BackStory: Five Questions with Mandira Pattnaik
Author of Regarding Gray, Carmine, Pyrope
What inspired you to write ‘Regarding Gray, Carmine, Pyrope’?
I read a newspaper article about the sandstone forts of Jodhpur and Jaipur, India. The accompanying image of a lake with coots was beautiful. That piece was only a travelogue but I was moved to research the forts and events of that era when I found this fascinating story of Rajput Princess Krishna Kooweri who had multiple suitors. The rivalry ultimately escalated into a war involving the Rajput rulers of Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaipur; as well as Gwalior, Indore and Tonk. In 1810, 16-year old Krishna agreed to be poisoned to death, to put an end to the war.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
I found several references to the ‘woman’ Krishna Kooweri, as a powerful character, as a heroine who sacrificed herself. Letitia Elizabeth Landon tells her story within a long poem The Zenana. She also captures popular imagination in other poems and prose of that period. But within the limits of a flash piece, there was no way I could develop her character in more detail. So, I had to sadly leave that out.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
I researched other Indian royal families of that period, and referenced women who enjoyed better education in that period, like the Coochbehar royal family whose girls were educated in London and married British men. But the women of western India were not as fortunate; they remained in strict purdah. It surprised me that this death and the circumstances that surrounded it were so interesting but were hardly retold in recent years.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
The first draft when the seed of an idea takes shape, is the most interesting and favorite part of my writing process. Least favorite has to be the part that is also essential to the process, but I’m sure it is disliked by all writers — reading decline mails!
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
With my privileges and education, it is hard to imagine oneself in the shoes of the women of that era. Krishna Kooweri only fascinates me!