LSQ: The relationships both daughters have with their grandmother are very different, presumably based on their age. Can you speak to the complex relationship between Dana and her grandmother?
Artyv: They do have an interesting dynamic. Mtra, the younger of the sisters, is the blank canvas. The one who is impressionable, the dreamy child both the grandmother and elder sister are trying so hard to persuade over to their side. On the other hand, the reason why Dana and her grandmother have a more complex relationship is because these are two central figures who act outside the norm of their expected roles. Dana serves as the voice of the critic, the Freudian super ego to the grandmother’s id. She is level headed for her age, a devil’s advocate and more measured in how she navigates changes in her young life while her grandmother, the mipaati, remains impulsive and reckless, not exactly the sort of role model Dana wants to emulate. I was trying to create a subversion in the archetypes of the ‘Old Woman’ and the ‘Child’.
LSQ: The grandmother is described as a hoarder. Do you think in a way she is trying to hang onto the past?
Artyv: That’s true. The children have no memories of the past. But their grandmother does, and she remembers the past so intimately. She misses it and wants to turn back time to how things used to be: clean, unpolluted and most importantly, free. A time when humankind could plant a seed and have the luxury to watch it grow before their very eyes. A time when their food didn’t descend from the unknown and they had the choice to eat what they liked. As I understand, there are two kinds of hoarders— the thrifty, practical kind and then, there are ones who attach sentiment to objects, trying to draw out the length of memories. Dana’s grandmother would be the latter kind. Her clothes, her motley of hoarded trinkets and even her grudge are all a physical manifestation of her longing for the old days.
LSQ: The symbolism of the mud — its many uses and possibilities — and the choice to use it to grow a seed is rich in your piece. Why did you choose mud? Where did this idea come from?
Artyv: I was pottering about my plants one day. Quite literally. I was shifting them about, changing their pots and weeding out the grass that had found their way in. In the beginning, I tried to use a spade to uproot them but noticed how the edge was cutting off some delicate roots. So, in the end, I decided to use my hand to scoop the plants out. There is something oddly edifying about holding mud in your hand. Mud gets so little credit despite being a life giver.
LSQ: It’s impossible as a reader to not get swept up in the grandmother’s excitement and ambitiousness regarding her germinating seed. How were you able to maintain the momentum and suspense in this story? What was the most challenging aspect of it to write and why?
Artyv: One way to maintain the momentum is to leave out details and exposition, which take away from the crux of the theme. Instead, the focus was solely on character personalities, conversation dynamics, events, and their repercussions. The most challenging aspect in writing ‘A Handful of Mud’ was to set this story in a place which is close to my heart and my home, and then to walk the line between capturing the uniqueness of the culture and to somehow keep it universally relatable.
LSQ: The ending, of course, could have gone a hundred different ways. What made you choose this particular ending? Mtra’s observation in the last line gives a bit of dark humor and some levity, as younger children’s honest observations often do. Did you have this line planned out all along, or did it appear along the way?
Artyv: Dashing of naïve dreams seemed to me the only way to go. Inevitably, it’s one of those harsh realities of life and a part of growing up. I was very particular about Mtra having the last say, and I especially wanted her to have that last line, because she is my blank canvas. Her judgement serves as an honest conclusion, and it also takes the story away from the two characters who inhabit a great part of it.