Hello Andaleeb, welcome to INCREDIBLE WOMEN OF INDIA, Thank you for being a part of Incredible Women Writers of India, Monsoon Edition 2015 and sharing your journey as a writer.
First of all tell us something about your growing up years, your school and college days, and your family.
Hi! I’ve lived all my life in Bangalore, spending holidays in my home town of Vellore or sometimes in Hong Kong where my father had a business. School life was good but not that great. For some reason I didn’t feel confident about myself throughout my schooling years. While I was never a shy person, I didn’t come out into my own until I joined college and started doing what I really wanted to do. I did my undergraduate degree in Literature and I loved it. I think it makes a difference when you study something you love as opposed to studying something you are supposed to be doing. College days were fabulous. I made a huge number of friends, some with whom I am in touch even now. I had a little bump in my college life when I got married at the end of my second year. I felt uncomfortable but it was something my family wanted and I couldn’t say no. But amazingly, my husband and in-laws were/are supportive and it made my final year in college so much more free.
What makes you, You?
A love for reading, an incurable fondness for chocolate, exasperation and love for my children, passion for my writing, commitment to my work – oh my god. I almost sound like some paragon of virtue. Well, no, I’m also an impatient mother, a sloppy desk keeper, someone with a primary need for organising only my computer folders and nothing else, mind you. And a workaholic.
How did your journey as a writer/poet begin?
It started when I was eight and I sat in my father’s office chair in Hong Kong. It seemed to me like in that moment I knew what I wanted to do in my life. Over the years, that moment faded and I got busy with life but it came back to me as I realised that I wanted to do something for myself. Something that would define me on my own, and not in relation to someone else. I started writing short stories because the idea of a novel was daunting. Then I wrote short stories for children and those started getting published in a local newspaper. These small achievements made me feel good although I harboured the idea of writing books, sometime soon. A publisher told me that there was no market for short stories so I decided to jump in and write a novel. It took me a while because I had no notion of plot, no learning. Just the idea that I could tell a story. Once I did tell that story (Kite Strings), I realised I was hooked for life. I had to keep writing.
What are your inspirations? Who is your muse, if any at all?
Life around me inspires me all the time. As clichéd as that might sound, it’s true. I often see things around me but nothing really registers because my mind is on a different plane, concocting characters, people who would say the lines I want them to say, people who could lead the lives I could not.
Why do you write?
The truth is, because I can’t stop. And also I can’t do anything else, well enough. I write because I am a story teller and I want to tell people stories. I enjoy it when people get involved in a story of my making, when they invest in characters I create. The feeling of being in the middle of a book is so amazing that I can’t see myself not writing.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
Boredom mostly. I had a nice notebook and I wanted to write in it. Even today, I cannot resist the lure of a notebook. I got down to writing a story of a man with a huge sense of self-importance and how his arrogance wavers on a day when it rains. That was the first, proper story I wrote.
Do you write full-time or part-time? Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when?
For the past five years I was a full time writer. I wrote nine books, out of which several have been published. However, I took a sabbatical from writing last year and I have started working in a software company as the head of marketing. It’s different, it’s nice. I like meeting new people and it really opens up the window to my world. Also, writers are always looking for stories and characters and people who may or may not end up in our books! When I am in the middle of writing a book, there’s little else I can think of, except getting back to it. I like to write a chapter or two every day. I don’t write on weekends because it’s simply not possible to write with the kids around.
What is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest thing about writing? Any writing rituals?
The hardest thing – Worrying that maybe no one will want to publish it but I try not to think of publishers when I am writing the book. The easiest thing – Well the writing itself. Writing rituals – For the last five or six books, I started keeping a notebook devoted to the novel. Although I write on the computer, I like to scribble my thoughts in the notebook. I like to do some stream of consciousness thinking about my characters and their journey in the notebook before I start the actual writing. Most of the times I end up not using the written material but it makes it real for me.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Yes, I work to an outline because it makes things so much easier. I used to be afraid that if I did this, I wouldn’t have creative freedom but that’s not true. It is so much easier to be organised when you have the plot in mind and on paper. Also, I give myself the freedom to remove or add anything from the plot. Yes, I have written a few chapters that never became books for various reasons and going back to them makes me cringe.
Do you ever get writer’s Block? And how do you get over it?
I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. If I get stuck, then I just do something else and come back to the book after some time. It usually works!
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Earlier, my characters were a representation of me, up to a certain percentage. I’ve now learnt to separate myself from my characters and let them come into their own.
What are you working on at the minute?
At the moment, I’m between books. I finished writing a Young Adult novel recently which will be published next year by Penguin. It’s tentatively called Asmara’s Summer. I also have a Young Adult novel coming out this year in October, called When She Went Away which is being published by Duckbill.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors and poets / what are your favourite books?
Yes, I read as much as I can, and usually whatever I can get hold of. Guilty pleasures include romances and chicklit because they’re easy to read and get into. But I also enjoy crime fiction, especially by writers such as P.D James, Martha Grimes and Ruth Rendall. Among all time favourites, it would be hard to not include the Harry Potter series.
What do you think is the future of reading/writing in India?
I certainly hope more people continue to read and with avenues such as e-books that you can read on your mobiles or tablet devices, or Kindle, it makes reading convenient and accessible. Good writing can happen only if writers read and extensively at that. The current trend is slightly disturbing because more people want to write but no one really wants to read.
What are your other passions apart from writing?
Baking. I love baking cakes and cookies. Desserts too.
What is your message for the readers of our blogazine?
I think every one of us is incredible in our own way, in whatever we do in our lives. Try to remember that when you’re feeling depressed or low, especially when you see yourself surrounded by successful people everywhere. It happens to me too.
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Excerpt from unpublished novel
The Sum of All my Parts
Mariam rubbed her papery dry thumb against her finger, mimicking the motion of a prayer bead on its way down to meet the others in the tasbih. She glanced at the old Ajanta wall clock on the yellow wall, her eyes willing the hands to move faster. The only sound in the room was that of the ceiling fan clicking its blades together as it spun around in lazy circles, barely dispelling the heat.
She moved the pallu of her saree aside to let that semblance of wind from the fan cool her sweating neck and she fanned herself with her pallu. As the sweat sped up into the air leaving her skin cold and clammy, she got up slowly, her back refusing to cooperate with the immediacy that her mind expected.
The girls would be coming soon. She stood up, a little unsteady and disoriented, before she moved towards the Godrej almirah in the corner, and turned the rusty handle down. The keys hung from the lock, defiant yet diffident. The door opened with a loud creaky sound and Mariam winced a little as she allowed the musty memories to sneak out, one mote at a time.
And yet, even though everything came flooding back to her as it did every single day, she focused on removing one plastic cover that was kept at her eye level. The cover schlepped out, it’s thick, eroded squarish plastic handles creating a sensation of pin pricks along her lined fingers.
She shook the cover gently, as if by doing so, she could dislodge all the memories along with the dust. The old grandfather clock in the hall outside chimed four times and Mariam sat on her bed and inhaled deeply of the air that spoke of her loneliness before the others would come, bringing in their various smells. Jasmine scented hair oil, mehendi-ed palms, Ponds Dreamflower talcum powder, sour sweat on some days and fresh soap on others.
Mariam positioned herself on the bed and sat more comfortably as she pulled out the sheets that soon everyone would be passing around. She glared at one corner, certain that it was an oil spot. That girl must have been scratching her head as she read the instructions! Shaking her head, she looked up relieved when the doorbell buzzed with its distinctive shriek and Deepa unfolded herself from the mat where she had been dozing in the hall, and went to swing open the door with her usual insolence.
Please Note that this interview was conducted online via emails.
Interview Conducted by Rhiti Bose.