Hello Maya, thank you for being a part of IWI’s Incredible Women Writers of India 2016, and sharing your journey as a writer.
How would you define yourself?
Human mind is an intricate piece of marvel. It carries the whole world within for it’s the state of cognizance that declares us alive. Our mind is abuzz with millions of sounds and images and what not! Picking up the threads that lie haphazard in the world around and assimilating them almost subconsciously, is what makes you, YOU. ‘Maya’ (illusion)…the word defies to be put in any boundaries of definition. Ha-ha. I actually am still trying to explore my true potential and am yet to know what am I going to be tomorrow!
What was your childhood like? Any incidents from your growing up years that shaped you as a person?
I was the youngest born in the family characteristically a male oriented one. Whatever my father stated was ultimate. We people, me and my siblings, kind of lived a secondary life under his kind supervision. He, kind of, shadowed us. He was soft inside despite the hard exterior he practiced as a safeguard against his being taken for granted, may be. He loved writing poems as his favourite pastime interest. Here perhaps was the seed sown. Though I used to tremble before him like scared jelly on some china plate, poetry was the beautiful thread that kept the two hearts connected: one that of the lion in the family and the other the gentlest sheep that I was.
Dad had been in Railway Service for more than forty years and we were pretty used to writing ‘transfer certificate applications’ to various school principals. He had eventually stopped shifting us along like baggage, keeping in mind our higher education. Me, Mom and my siblings would go and live with Dad during our school holidays. The railway platforms served as our Play Stations. We’d hang out nearby the railway lines for hours and hours while dad worked in his office.
He wanted his children, especially his two daughters, to perfectly fit in the frame work of ‘GOOD GIRLS.’ Had my performance not been exceptionally good in my Post Graduation Course, English Literature (I grabbed the much coveted position of being the University Topper), he wouldn’t perhaps have permitted me to go any further with my studies. I was obliged to reimburse his benevolence by being dreadfully attentive to the time I was required to be home. No ifs and buts please!!! To all the covetous offers from my college mates for parties, coffees, teas and the like, my standard answer was, “I’m afraid I can’t. I’m getting late,”
I don’t however want to picture my dad in a negative light. He’s been my foundation and my support. Even if he punished me for anything I did what he thought was wrong, he punished himself more. His heart melted when I cried in remorse or in pain. He’s been my best friend next to my hubby, AND of course the miracle happened after my marriage as this was an equation neither of us could dream to reach because I had turned out to be a rebel in my growing up years.
I was not a rebel
I was a good obedient girl
Until I came to understand
I was treated inferior to my brothers by my granny
who would snatch the toy from my hand
to appease my brother’s self- esteem…
I was not a rebel
until when I grew up enough to see a HE
return home, drunk
press an insistent finger on the door-bell at one or two at night
and stand barely upright on his own…
when his feet went rickety…
were drowned in mud with blood oozing too.
My blood ran in agitated twirls…
when HE forcefully hugged HER…
unmindful of the foul smell HE discharged…
when SHE was thrashed on showing repulsion
…was called by dirty names.
I screamed like a rebel though my heart throbbed like a drum…
HIS bloodshot eyes and dirty breaths touched my heart like venomous serpents…
I became a rebel then.
I would often lay my heart threadbare in my poems. My diary was the most pride possession of mine, my bosom friend.
When did your journey as a writer/ poet begin?
My journey as a writer began which exact day, can’t trace really. I looked up to my elder brother as my role model. He was studying English Literature and would give home tutorials for the same. He would teach them Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, T.S. Eliot, Coleridge etc. in the serene morning hours and I would be hanging around the room to be able to listen to whatever was being taught. Literature urged my adolescent heart to dig out the maximum life could to offer. It was a ladder to mysticism. Precious were the moments when I’d bask in the perpetual river of thoughts, almost oblivious of my surroundings. When my eyes fell on an expression that seemed to be very close to my heart, it sent matchless vibrations racing up and down my spinal column. It was ‘the only one of its kind pleasure’ that I knew. I dreamt not of ‘a dashing, smashing, out of the world’ sort of a lover. I dreamt not of marriage, children, world tour or money. I often dreamt of outsized universities, spacious classrooms and of the podium I spoke on; of scholars who listened to me spell bound. Thus my brother sowed the seed with the most caring hand while the soil was most receptive and monitored throughout that the promise to growth as an intellectual didn’t go wasted.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?
Life, with its most unexpected twists and turns, has been my muse till the day. It has provided me the rich harvest of experiences bitter and sour; my ‘personal treasure’ I get my stuff from. I often love to plunge into my dreamy world when my present fails to gratify me. Writing has been my secretive way of inflowing into a safe haven I can escape to, from the pain of existence.
Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?
Nothing goes planned as far as writing is concerned. It’s all spontaneous. When you have the fit, you have it; when you don’t, you don’t! Sometimes you might sit at your desk with your mouth agape, and the paraphernalia of writing all agog with expectation to be used, but the thoughts wouldn’t just take a concrete shape to be wrapped in words! A wild goose chase! At others while you are amidst the daily grind, at some friend’s or in the washroom most probably, the sublime thought would challenge you to be put to words, right there, right then! By then time you are back to your desk…it’s all gone…all vague…teasing you.
For you, what’s the easiest thing about writing and the hardest thing? Do you have any weird/ funny writing rituals?
The easiest thing about writing is that it beautifully enables you to slip into various guises you heart might ever have caught a fancy for. It’s like humming when nobody’s around and then pleased by your voice, taking your volume to a notch higher, intrigued you could really sing so well!
The hardest thing about writing is that it makes you bleed profuse! You can’t evoke an emotional response in your reader unless you have cried your heart out while writing it. More or less like a caterpillar undergoes, writing is really a very painful process that transforms you into an altogether new persona. That creepy, crawly thing emerging as an awe- inspiring butterfly bespeaks of the chaos before creation.
I can stand no disturbance while writing so I keep waiting to be all alone to write. I shut the door from within so that my maid doesn’t keep peeping in to ask what’s to be cooked, what I would like to have and the endless questions she has! I would like to go to the kitchen and grab something tasty to eat before I sit but…finding my mood the kind where eating wouldn’t go seemly, I keep the thing side to be eaten later.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?
Yes! I do have the writer’s block. It’s when there’re other important things in life to be paid heed to. Or it happens at times when you have certain rude jerks in life that dampen your spirits as a writer. Sine I’m in my element only and only when I write, I overcome that period of torpor soon and am back to my lappy and believe me I am again happy.
How have you evolved as a writer since you started? If you could give one advice to yourself, what would it be? What are you working on now?
Yes! I have evolved as a writer. I personally feel so. Initially I would be so carried away by the idea that I’d almost forget where to stop! This obviously led to complex sentences and too bombastic a diction. Even I had to read twice before following with ease what was I actually driving at! When there would be words simple and conveying my mood well ready to descend on the screen, I would wait; wait for better ones to come to my aid. Perhaps I suffered from intellectual bias. I locked my maiden work A Beautiful Mistake for an entire year or so and kept reading and re-reading it may be a hundred of times. Much pained at heart though to let go the diction, I decided to trim it to shape. I redrafted it using short sentences, less literary words making it more chatty kind thus. It was as painful as having had your baby aborted and then conceiving again!
The pain of writing, creating a unique world through words, is indeed a pleasant pain analogous to the pain a mother undergoes delivering a child. She harbours apprehensions whether she would survive the pain and actually be there to have her dream rock in her fond arms! An author likewise entertains certain fears while delivering the story into the hands of the hitherto been unknown people who are going to decide its fate.
What’s your opinion about the future of writing/ reading/ publishing Industry in India?
I would advise myself to be more spontaneous with my expression, a little less moody, a little more regular and be able to overcome the days of indolence as soon as possible. I’m a typical attention seeker. I have to overcome this flaw as well. Actually whenever I expected the least, I got the most wonderful response from my readers! So mmm…may be…I tried to feign at times that I didn’t really bother who read and reacted, I actually did the same!
Currently I have been working on a ‘Teenopedia’, as I like to call it, depicting faithfully the whims and fancies, the dreams, the crushes, the heart breaks, the addictions, the ambitions of the present day teenagers. In the light of the number of suicides reported by the present day youths urged by the massive weight of their own ambitions as well as their parents’ dreams they shoulder, my book CHOCOLATE DREAMS, I’m sure is going to be a clarion call to such parents who almost inadvertently put their children’ beautiful lives at the stake of BIG DREAMS.
Writing has a very bright future ahead. Despite the gadgets introduced up-to-the-minute, reading still continues to have a beautiful room in the hearts of those who are gifted with ultra-sensibilities. Writing has become a journey smoother than ever due to the latest technology. While creating beautiful plots is still a challenge to every fertile brain and the sacred dip into one’s own heart to draw from the wells of strength is still painstaking a process, it’s a cake walk once that labour be done. With a mere click you can showcase your work!
Publishing business, to my mind is thriving by leaps and bounds. Things have to be brought to notice of course otherwise All Love’s Labour Lost! Writers don’t work in seclusion anymore. They need attention. They are choosing Self-Publication mode more and more as they don’t have the patience to have their work brought out. Conventional Publication mode however still continues to have an upper hand.
Favourite Food: Asking my favourite food is like a delicious teaser to my senses. I had long been hiding the pockets of fat hanging all around my being in the double XL sized kurtas or the silky labyrinths of saris. I had to forget all my favourite foods to be trimmed to shape. Believe me I was eighty a year ago! Presently I stand a mere fifty five! I often, in the pleasantest moods of mine wilfully commit the sin of visualizing Aloo Ka Paranthaas with extra dollops of Amul Butter melting thereon!
Favourite Author: Shakespeare has been an all-time favourite of mine. I don’t go gaga over names celebrated or …not so celebrated. I read whatever clicks. No pride. No prejudice. I would like to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson- “ Meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, Which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books.”
What are you afraif of? I’m a very soft mould. I trust blindly those I love and I try hard to remain trustworthy too. I’m most afraid of betrayals of faith. I’m that touch-me-not plant which goes in drooping spirits when touched harsh and perks up at once when it is treated with love!
What Gets you angry? Nothing can ruffle my feathers easily! I’m as cool as cucumber. I feign anger at times before my kids if they have done something wrong but they are easily able to see through the disguise!
Childhood Crush? No childhood crush as such. Told you about my daddy, no? I however was madly, passionately in love with a female teacher of mine when I was in class fifth or sixth and would compose poems to feed her self-esteem. Mind it! Mine was not the love un-reciprocated. She loved me too! She even cried taking me in a warm motherly embrace while she got married, leaving me behind.
Things that you can’t leave without: I can’t live without my family AND I can’t live without writing.
Any message or advice you want to share with our readers?
Believe in yourself. Love yourself like you would not love anybody else. Treat yourself at times. Listen to your internal call be it dance, singing, writing, sports, photography, acting or anything you might have ever imagined yourself to be in the fondest dreams of yours.
Excerpts from Maya Khandelwal’s
A Beautiful Mistake
To be Face to Face…
The moon flickered vaporized. I was in love with it. Let my fantasy lover be envious. I felt an eccentrically wonderful pull towards its perpetual beauty. At moments it hid somewhere in the lump of darkness. I felt some majestic power in close association with me…had all my mortal queries sorted out.
How nature slipped into various guises! The fog cleared for a moment! A star hung beside the moon and I fancied there stood some dazzling beauty wearing a silver nose-hoop swinging from mouth to ear! Allowing me a chat with my Moon, the fog soon enveloped it again in its arms and it floated away somewhere in the liquidity of the sky.
I recalled our telephonic conversations. I felt at moments the entire wealth of the world had fallen into my lap but at others it made me feel so insecure. I thought things were perfectly under my control and I could retreat whenever required. But then the very next moment I felt events were taking on their own momentum!
I felt helpless.
A shiver of cold ran down my spine. The roof was cold enough so I spread my dupatta beneath and lay there, trying to regain my lost self-possession.
Aditya was already there in my heart!
I longed to be his.
AND I HAD NOT SEEN HIM YET!!!
A certain feeling of indolence was sweeping over me.
I craved to talk to Aditya or meet him just once???
‘There is nothing wrong in meeting just once.’ my lighter side seemed to speak softly in my ears.
‘Was I to assume it was love?’
Oh! The question hounded me day and night.
I headed towards the phone a number of times but couldn’t make up my mind. The very thought of not being able to talk to him was quite nerve-racking.
‘How was it that I’d grown so fond of his voice and I couldn’t just get away? Was I not going overboard to have a word of warmth from him?’ I asked myself.
I was sick of questions but the answers wouldn’t be there.
I dialed his number.
It was providentially picked up by him.
‘It’s me.’ I whispered. I could hear the soft wheezes of my parents in the adjacent room.
‘It’s the only voice I know today. Why awake?’
‘Kinda… missing you’.
‘Was upstairs… it was frosty yet stimulating! I wanna see you!’
It had been an entire year!
We couldn’t savor the day when we didn’t talk.
‘Yeah. It’s been too much!’
‘I should’ve kissed you by now…not even seen you; damn it!’
‘Sound sick. Why not see some doc?’
‘…have been to one. He suggested I see you.’
‘Am I supposed to… see patients?’
‘Just one, you understand?’ he was a possessive lover.
‘Girls always are…making boys pitiable. I’m not able to focus anywhere! Why not set me free?’ his voice thick with passion.
‘Chup! All asleep. Here I do.’ I chanted something weird.
‘I did doubt you knew black magic! Even I don’t like ginger in vegetables now a days!!! Damn it!!!’
‘I’m desperate. Let’s meet.’ he implored.
‘See I have an idea if that suits you. Can I see you on the way to my college?’ I asked, not sure he’d agree. I was not so stunning a girl that one would stand on road to get a glimpse of mine.
‘No other option? I mean…more feasible?’ I asked myself before he did.
‘Gosh! You and your childish ideas! Am I…a… Road Romeo? See, this is very irksome! Let’s holdup our meeting until you feel more convinced.’
‘You don’t understand. My parents would create hullabaloo if they sensed I were dating a guy.’
‘God! Why am I giving in? I’m trapped; right?’ he asked with put on annoyance.
‘I feel…trapped too.’ I admitted candidly.
‘How I’ll recognize you?’
‘Mmm… let me think .’
‘Since when have you been thinking …?’
‘What do you mean, you stttupid boy?’
‘I mean, do girls actually think? I mean, can they afford to?’
‘We won’t meet. That’s it!’
‘My baby upset?’
‘Leave it then.’ he pretended to have dropped the idea.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Gals will be gals!!! Chase them; they escape. Avoid them; they chase!!!’
‘Enough! I tell you…’
‘I’ll be wearing a multi coloured dupatta with white churidaar.
I asked Aditya to hold on.
‘It’s too late Mansi. Come and sleep now. I just fail to understand why don’t you study during the day?’ Mom yelled.
How to explain? Studying during the day time with all people around could be so unsafe for timorous girls like me!
Aditya seemed to have heard.
‘Now honey you’re suggested not to tire out your brain more by studying so much. Good night.’ he giggled.
When the dreamy feel dipped for a while and the thoughtful cap was on, I realized the blunder I had committed.
Would I be able to distinguish him?
Damn! I hadn’t thought of that!
‘Let’s see. It was a twist of fate, a very rare one that we had got connected through…. a random phone call!’
As the knot of intimacy grew thicker, I sensed the charisma of some greater divine plan underlying the web of happenstances.
I must not feel guilty.
I should rather surrender to providence whichever way it led.
I had an early dinner. As I was clearing the dishes and all, I wasn’t able to focus. I was thoroughly overtaken by the sweep of emotions. I just couldn’t get my mind off him! Felt like rubbing my cheeks delicately with the spongy scrub dabbed in soap!
Must be love…
Reminiscences beautifully strung together in the strangest way. The stream of memories kept drenching me sweetly till late and I set my mind to conjure up a picture of our first meeting. I couldn’t succeed though because to create an image a face was required to be familiar with.
‘Why not fancy him to be just the way you like? It would be so mesmerizing!’ I suggested myself.
I had no particular whims regarding the looks of my lover except for the queer fascination I had for eyes other that black, be it blue or green.
I inwardly wished it to be so.
To know more about her work check out her Facebook Page: Maya Khandelwal
Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI.