I have been raving about the Lalli series for a while now ( here, here and here), and recently I had the opportunity to attend a crime-writing workshop facilitated by the author, Kalpana Swaminathan. The workshop itself was a great experience. It was my first ever writing workshop, and I really enjoyed it, especially because Kalpana Swaminathan ensured that all of us participated, and all of us got to create.
I also took the opportunity at this time, to ask her if she would sign a couple of her books for me, and if she would do an email interview with me about her latest book Greenlight and about writing in general. And, yaay! She agreed! So here it is, my Q&A with the creator of Lalli!
About Kalpana Swaminathan: A writer and surgeon, Dr. Kalpana Swaminathan lives in Mumbai. She is the author of the Lalli series, the latest of which is Greenlight. Her books, apart from the Lalli series, include Ambrosia for Afters  and Bougainvillea House . Her book of short stories, Venus Crossing, won the Crossword Fiction Award for 2009. She also writes with Ishrat Syed, under the name of Kalpish Ratna.
What prompted you to write Greenlight?
December 12, 2012 unleashed a reaction almost as violent as the crime itself. I found that very disturbing. Violence towards children has always baffled me. I wrote this book to address these feelings.
Greenlight has a very different feel to it than its predecessors. It is a darker book; more ‘noir’. Is this deliberate on your part and will the future Lalli books have a similar tone?
Darker, yes, but not noir, which, by definition, projects a cynicism neither I nor Lalli share, although Lalli finds it hard to overcome despair. Confronting cruelty is always painful, and we’re defeated by its irrationality: yes, this was a very painful book to write. About the future– who knows what Lalli will be upto next? She is yet to tell her own story…
Parts of the book function as a commentary on rape culture and on the hypocritical and voyeuristic reactions to incidents of rape. This elevates the book to something beyond fiction. What is it that you hope readers will take away from Greenlight?
I certainly hope Greenlight gets people thinking about the plane of reality in which we react, especially publicly, to the pain of others. In Lalli’s words, the soul needs more leg-room
Greenlight doesn’t have as many descriptions of food (understandably, given the tone of the book), but many passages in the earlier books made me very hungry! Why is food such an important character in your books?
It’s such fun writing about food, and if your characters must eat, why not gloriously? Lalli has a relish for the simple delights of life, and Sita indulges her, while I look on sceptically over Shukla’s shoulder.
— Vijayalakshmi Harish (@GranthaMaven) June 7, 2017
Technology has been conspicuously absent from the earlier books, but Twitter becomes a major plot point in Greenlight. Will this continue in Lalli’s future adventures?
The prop depends on what the plot calls for. Technology’s just a tool–people are so much more complex and interesting than machines!
Will Sita and Savio ever realize that they are perfect for each other? I, for one am rooting for them.
I simply can’t understand what they’re upto. Lalli refuses to notice the deadlock, and I’m really worried that Shukla might take matters in hand….
Has your work as a surgeon affected your work as a writer? How?
A surgeon’s job is very like writing. It’s about understanding people in difficult situations, and applying a skill to provide a solution. Their skills may be different, but both a surgeon and a writer take an exploratory approach. Surgery demands a high degree of concentration and focus, and a very sentient awareness–qualities very useful to a writer. It’s also a very humbling skill. That’s useful too.
Crime fiction generally does not receive the same sort of acclaim as “literary” fiction. Is it possible for crime fiction to be “literary”?
‘Literary’ is a book that’s read and remembered, and loved when read again, years later. That’s the only acclaim that counts with me. Labels are meant to be peeled off before reading!
How is your experience of writing on your own different from your writing in collaboration with Dr Ishrat Syed?
Both are exhilarating! Alone, I write in free fall. When Ishrat and I write together, there’s the added element of dissent. There are two streams of thought, very individualistic, converging into a distinctive voice.
Any words of advice for aspiring Indian crime fiction writers?
Peel off that label and just write! Who knows what will emerge?
When do we get to see Lalli next and what curiosities will she be dealing with then?
You’ll be meeting her soon in Murder in Seven Acts, a book of short stories, curiosities allsorts!
Thank you, Kalpana Swaminathan, for your willingness to do this e-mail interview, and the time you’ve taken to answer all my questions!
Kalpish Ratna’s books: Goodreads