F-Page – Anu Kumar

Anu Kumar



BornIt’s been so long that I can’t remember. I am ancient; don’t be fooled by the photo (sunlight is always a natural enhancer).
Place of BirthSambalpur, it’s a small town in northwest Odisha (it was Orissa then)
City of residenceFor the last almost three years, Timonium, a town in northern Maryland in the US
Books authored

For older readers

  1. The Girl Who Ran Away In A Washing Machine and Other Stories (Kitaab, 2015)
  2. Inspector Angre and the Pizza Delivery Boy (Popular Prakashan, 2013)
  3. It Takes a Murder (Hachette, 2013)
  4. The Dollmakers’ Island (Gyaana Books, 2010)
  5. Letters for Paul (Mapinlit, 2006).
  6. In Search of a Raja and other Stories (Writers’ Workshop, 2002).
  7. For all readers (as Gaiman might say, and if I dare emulate him)

  8. Atisa and the Time Machine: In Search of Kalidasa (Jaico Books 2014)
  9. Atisa and the Time Machine: Adventures with Hiuen Tsang (Puffin Books, 2010)
  10. Atisa and the Seven Wonders (Puffin Books, 2008).
  11. In the Country of Gold-digging Ants (Puffin Books, 2009)
  12. On Top of the World (with Arjun Vajpai)  (Puffin Books 2010)
  13. Puffin Lives: Subhash Bose (Puffin Books 2010)
  14. Girls of India: The Chola Adventure (Puffin Books 2013)
  15. How did the Harappans say Hello and 16 Other Mysteries of Indian History (Red Turtle/Rupa 2014)
  16. The Mahatma and the Monkeys (Hachette 2009)
  17. Chanakya: The Philosopher and the Kingmaker (Hachette 2013)
  18. Sarojini Naidu: The Nightingale and the Freedom Fighter (Hachette 2014)
  19. Swami Vivekananda: The Monk and the Reformer (Hachette 2014)
  20. Myth Quest series (12 books on animals and asuras) (Hachette 2011-2012)
  21. Across The Seven Seas: Travellers’ Tales from India, Hachette, September 2015


(Sounds like what I might like as an obituary:)

Anuradha (Anu) Kumar lives now in Maryland with a husband and a seven year old daughter. It’s the tenth home she’s had, with earlier homes in far flung towns in Odisha, Delhi, Bombay (city of her heart), Gurgaon, Singapore and now Timonium.  Being the outsider as such movements imply, is painful in some ways, but inspiring in quite others, especially in one’s writing.  She studied history at Delhi University, then also management degree specializing in HR from the XLRI School of Business and is presently now in the MFA Program in Writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

She has written several books for children and older readers alike. Two of her stories were awarded by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association in 2004 and 2010, and two others were short-listed for The Little Magazine New Writing Awards, 2006. But she feels happier having been able to work on books like the Atisa series (historical adventure for young adults) and books like ‘It Takes a Murder’ and ‘The Dollmakers’ Island’ – genre blending works, and writing these was challenging and wonderful.


Fantastic Five – Five of my favourite books

The Shadow Lines – Amitav Ghosh A book I’ve read several times, reading which helped me make sense of my family past in some ways. I wrote about it here: http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/india/anu-kumar/moving-with-the-shadow-lines-11951-748099.html. And yes, I did and will always find Tridib, the narrator’s uncle, one of the most romantic characters of all time.

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson It’s a very moving work by Robinson, all of whose novels I’ve read (and some of her non-fiction). About two abandoned young girls, Ruthie and Lucille, and their eccentric aunt, but it also has a deep spiritual meaning. Am afraid to say more for fear of making it sound preachy, but it’s a beautiful work.

Suspended Sentences (collection of three novellas) – Patrick Modiano I read him recently, and in translation. But Modiano’s haunting evocation of Paris during Resistance will catch your heart.

Poems, New and Collected – Wislawa Szymborska For example, just read this http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1996/szymborska-poems-3_en.html and you will know why, of course

The Last Wilderness (or most of his works) – Nirmal Verma (in translation) Because he writes so well about atmosphere. In Prague (Days of Longing) you can feel the cold rain on your face, and dankness of its narrow lanes. And in The Last Wilderness ( a wonderful translation by Pratik Kanjilal), you walk through misty  hill-stations, and realize the evanescence of all things



Tell us about your earliest attempts at writing. When, where and from whom did you learn the nittygritties of writing?

These – my first attempts – for school magazines and newspapers were all truly laughable and quite rightly so.

Yes, I began with letters to the editor, denouncing on one occasion some high level delegation to Burma in the early 1990s because there were drug cartels there – it wasn’t a nuanced argument, but there you are..

But seriously, I am still learning how to write. I learnt a lot from advice given to me by writers who read my first novel in parts: Shama Futehally, Pankaj Mishra and Kiran Nagarkar.  And from those who of course brushed it aside, I learnt from that too.

Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Variously. Often newspapers – the city pages are fascinating, and they don’t just carry crime stories.Tweet
Often, stray lost characters that are hidden in stories or novels already written, need to have a new, different life.Tweet

 I am intrigued by how some characters, that appear interesting, suddenly disappear from a book and that might be a prompt of some sort.

What does your typical writing day look like?

There’s my family and I write, read, read, write around them.

What is one habit / trait of yours that makes you effective / productive as an author?

I really like reading up stuff on history, on the way,

I’ve gathered a lot of useless stuff, but it might prove useful some day, you never know really…Tweet

What is the one thing that you recommend every aspiring author should do?

Look at a blank page and start writing.

Beginning is the most important thing. And not giving up.Tweet

The first draft is for you alone. And no matter how high the bar, stop thinking about Chetan Bhagat.

Tell us something about yourself that very few people know?

I try writing erotica and it becomes romantic mush, all the time, no matter how hard I try.

Does technology (the Internet, software tools) help you in your writing process? If yes, can you tell us about them?

Yes, quite.

I read a lot on the net of course (newspapers, magazines, reviews).  And I’ve worked on a laptop ever since I began. But I’ve lost files and documents too, or did once, which can be quite nightmarish.

Is there any other way in which technology can help you in your work as writer?

Some of the archives are being digitized and I like places like jstor, hathitrust digital etc, which give you access to books you might find hard and expensive to get otherwise.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others? (include websites, blogs or Twitter profiles, etc).

I love reading the New York Review of Books, as well as the London Review of books for these combine thoughtful essays and wonderful reviews.

Influence? I owe a lot to my history teachers at Delhi University, especially the years I did my post-grad. They taught me the value of research, and always to look for the stories and experiences of those ‘marginalized’ in one way or another.

How did it occur to write an adventure in a historical setting? What challenges did it pose?

About the Chola Adeventure:

My editor at Puffin then (Sudeshna) had this idea for a series, ‘Girls of India’, and I did want to write about the Chola period.

It was difficult to write about actual conversations, the familiarity or otherwise the characters in the book might have with each other. It took some challenge to depict that in the book.

One of our readers wanted to know if there were any real events woven into the story. How much of real events have you mixed into the story? There was no major historical event in the story, or was there?

Yes, the backdrop is very much historical. Raja Raja Chola’s ascension to the throne was not undisputed, and the family did see a lot of strange inexplicable deaths, and I tried to weave that atmosphere of deceit and intrigue into my story.

The protagonist Raji is a twelve-year old girl, who is a warrior and sculptor. How was this character conceived? Was this normal during that period?

It was fun writing about Raji. I am not sure if she was usual for her time – I do believe she was, there’s no reason really.  All I know, and I guess everyone does too, is that history doesn’t tell us much about women, or other secondary characters. At the same time the Chola queens wielded enormous power, not as rulers but due to their royalty, and invested their wealth in temples and trade, as KAN Shastri has written in his ‘History of South India’ for example.

Find me at

Site: http://anukumar.org

Linked in: @anu_atwriting

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/anu.kumar.books

PlusMinus’n’More: Thank you Anu, for being our guest on F-pages and sharing with us your experiences as a writer.

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