I first saw Hampi by moonlight, the outer battlements of the city wall glimmering, and the enchantment slithered into my subconscious, unfurled and remains to this day. The next day, sitting in the Queen's Bath, I slipped back in time and Achale danced before me, out of the keys, onto the page. While Achale remained a part of me, I heard the first faint whispers of her story only when I read about the strange case of the boy-saint, a widow's son who came out of the temple pond with his sacred thread, in the colonial gazetteer.
This is a true story, which happened in Virinchipuram, Tamilnadu, India. In the book, I set this incident in the fictional village of Alur, near Hampi.
The theme was born out of the desire to rewrite history from the woman's perspective, not as a victim as she is so often shown, but as an individual, making the best of her circumstances. Hence, Achale, courtesan but not prostitute, a career woman who gets waylaid but not derailed, by life. Maya, the other protagonist, seemed to me the ideal counterpoint to Achale- the modern career woman- how far has she journeyed?
What started me on this journey was an article in the woman’s journal, ‘Manushi’ about women saints and sainthood being an act of liberation. Religion, even in modern India, occupies not only the headlines but page three as well. More so in Vijayanagara, where an empire was established allegedly to rejuvenate an ailing religion. The sacred and the profane are closely interlinked in the religious discourse and sexuality is but an expression of love for the divine. I was intensely interested in AK Ramanujan's translations of Tamil poetry of the saints in ' Speaking of Siva,' the meta physical yet erotically charged imagery of secular poetry and Hindu philosophy which links Creation, procreation and destruction in the dances of the Gods.
The title ‘Middle Time’ alludes to the medieval era, of course, in which part of the novel is set. It is also a reference to the continuity of time, its cyclical nature. Between Hampi in the middle ages, and Chennai in 1996 there is a similarity - in that society was changing and economic opportunities were growing. As well, there was a religious revival sweeping through India in both periods and governance was at an all-time low.
Priya's blog- http://priyavasudevan.wordpress.com/.