Author Shinie Antony makes a mark with her latest collection of short stories, ‘Séance on a Sunday Afternoon’
By Shevlin Sebastian
The story, ‘The Sofa’, in Shinie Antony’s latest book, ‘Séance on a Sunday Afternoon’, starts off with an old man peeling off what he thinks is his socks, but it is actually his skin.
“That image came from nowhere,” says Shinie, 42. “The old man remained in my mind for a long time till I had to question as to what he was doing and what had happened to him.” She says that these characters are phantoms who “want their stories to be told. They badger me inside my head.”
Shinie listens to the badgering and puts down what they have to say. The end result: Séance, her third short story collection, 22 tales in all, published by Rupa, is intriguing and gripping. “Writing is very painful for me,” she says. “It is like torturing yourself. A short story is squeezed out of me.”
When she says this, there is a palpable sense of relief that the book is over as she sits in a coffee shop at Kochi and sips a Café Nirvana. The Bangalore-based author is in town with her family (husband Dean Mathew, daughters Nimisha, 13, and Mihika, 8) for a weekend stay with her parents.
Despite the stress, Shinie has been writing steadily. Her first book of short stories, ‘Barefoot and Pregnant’, published by Rupa in 2002, contained the story, ‘A Dog’s Death’ which won a Highly Commended Award in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association short story competition of 2001. The next year, she won the Asian Award in the same competition for the story, ‘Somewhere in Gujarat’.
Her next books were both released in 2005. One, a novel, ‘Kardamom’s Kisses’, was published by Rupa, while ‘Planet Polygamous’, 36 short stories about infidelity, was published by Indialog.
So, is infidelity a widespread phenomenon in urban India? “Yes it is,” says Shinie, who has been happily married to Dean for 14 years. “I know a lot of women who have had affairs and, at any given opportunity they are full of complaints about the spouse, unaware that they themselves are not putting in 100 per cent in the relationship.”
She says most of the stories in the book are based on true incidents. “I had a couple confide in me, simultaneously, that they were having affairs,” she says. “But the marriage survived.”
As to the reasons for infidelity, Shinie says the consumerist culture is having its effect on relationships. “People want to put the card into the ATM machine and want cash, loyalty and fun, but everything has to come from the other side,” she says. “They are not looking at how much they have to put into it.”
Shinie, on the other hand, is committed to her relationships and her writing. The daughter of a Navy officer, she grew up in Mumbai, Delhi, Lakshwadeep and Kochi, where she spent five years and graduated in literature from St. Teresa’s College.
It was, as expected, God’s Own Country which has had the most impact on her psyche. “The sense of belonging I feel in Kerala, I can’t get that anywhere else,” she says. “I can take the backwaters, as well as the lecherousness. The men in Kerala have a Ph.d in staring.”
Shinie remembers the time when she had gone for a film with a few of her college friends. When they came out, they saw a wall of grinning men standing in front waiting to go in for the next show. “There was no way we could get through without being pawed,” she says.
Shinie had an unexpected reaction: she sat down on the ground and began weeping. Immediately, the guards and a lone policeman cleared a path, so that the girls could go out. “You begin to see sexuality as something creepy,” she says. “The male libido in Kerala is like a can of kerosene. It only needs a match.”
Sometimes, these experiences do light up the match of creativity in her. So, how much of her fiction is autobiographical?
“No writer sets out to write anything personal,” she says. “You take great pains to separate your life from the fiction you are writing, although there are certain nuances and reactions that are unmistakably you.”
Thanks to an original voice and a lucid style, Shinie, a former journalist, who is now a full-time writer has a rising national reputation.
Says Trisha Bora, her editor at Rupa: “Shinie has the ability to flesh out her characters very well. Most of her stories deal with life in a city and, hence, urban readers feel connected to it.”
At the launch of Séance, a few weeks ago, painter Anjali Ela Menon described it as a 21st century book. “Shinie belongs to a bold and courageous generation,” she says. “Séance is unputdownable.”
(Copyright: The New Indian Express, Kochi)