right in,” says Vali­ram at a re­cent in­ter­view.

Draw­ing on the books that she her­self loved to read – her favourite au­thors range from Sylvia Plath to Stephen King – she wanted to write a book with beau­ti­ful lan­guage and im­agery, but also a grip­ping story.

Her pas­sion for great fic­tion com­pelled her to hone her craft as much as pos­si­ble be­fore she be­gan writ­ing. The book it­self was writ­ten in 18 months, but it took Vali­ram four years of at­tend­ing writ­ing cour­ses, and co­pi­ous amounts of notes and drafts be­fore she felt ready.

Re­luc­tant to let her book be al­tered by com­mer­cial con­sid­era-

tions, she de­cided to self-pub­lish.

A num­ber of re­vised manuscripts later, Part Star Part Dust was born. The book’s ti­tle, Vali­ram says, was in­spired by the idea of ev­ery one of us be­ing made up of both pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives.

“It took me three manuscripts to re­alise you had to write for read­ers, not for your­self,” she says. “But tak­ing the time and ef­fort to im­prove my­self re­ally made this book ev­ery­thing I wanted it to be.”

The story of Part Star Part

Dust has its beginnings in a ques­tion that came to Vali­ram: what would it be like if Time nar­rated a story?

“I found this ques­tion very in­trigu­ing. Could Time tell us a story of three or­di­nary peo­ple? And why not make the or­di­nary, ex­tra­or­di­nary?”

The book tells the par­al­lel sto­ries of three dif­fer­ent peo­ple – Radha, Mira, and Gau­rav – whose des­tinies be­come ir­re­vo­ca­bly linked through an ill-fated flight to Delhi which ends in a crash.

At first, they seem to have lit­tle to do with each other: Radha was aban­doned as a baby on the streets of Mumbai; Mira was sup­posed to marry a man she had never met at the age of 16; and Gau­rav strug­gles to choose be­tween love and money. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, the three char­ac­ters’ lives are re­vealed to be in­ter­twined in un­ex­pected ways.

The novel’s piv­otal event has its roots in Vali­ram’s own anx­i­eties. One of her big­gest fears, she says, is dy­ing in a plane crash. As a way of en­gag­ing with that fear, she de­cided to place her char­ac­ters in midst of one.

The novel reaches into Vali­ram’s own life ex­pe­ri­ences in other ways too. While cur­rently re­sid­ing in Kuala Lumpur, she was born in Mumbai and raised in Hong Kong. Her an­nual trips back to In­dia while grow­ing up in­fused in her a strong affin­ity for the coun­try. The book, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween Delhi and Mumbai, re­flects this con­nec­tion.

“Writ­ing a story that takes place in In­dia feels more au­then­tic to me. The raw sides of hu­man­ity that I see when I’m back there stays with me, and keeps com­ing back to me when I write,” she says.

Count­ing au­thors like Ro­hin­ton Mistry, Aravind Adiga, and Chi­tra Ban­er­jee Di­vakaruni as her in­spi­ra­tions, Vali­ram says while her story is set in In­dia, it is rooted in feel­ings that any­one can re­late to.

“The hu­man strug­gle is the same across the board. Every­one wants to be happy,” she says.

With her first book now on the shelves, Vali­ram isn’t wast­ing any time. She al­ready has ideas for at least two more nov­els.

“Fic­tion is so im­por­tant! It is a way to travel with­out leav­ing your home, it takes you to places you can’t get on a flight to reach,” she says.

Jump­ing in: Los­ing her mother prompted Vali­ram to pur­sue her pas­sion for the writ­ten word and take the plunge as an au­thor. — ROHAIZAT MD DARUS/The Star

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