Shama Futehally – a Writer of Rare Grace: Anuradha Kumar
Posted by Commonwealth Day
March 10th, 2011
Anuradha Kumar’s most recent novel is ‘The Dollmakers’ Island’. She has written novels and short stories for children as well as for older readers. Her fIrst novel, Letter for Paul, appeared in 2006, and she is at present working on a young adult novel. The love of her life is her two and a half year old daughter, Devyani.
In the beginning, she was just a voice on the telephone. A voice that was different. When she called it was as a contributor asking for editorial advice where I worked at the Economic and Political Weekly, but I had never before heard a voice that could sound so alive and warm even over a telephone. When she said who she was, I listened on with awe. I had read and been deeply moved by her book, Tara Lane. But writers were remote, unapproachable beings, and Shama didn’t seem so.
One day I called her back on impulse, and that began a strange relationship where she became my teacher in many ways. She offered to read my manuscript. Most writers will hesitate to do that, especially for someone unpublished and untested. A new writer is the most unbearable of creatures, and I had all the symptoms of being over-eager, of over-writing, of being sententious and at times, losing the plot altogether. Yet Shama never lost patience, and she helped me not to lose faith either, for of course the rejections when they came were quick and unstoppable.
For over a year, Shama and I exchanged mails. She wrote long gentle emails, pointing out things in my manuscript and even now, I remain amazed and moved by how kind she was. ‘You can’t say a thatched roof looks like a dog’s unbrushed coat? Readers must relate to the metaphors you use.’
I learnt as much from her emails as from her books too. Tara Lane is a moving account of a young girl in a Muslim family and the sudden difficulties that confront the family when her father’s factory is shut down by a strike. In the shamefully short time I knew her, a little less than two years, I read more by her. I learnt of her grace, the amazing and direct simplicity with which she chose her words, and ability to get to the ‘heart of the matter’ in no time.
She had a great range of interests as her reviews and short pieces for newspapers show.
And while her oeuvre may seem small when compared to other prolific writers, she wrote of abiding values and things that mattered. Reaching Bombay Central was a plea for religious tolerance and to do away with slotting people into stereotypes.
But more, I still treasure her emails written to me for nearly a year till she passed away in
December 2003. She bore her illness with fortitude, and grace and I miss her more every passing year. I remember lots of things about her, but moments when I lose confidence, the lines she wrote at the end of her short piece, ‘On Writing’ that appears in the collected, ‘The Right Word’ always come to mind. Shama talking of the need for writers to really understand ‘failure’, wrote, ‘ … when young people ask me how they can learn to write, I would say, if I dared, “Only learn to live’.”
This story is from the forthcoming publication ‘Be Inspired: Personal Accounts from Women Agents of Change’ produced by the Commonwealth Foundation. The publication contains stories of four women who have been influenced and inspired, not by powerful politicians or business leaders in their cases, but by friends, family members and role models who don’t even know they are. And in writing their stories, these women have gone on to inspire many more through their own creative achievements. They are past entrants and winners of the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and their stories illustrate how inspiration, and inspiring women, can be found everywhere.
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