Let me start with two questions: One, how long did it take you to write this book—has it lived with you for a long time? And two, when you read this book, you see how close the author is to it. How deep your involvement is. Every word and feeling seems to have been wrenched out of you. This leads to the obvious question—where does it come from? How much of it is autobiographical?
I'll answer the second question first. I've just come back from Kerala, where my brother and my mother read the book for the first time. My brother, Lalith, is in many ways the most privileged reader of the book because we shared a childhood, blew spit bubbles together, misunderstood the adult world together—and have now, grown into completely different lives—we're completely different. He's the vice-president of a company that freeze-dries and exports shrimp—I'm deadly allergic to shrimp. When he read it he said something which nobody else could have said—he said the really real (autobiographical) things in the book are not the characters or the incidents, but the feelings, the love, the fear, the terror. Not the events. Not the main narrative. It's the emotional texture that's real. Of course people will inevitably make connections—yes, Estha and Rahel are half Bengali and half Malayali. Yes, my mother was divorced. Yes, I grew up in a pickle factory. Yes, Ayemenem exists. But this forms the external detail—it isn't the bedrock on which the book is built. Not the deep substance of fiction.