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July 02, 2015

Quick 4 with Tania James

Text by Zaral Shah

The author pens a captivating piece of fiction titled The Tusk That Did The Damage. Verve indulges in a quick chat with Tania James

Mammoth animals that have enchanted and amused many over the centuries, elephants are beautiful but still somewhat dangerous. The author pens a captivating piece of fiction set in South India, The Tusk That Did The Damage. For reasons of their own, various people further discover more about how idealism differs from reality in our country and how sometimes situations in life lead to people indulging in poaching. The story revolves around a young American girl making a documentary and the son of a farmer with an agenda of his own, who set out to learn more about an infamous elephant called the Gravedigger. Slowly blending these individual journeys, the novel makes for a gripping read.

1. Having been brought up in USA, how is your work inspired by India?
Since I was a baby, we’ve travelled to Kerala every few years. I remember waking up to the sound of a rooster crowing in my grandmother’s yard. So it’s impossible to experience a place in this way and not feel a profoundly emotional attachment. That feeling, in part, gave rise to my first novel, Atlas of Unknowns. Where my new novel is concerned, the decision to set the novel in Kerala arose out of practicality more than anything else. Elephants play a more important and sacred role in Kerala’s culture than maybe in any other state’s in India. So, I’m returning to Kerala in the realm of fiction and it was astonishing to learn how diverse the state really is.

2. Does your book draw from any real-life adventures?
Absolutely — particularly the filmmaker sections. Emma, one of the filmmakers, was my alter ego (minus the romance). I visited Wayanad and Periyar in Kerala, and the Kaziranga Wildlife Park in Assam, where I followed a veterinary doctor, Abhijit Bhawal, who runs a mobile veterinary service through the Wildlife Trust of India. His adventures deserve a book unto themselves.

3. Is there a difference in writing short stories as opposed to novels?
I find the short story harder to pull off; one misplaced line can be more glaring than in a novel. But it’s easier to begin and then abandon a short story when it seems to be failing. Abandoning a novel mid-way can mean months,
even years, of wasted time and that’s quite depressing.

4. What is your main inspiration and what do you owe your success to?
I guess every book has its own handful of inspirations, but if we’re talking about broader factors, I’d say that I’m always inspired by the risks that authors have taken. I suppose I owe my success, in part, to my very packed bookshelves, the books that showed me how powerful a single story can be.

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