Hello Amrita, 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?
Hyper extrovert, chilled out, non-conformist, forgetful, friendly and cheerful.
What was your childhood like? Any incidents form your growing up years that shaped you as a person?
My childhood was about playing on the terrace with my gang of locality friends, swimming in the evenings at the Anderson Club with another gang of friends, and then as a teenager hanging out with school friends after school got over. Life was uncomplicated and simple, I was happy with my collection of books and cassettes and had little demands. And there was never any pressure to excel in studies. My father always said, “Swim first study later.” I would say I was very lucky that way.
My parents were progressive but I felt they were at times over-protective towards me and perpetually worried for my safety. They often said: “Girls can’t do this and girls don’t do that.”
I always said I will prove what girls can do. This attitude defined me.
When did your journey as a writer/poet begin?
It was a strange juncture in my life when I started writing. I had lost my elder brother to cancer and 20 days later my son was born. I gave up my well-paying job a few months later and started writing. I think at that point it was my way of dealing with the emotional turmoil I was going through.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?
I started writing when my son was 10 months old. Now that he is 6 years he takes immense pride in my work. I think he is my muse. Since he came I started thinking differently about life itself and that put me on this new journey.
Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?
When I wrote my book Exit Interview I did prepare a structure from which I departed to some extent. But the basic remained the same. I did not know how I would end the book because the last part became totally different from what I had imagined. Also, I kept a diary where I always jotted down incidents from my memory, research and other facts that I wanted to include in the book.
In case of short stories I feel much more comfortable if I have the beginning and the end in my mind.
For you, what’s the easiest thing about writing and the hardest thing? Do you have any weird/funny writing rituals?
Although writing fiction is very different from journalism but the two overlap because in journalism the first thing that you are taught to do is hold on to reader attention. The same applies to writing a book. You need to hook the reader within the first page. And that is not something very hard to do.
But in case of a book you have to keep the reader hooked through 300 pages that is, I feel, the hardest thing about writing.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?
That day my husband walked into the room when I was at my laptop. One look at me and he said, “You are not liking what you are writing. You should go back to it later.” He knows me too well to get from my expression that I was grappling with my story. I guess that’s writer’s block.
In that case I leave the story for a couple of days think about other ways of doing it and then when I get back to it usually it flows. Sometimes I junk the idea even and start afresh.
How have you evolved as a writer since you have started? If you could give one advice to yourself, what would it be? What are you working on now?
The feedback to Exit Interview has made me a bit more confident. Also, I have become more open to criticism. I am aware of the mistakes I made and would not want to repeat those.
My advice to myself would be to time manage better and be more disciplined about writing.
What I just now finished working on is totally different from my first.
What’s your opinion about the future of writing/reading/the publishing industry in India?
So much trash is being churned out in the name of books I feel that’s lowering the standard of Indian writing. You take up the book of a bestselling Indian author and you often cringe. When I was growing up I read a lot of James Hadley Chase which is usually perceived as instant entertainment and not exactly literature. But I admire him because he made the effort to make the stories convincing, tie up the loose ends. You wouldn’t read it and think oh what crap is he talking about? Something that I have felt when I have picked up some bestselling Indian books in recent times.
But the best part is thanks to new publishers, new authors are getting opportunities, which is good.
Favorite food… Pizza
Favorite Book… My current favourites are Manto Selected Short stories and Defiant Dreams.
Favorite author… The list would be endless
What are you afraid of… The unknown
What makes you angry… Control
Childhood crush… Aamir Khan
Things that you can’t leave home without… Hand sanitiser, lip gloss and debit card.
Excerpt from Exit Interview
Rasha was clutching the newspaper-wrapped beer cans in her hand, thinking of a relaxing evening with Zohaib, when her sharp eyes rested on a black Santro. The car had been maintaining its pace behind the cab right from her office. She looked through the rear-view mirror and saw two tough looking men sitting in the front. As the cab pulled up in front of Zohaib’s house, the Santro pulled up behind it. She got out and stood on the footpath for some time. When the cab left, the Santro also followed it and pulled out of the lane, although she could see both men glancing at her when they drove past. When she was sure that the Santro was nowhere in sight, she got inside Zohaib’s apartment building. He opened the door and hugged Rasha. Rehanna also came running and hugged her.
‘I have this strange feeling that I was being tailed,’ said Rasha, as she closed the door behind her.
‘What have you been up to recently?’ Zohaib asked.
Rasha caressed her lips with her fingers as she searched for an answer.
‘I would say, don’t bother. Could be bored guys looking for excitement by following a beautiful girl,’ he said.
Zohaib was speaking from experience. During her teenage years, guys did follow her around. There was a boy who would follow her to school in his car every day. Zohaib had to go over to his house and give him some soft threats to ensure he didn’t do it again. Zohaib was six-feet tall and regular workout at the gym had given him a body that could scare off any man and set any woman dreaming. He was solid yet lithe. He was fair and preferred to wear his hair in a crew cut that ended in a tapering line at his nape. He had a Bengali Muslim father and an extremely pretty Kashmiri mother. Rasha was never aware of his good looks till all her girlfriends started falling for him.
Zohaib was a model, who nursed dreams of making it big in Bollywood. Rasha and Zohaib were what one would call bumchums. Although they made a really good-looking pair when they walked together, never in their life did they feel any kind of attraction for each other beyond pure friendship.
‘So what made the very busy Rasha Roy remember Zohaib today?’ he said, opening a can of beer.
‘I wanted to drink.’
‘And you didn’t want good company?’
‘No, I just wanted to drink. If I had wanted good company, I would have gone somewhere else.’
Zohaib smiled. That’s how Rasha always spoke to him and he was used to it. She sat with her legs folded on the carpet of their sitting room and helped Rehanna with a painting project. She felt like telling Zohaib about what had been happening at work.
But decided not to talk or think about her ex-boss anymore. She concentrated on the can of Heineken in her hand. After finishing two cans, Rasha felt a little relaxed. It was 11.00 p.m. Zohaib had fed Rehanna and she was cosily tucked in bed.
‘Do you want to watch a movie?’ he asked.
‘No. Can’t you talk?’
‘I can. What do you want to listen to?’
Zohaib was one of Rasha’s best sources in the modelling industry and he had given her some of her scoops, but right now she was just in the mood for some plain chit-chat.
‘Okay, here is the latest. So far, you had heard of gay choreographers and designers asking men to sleep with them. Recently, a gay police officer asked one of my colleagues to sleep with him. A model from Delhi was caught at the Hong Kong airport carrying drugs. He had apparently named my colleague as the person who had put it in his bag. The police officer said that he would bury the case if he slept with him.’
‘Did he?’ asked Rasha eagerly.
‘Oh, yes, he did. He was so scared of going to jail that sleeping with a man was a much better option. But the problem is that the police officer is now taking him to hotels two-three times a week. The man is a sadist and his fantasy consists of slicing up skin with a razor.’
‘Oh my god! What will your friend do?’
‘There is no other way but to escape to Mumbai. He can’t go to higher authorities because he was the one who had actually put the coke in the model’s bag. It’s another thing that the model had asked for it and had forgotten about it later on.’
1 year later…
But on that particular day, he had a lot on his mind. For starters, he was about to be interviewed by his best friend Rasha Roy, who was completely capable of telling him off by saying, ‘That’s a stupid answer!’ Secondly, he was about to swim with four hundred sharks and sting rays in a tank which held ten million litres of water and had a glass frontage as long as 32.8m, through which all his fans would be peering if they came to know he was in there. He was tense.
The night before, he had sneaked out of his hotel room in Park Hyatt and spent it at Rasha and Arun’s cosy apartment, chatting late and then sleeping in Arun’s pyjamas in their bed while they slept on the sofa-bed in the living room. They talked about that fateful night ….
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Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI.