Hello Avanti, 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?
I am just as normal as any other person and just as quirky as any other person would think me to be. By temperament I am more of a quite doer and less of a shower; which sometimes becomes difficult for me to manage in the current “show by second world”. I like my easy pace even when catching a deadline. Loud noise and clutter puts me off. I like to mind my own business. And I can be in a non-conversation zone for hours.
What was your childhood like? Any incidents form your growing up years that shaped you as a person?
Being brought up in a service class family, education was paramount along with moral, spiritual and ethical learning. I have always liked being closer to nature and its expanse; credit goes to my birthplace where I had spent the growing up years of my life.
If not school homework and practice sums, there were always these long essays on unusual topics which me and my elder brother, were expected to write. I thank my good fortune for being amongst a family (both maternal and paternal) of academia, media entrepreneur, social workers and progressive thinkers, who exposed me to the world of books and literature very early in life. An avid reader and a writer himself, my father would check with us on how many books we had read and the associated vocabulary. Experiential learning was imbibed deep into the learning process by my great-grandfather, who was the first Ornithologist of the state and also an author par excellence on the subject.
Women of the house were always respected and the family believed in gender equity. May be that gave me the courage to walk into my Principal’s cabin at an age of 9 years, pleading to have a Sanskrit teacher for a handful of students. After much deliberation she agreed and arranged for the subject teacher. In another incident I had a long discussion with the Vice Principal over the size of my sports day uniform, which I could not fit into and I needed permission to get it tailor made for myself. My friends were appalled, especially when even the Chief Minister’s daughter, who also happened to be a classmate and was as tall as me, did not participate in the discussion. Now when I look back at these episodes, I realize I was fearless, but over the years I experienced certain social insecurities which made me a different person.
For safety reasons we were not allowed to go over to friends’ places, so I always spent time painting, doing craft, and reading and pretend playing as though I am delivering a lecture. I quite liked aping my father’s style of reading a book. So while he would be away at work, I liked lying down in his place and resting the open book on my stomach.
When did your journey as a writer/poet began?
I don’t know! May be when my first poet appeared in the “Kashmir Times” newspaper when I was in class V. Or maybe when I wrote those short stories and plays for school and college events for my cousins… Honestly I didn’t remember these until they recently told me.
Corporate career, marriage and motherhood did leave me with no bandwidth for creative thinking but I also never seriously thought I could write. I was and am still critical and conscious of my own writing. I am still discovering this journey.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?
Difficult to pin-point, but everything around me gives me a reason to think and write. They may not always be published or interesting pieces, however the happenings around and the capricious times do leave me with an afterthought, waiting to be built upon.
Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?
I always try to keep a rough structure in my mind, with a strong reasoning for why’s and what’s of the plot. Post that I let the story flow.
For you, what’s the easiest thing about writing and the hardest thing? Do you have any weird/funny writing rituals?
Easiest thing – That I don’t have to step out of the house for writing. As a mother to two demanding kids, I can write anywhere and at any time. It’s as easy as starting with a pen and a pad. Keyboard can be hit any time. For me it’s a parallel world, which is in my mind and in my space. I think of places I desire to see but have not been to or I can create characters out of my mind or I have the freedom to edit-chop-change the history as I like it or use words I can never use otherwise in life.
Hardest thing – I guess brain- racking and craving for “just that perfect word”. Unfortunately this never comes easy.
Also sometimes in my mind, I have more than one ending to the story and all the endings seem justified.
And getting that final draft ready for the world to read. There are always corrections to it.
No writing rituals.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?
I do get writer’s block. So I go back to the start and read a lot. Anything and everything from fiction to history to politics to current affairs. I watch movies, step out and go to places.
But guess it’s normal. I don’t fret over it. I prefer not to make a big-deal out of it.
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?
Yes, I feel I have evolved, but not to my satisfaction. There is still a tremendous amount that I need to learn and nurture.
One advice would be to “Just get started”. In the hope of having a definite structure I sometimes don’t even start the story, which sometimes results in dying of the story idea.
Right now I am
- Finishing the super last editing and page layout finalization of my book called “Catching The Fading Ray”.
- Researching for my next project.
- Completing my newspaper opinion pieces.
What’s your opinion about the future of writing/reading/the publishing industry in India?
Now this I say with all affirmation, it has definitely evolved. There is an explosion of opportunities and readers and writers both wish to avail it. I was so impressed with my discovery the other day when I googled about the Hindi Literature audio books. In no time I heard works of Premchand, which otherwise was a little difficult for me.
Favorite food… Yellow boiled rice with hot red potatoes
Favorite Book… Impossible to choose one. Honestly can’t make my mind to think of just one.
Favorite author… I like Ruskin Bond for the way he narrates, as though I was there in the mountains along with him. Jhumpa Lahiri’s impeccable way of describing her native place in most of her stories is phenomenal. I like reading stories by authors from the Far East, describing the everyday life they lead despite the political/ethinic turmoil. RK Narayan again for his simplicity and the Indian ways. I must stop here else the list can go on.
What are you afraid of… Heights and water
What makes you angry… Blatant liars and people who think they can fool others with their over smartness
Childhood crush… Well this will put me into trouble 😉
Things that you can’t leave without… House keys, phone and oodles of good luck.
Any message or advice you want to share with our readers?
Hmmm… this is difficult, since I am still to reach to the point of giving advices. However in my little knowledge – don’t shy away from reading new genres’, authors, places and forms. May be you explore a totally new thing.
Also read a lot of regional literature. They are a treasure mine of emotions, humanity, reality and all of that what has otherwise got missed in their translation.
In the evening, while everyone was having dinner together, Sanykesar’s husband found a grain of wheat in the heap of boiled rice served on his plate. He lost his tempers and flipped the rice plate across the room. The resonating sound of the alloy plate falling down was a loud distraction for everyone seated. They looked up in astonishment. No one knew the reason for the sudden outburst until he spoke, “You wicked lady! This is what you serve to my parents. Don’t you sieve and check the rice grains before cooking?” All eyes were gazing at Sanykesar who stood ice cold, leaning on to the mud wall. She was sulking and feeling immensely insulted by the tempered comment from her husband. How she wished she could disappear from the room rather than face such an insult. She held her head down, not daring to face those piercing eyes. Her tears dropped and rolled down her grimed and greased pheran sleeves. She accepted the slip up but did not like being talked disrespectfully in front of the entire family.
Sanykesar went back to the kitchen and exchanged the plate with fresh rice and apologized to everyone. After serving and clearing the kitchen, Sanykesar squatted in the kitchen lobby and went into deep thought- Why did I do that? I should have checked before laying the food. But getting rebuffed in the presence of everyone is also not acceptable to me.
She was a girl of high self-esteem and character and could not take any disrepute. In the early hours of the morning, Sanykesar slipped out of the house without telling anything to anyone. She left all her belongings at her in-laws place and walked towards the jungle. She toddled aimlessly for a very long time until she reached a brook for some fresh water. After refreshment she walked a few steps further and stood at a cross road. The two opposite roads either led to her mother house or to deeper valley. Sanykesar mulled and thought that it was easier going back to her mother’s place, but her mother and her sister-in-laws would not appreciate leaving her husband’s house. Also they may pose numerous questions about her carelessness in performing her house hold chores. Poor girl decided against going to her mother’s place, else she may bring disgrace to them as well.
Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI.