Small talk: Manju Kapur

Born in Amritsar, India, in 1948, Manju Kapur was in her forties before she began to write, following a teaching career at Miranda House University College for Women in Delhi, where she had previously studied. Kapur’s first novel, Difficult Daughters (1998), became a bestseller in India and won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Her five books, which also include A Married Woman (2003) and Home (2006), explore family relationships, marriage and the role of women in modern Indian society. The Immigrant (2009) was shortlisted for the 2011 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Kapur is married with three children and three grandchildren and lives in New Delhi.

What book changed your life?

Howards End. The phrase “only connect” stuck in my head and I tried to apply it to everything in my life. It was disastrous.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question – his way of looking at things is so funny throughout.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

PD James’ Unnatural Causes, which caught my eye because it featured a literary society.

What is your daily writing routine?

I write in the morning, then I go to the gym. I read in the afternoons and evenings, and look after the garden.

Where do you write best?

In my study. Before that I wrote each book in a different part of the house.

What do you snack on while you write?

I try not to. I used to eat aloo bhujia, which is a spicy Indian deep-fried snack. Now I stick to fruit, tea, lemon water and nuts.

Who are your literary influences?

There are many I admire. When I was younger it was Jane Austen but in the end you have your own story to tell and your own voice.

What are you scared of?


When were you happiest?

I’m getting happier as I grow older – it’s progressive.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My mother gave me lots of very bad advice ... But she did teach me to ignore social pressures. She was always looking forward, never back, and that’s what I try to do.

What would you change about yourself?

I’d like to be less anxious. Sometimes I think I’m so anxious I can’t bear it.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

My father was a great art lover and owned a Gaitonde [a leading Indian abstract artist], which he said was called “The Thinker”. My brother sold it and I really regret that.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

The mountains of my home.

Manju Kapur’s latest novel is ‘Custody’ (Faber)

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