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How Aparna Karthikeyan writes amidst dogs and distractions

Independent journalist and author of six books, Aparna Karthikeyan on her friendship with her writing space

Aparna Karthikeyan
Aparna Karthikeyan

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Writer Aparna Karthikeyan may long for a desk with a picturesque view, but so far, her bed has served her very well. The writer of six books, five of which are for kids, she is currently working on a series for PARI (The People's Archive of Rural India), supported by a grant from Azim Premji University.  “This is on seven crops in Tamil Nadu,” she says, adding that the series looks at the lives of farmers through the universe of their crops. 

Over an email, she talks about how she writes in bed aided by the company of dogs, music, and the occasional red velvet cupcake. 

Could you describe your current workspace to us?

I'd love to say it's a beautiful desk and shelves of books and plants and sunshine. But no, I write sitting on my bed, in my nightie. Next to my dogs (and their squeaky toys and chew bones). There are pillows and cushions, and sheets. And sometimes, earphones and music, especially when I'm editing a draft. There are plenty of distractions — but I've learnt to work between them. The house, phone, doorbell, deliveries — all of it cuts into the work. I don't have the luxury of getting away from it all. And so I write, in the middle of the day, on my bed, next to my dogs... 

Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?

My dogs Puchu and Shingmo have been in my life for five and three years. I've written for longer. But the bed's been my constant. There is a desk I use occasionally, but I'm too slouchy for a chair. Plus, with everybody working from home during the pandemic, my husband sits at the desk and takes calls. I use it for Zoom meetings, but not otherwise.

How would you define your daily relationship with this space?

We're good friends, my writing space and I. The curtains and pillows have heard me curse; they've heard me cry. They might know from my groans when I'm transcribing hours of audio interviews, and when a sentence sits, nicely, properly, the dogs get a treat, I get a treat, and the world seems so cheerful. Well, at least the bedroom does!  

Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.

Not the same room, but it was on this very bed, in another city on the west coast of India, that I wrote all my books: Nine Rupees an Hour, No Nonsense Nandhini, Woof, Cat's Egg, Kali Wants to Dance, and Looking for Laddoo. There is a sea outside that bedroom window. And tall coconut trees. The monsoon was wild; the wind and rain found ways to come and bloom on the walls. 

The opening lines have always been the hardest for me; I'm usually thrilled when they work. I suppose those are my eureka moments. Sometimes, I've even celebrated with a red velvet cupcake. Or two. 

Puchu and Shingmo
Puchu and Shingmo

What would it be if you were to trade in this place for another?

Oh, a beautiful picture window, with a view of the mountains and a river down below, some sheep, the dogs on a rug nearby. I'm pretty sure I'll get absolutely no writing done, though. I'll just watch the sunrise and sunset and sob because it is all so beautiful. So, no. The bed it is, for now, anyway. 

What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years. Why?

Well, this is weird. But I've had Vicks and Amrutanjan nearby. I find the smells so comforting. And lip balm. These are the things I absently reach out to.

Describe your first book memory.

I remember loving Enid Blyton's books and Amar Chitra Katha in equal measure as a child. But what left an impression on me was discovering the names of every character in Asterix comics. That was so good. 

The first writer whose work you fell in love with — really fell in love with.  What about them appealed to you?

That would be James Herriot. I have always loved animals. But that heady mix of creatures and countryside and characters...oh my! I was so influenced by his books that I wanted to be a vet. I still dip into his work (as well as Gerald Durrell's) when I want to take my mind off things.

One genre you love but can't/ don't want to write. Why?

Poetry! I love Mary Oliver's poems. I keep dipping into her books. They're like a comforter on a cold day. Poetry is the best thing you can do with words. It's somewhere between prose and music if done well. I don't think I ever can. But how I love to read it! 

Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.


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