Hello Radhika, 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?
Wow! Now that’s one question that never ceases to baffle us, does it? Just like all the other people I know, I too am constantly evolving, morphing from one state of mind into another; as I learn and experience more. So just like them, a fixed definition eludes me too. But I guess a few things that have remained a constant in my life, in fact have only gotten more deeply ingrained over the years, are my uncompromisable need for individuality, my curiosity for all that I don’t yet understand and my sense of humor (at least I like to think I have one).
What was your childhood like? Any incidents form your growing up years that shaped you as a person?
I grew up in a typical middle class household. Our extended family was spread all over Delhi/NCR and hence holidays meant crazy fun time with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. The childhood was usual. School and college were fine too. I was unwell for a major part of my childhood and adolescence; hence wasn’t allowed a lot of physical/outdoorsy activities. But, the silver lining was that I became a voracious reader. Writing naturally followed that. I think the most beautiful ability one can develop, is to communicate deeply and freely, with the world as well as oneself; and writing is always a good step in that direction. And one should never underestimate the significance of solitude, in finding that voice.
My adolescence was also when I picked up the now almost obsessive need to craft broken things into something useful or beautiful. I find it extremely unwinding. It helps me oil my brains back into functioning, whenever I hit a writer’s block. Of course, as a side note, you should know that you can unearth any kind of junk when sifting through my drawers. I think there is a unique sense of gratification that lies in mending what is broken. It’s therapeutic, to the one who fixes it, more than what is fixed.
When did your journey as a writer/poet began?
For as long as I can remember, I have been a scribbler. A few lines here, a paragraph there. So to put a definitive date on this would be difficult. However, one incident does stand out from my childhood, which I believe served as a significant thrust to my writing, if not the initial spark. I remember reading in the newspaper about a thief, who once apprehended, confessed that inability to buy his pregnant wife some expensive medicines is what pushed him to do that crime. The law, of course, couldn’t care less for such extenuating circumstances; and the man was punished nevertheless. The news article ended with the information that his heavily pregnant wife is now making the rounds of the police station, begging the authorities to relent. That news item triggered something inside me. I remember feeling angry, very angry. And also for the first time at a loss to express that anger. I decided to pen down my thoughts and share that with my father when he came back from work. And somehow, those few lines, with my father’s help, turned into a whole fictional account of a conversation with a thief and found its way to that year’s Annual School Magazine. A few months later, that whole incident and the ethical dilemma it presents to the society as I had chalked out in my piece, became a theme for the Debate Club’s next session. I remember feeling oddly redeemed that day. The idea that words written on a piece of paper can start conversation on a wider scale and a bigger platform, was quite comforting. I think I was hooked.
I had wanted to be a journalist. My father did not approve of that profession much, and he told me I could only do it if I made it into IIMC. I of course, didn’t. So after that heartbreak, I think I consciously moved away from writing for a while, engaging in only occasional scribbling, that too for my eyes only. But old love always finds a way to pull you back towards it, and so did my writing.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?
Somehow, oddly, reading non-fiction has always helped me write fiction. Newspaper and magazines help. I remember, one of my personal favorite stories, ‘Jaanaki Kaaki’ which was also selected for UnBound Magazine and published to rave reviews, was based on the news item about a man in U.S., who kept committing petty crimes just to earn the jail time because he had nowhere to live. Reading such news continues to depress me, unless I weave all that disquiet into a story and share it with others; and hopefully send a message.
Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?
I am hopeless with routines. Almost everything in my life is laissez faire, and that’s the rhythm that works the best with my mind and body. Even when I am writing a story, no matter how hard I try, plotting never works for me. I just start keying in my thoughts and see where they take me.
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 writing. The hardest thing is writing too. Let me explain. If you want to write something, the best thing is to pick up the pen and start. But then, after a while, you would hit roadblocks. Lack of ideas, lack of congruity, lack of depth. And the hardest thing to do at that time, also the only thing one should do, is to keep writing. You’ve got to keep working at it with a chisel, if you have lost your hammer, momentarily. One sentence. One paragraph. One page, at a time. I, for one, believe that stopping when I hit a writer’s block only makes it worse. I do take a break though. Brew myself a nice cuppa, flip on some Yanni or Miles Davis, and craft something. That greases up my thinking process.
I don’t have any rituals really, except that I must have my comfy PJs on. One thing that I do find odd though; is that the first thing I know when I am writing any story, is the exact sequence, sometimes even the exact dialogue or sentence, it would end with. So I have my ending worked out even before the name of the story, or all the character outlines; and from there I work my way backwards. I have this idea of what I want the readers to think and feel when they end the story, the key sentiment I want them to walk away with, and that drives my whole effort towards that story.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?
I do Yes. Quite often. But like I said earlier, I don’t let it settle in. I shake it off with a cup of coffee, some music and often a quick jive with my little one, who is always ready to oblige when it comes to dancing. Especially if it is the Minion’s Banana Song, we are dancing to!
How have you evolved as a writer since you have started? If you could give one advice to yourself, what would it be?
I think anyone who reads, is always evolving. So whatever growth curve I attain as a writer, comes more from my reading than from my practice of the writing craft. I am, as my close friends know, a compulsive editor. I am always tweaking my pieces. Every time I re-read them, I find a word, a phrase, a sentiment I would like to put differently. To the point that it almost irritates me. I have a folder called ‘Go Find Something Else To Do’ where I put all my final pieces, to make sure that the name of the folder deters me from opening it and reviewing finished pieces. Pssst… doesn’t work as effectively as one would have thought!
But on a serious note, I think that’s how a writer evolves. For every single page that we read, we are a different, smarter, a more aware person; and for me that connects very fluidly with my writing. So if I look at a piece that I wrote in the morning, again in the evening, I spot a zillion ways to better myself. But it needs to have a stop line. I remember the separation pangs I faced when I was sending the final drafts of my novel, for this same reason. So the one advice I would give myself is, ‘Learn to know when it is enough’. It is a damn tough advice to follow – either about writing or about having some chocolate cake – I can tell you that!
What are you working on now?
I am currently tied up with the post-launch promotional work for my debut novel ‘In The Light Of Darkness’. Besides that I am working on a novella series with two other phenomenal writers that I admire a lot. And also researching for my next novel, which is one of the most emotional writing I might have ever done and hence it is draining me; and yet I have never enjoyed working on anything more.
What’s your opinion about the future of writing/reading/the publishing industry in India?
I think it is going through an exciting phase. Juggernaut has certainly started to shake things up. Leisure reading is yet to catch on in India. We lag far behind in average reading per capita and that could certainly use some work. Especially, at the school level. I am a proud member of the Kalam Library Initiative, a project that aims at making books available to the children in the remotest parts of the country. We certainly need initiatives like that for a wholesome growth of learning in this country.
Favorite food… Chocolates. What? Chocolates aren’t food you say? Well, it is just a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
Favorite Book… The Fountainhead
Favorite author… Virginia Woolf
What are you afraid of… Snakes! Yikes!!!
What makes you angry… People, with easy access to a platform like social media trying to sensationalize and politicize every damn thing, these days.
Childhood crush… None actually. I’m a little boring that way.
Things that you can’t live without… Coffee, Music and Books. The ranking order may change based on the kind of day I am having.
Any message or advice you want to share with our readers?
Read. As much, as you can. As wide and varied, as topics can get. As controversial, as words can get. Read what the world is reading. Definitely read what the world is not.
Twitter and Instagram – @RadhikaTabrez
You can buy her debut book In The Light Of Darkness here: Amazon
Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI.