One actor, many roles

People had her pegged as a parallel cinema actor, who would fade with time. But there is more to Deepti Naval than just being the Chamko girl, Yoshita Sengupta discovers
Deepti Naval is the sort of writer, who interests you more than her work -- which is not to say that we weren't charmed by The Mad Tibetan, a book of short stories by Naval. The actress who has also painted, directed, written poetry and taken photographs, speaks to Sunday MiD DAY about her new role.

Deepti Naval at her Versova residence. Photo/Nimesh Dave
Your father was the head of the English department at Hindu College, Delhi University. Your mother taught you the art of story-telling. How has that affected your writing?
My mother trained me to visualise things. She would narrate stories very vividly, painting a picture with words. My mother had lived a very different life in Burma -- it was a different sensibility, a different time and she was very good at describing the ambience and experiences. That, I think, is one of my strong points -- to create images with words.

Every actor idolises another actor; every painter is inspired by the work of some artist. Who are you inspired by?
It's a little hard for me to take names. I have read randomly in life. I've read the poetry of (Rainer Maria) Rilke and Pablo Neruda. One of my favourite writers has been Sylvia Plath. My all-time favourite writer remains Gabriel Garcia Marquez and my favourite book is Hundred Years of Solitude.

I also like Mark Slouka's The Hare's Mask. Those stories are complex, layered and you have to try hard to understand them. I don't write like that. I keep it straight and simple. I usually pick up a book if I find the blurb interesting. That's how I discovered Ben Okri and grew to love his works for the fantasy lands he creates. Among Indian writers, I really like Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth.

For how long have you been working on your book?
I have been attempting to write short stories for very long. The earliest stint was The Morning After, which I wrote after finishing college in New York in 1979. In the early and mid-80s, I would jot down incidents and encounters in my diary thinking that someday, these would become stories.

I had worked with Sanjana Roy Choudhury (my publisher) on my father's book. At that time, she was with Rupa & Co. A couple of years went by and we met again at the launch of my second book of poems, Black Winds and Other Poems. She expressed interest in working together and asked me to write something for her.

So, very offhandedly, I asked her, how about a short story? When I returned home I realised I had nothing proper (to give her). So I took some time off and wrote. That was a year and a half ago. I went back to my jottings and recreated those notes into stories.

 How much of your stories is fact and how much of it is fiction?
Before I began, I asked myself a simple question: What is a short story? Short stories have some rules. They must have a dynamic twist in the end. Then I wondered what would it be like if I didn't get bogged down by these rules. What if I left the readers with a little slice of life? Most of the stories in the book are inspired by actual incidents. Some are events of my own life, like the story Thulli takes off from a meeting I had with a prostitute in the early '80s. Balraj Sahni is based on a meeting I had with the actor when I was a little girl. Sisters is based on an incident that happened with a close friend. Morning After is probably the only story that is fiction.

Between acting, writing and painting, which medium is the dearest to you?
I'd call myself an actress, but the art that is closest to me would be writing.

The Mad Tibetan Stories from Then and Now, for Rs 395 published by Amaryllis, an imprint of Manjul Publishing House

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