Mental Health. Anxiety. Depression. Rage. Insecurity. Fear. These are some of the most hush-hushed topics in India. So when a young millennial author’s book, which is tentatively titled The Reason Is You, talks about these in her blurb, I am intrigued to know more. I check her out over Google and she’s pretty popular. She has over 1.9 Lac followers on Facebook, 56.4k on Instagram and 39.3k on Twitter. The search also tells me that this is her 12th book – and she is all of 27. So she has been writing since she was 19 and publishing an average of 2 books per year. That is crazy amount of writing by any standards! This kind of means the young girl never had a so-called young person’s life – the hanging around the college canteen, chilling with friends, going drinking and dancing type. She seems focused, organised and ambitious.
So 12th book now? How does it feel?
It feels amazing. And being in Delhi is always special. Delhi events are always fun because we get a big crowd- people are more laid back and funny, some of them a bit too funny.
Tell me a little bit about your childhood, your background.
By the end of the first year, I realised that this is going to be my life if I don’t do anything to change it – a 9 to 5 job, marriage, husband, kids, and I was in this fear of a mediocre, run-of-mill life.
I was born in Patna, but we lived there only for the first few years, and then moved to Indore for the next 4-5 years. My dad owned business which took us to a small town 60 kilometres away from Indore where I was there from 6th to 12th grade. The reading happened by watching my parents at home, both of whom were avid readers. I went on to take Pharmacy as majors in college, but there was this time period of 7 months in between where I read nearly a book a day, and that is when I got the idea for my first one.
Did you write a book immediately then?
Not really, college started and I got distracted making new friends, living my new life. But by the end of the first year, I realised that this is going to be my life if I didn’t do anything to change it – a 9 to 5 job, marriage, husband, kids, and I was in this fear of a mediocre, run-of-mill life.
In this mental state, I started reading again. So for me, books were a different world. Something I couldn’t imagine myself writing. But I had a story and I penned it down. I started going to a library, and looking at the shelf where my book could fit in. I started leafing through details of publishers. We didn’t even have a computer at home back then, so I went to the internet café to look for addresses of the publishers and how to submit a manuscript etc.
I enjoy writing about relationships and exploring different parts of them.
I got a response from Pustak Mahal within two days of submission, and I told them I already had the book written and as I had only two weeks left, so I finished the book because I had the publisher’s attention and did not want to lose that! This could’ve been my one shot! And that’s how the first book got published.
Four months after submitting the manuscript, I heard from Penguin for the same book. But by then, the book had already come out a week before with Pustak Mahal. I signed up with Penguin though and now have been working with Harper Collins since past few years.
So why have you written so much about love? Audience demand or your choice?
I enjoy writing about relationships and exploring different parts of them. For example, in my latest book, The Reason is You I have explored the relationship between these two people who come close due to circumstances, and they start believing that they love each other and get embroiled in the traditional definition of a relationship and its constraints. So I wanted to explore how that works.
And honestly, I like writing about love stories, because it’s love which makes everything go around. Whether you read a non-fiction or a self-help or a kid’s book, it all comes down to love.
In my latest book, The Reason is You I have explored the relationship between these two people who come close due to circumstances, and they start believing that they love each other and get embroiled in the traditional definition of a relationship and its constraints.
True, and a man-woman relationship is just one aspect of it, there is a love between parent-child, person and nature, friends and so much more. So given that you write so much about love, have you found love?
Who’s to say? Every time it happens, one feels this is it! I have finally found the one! But then, you look back two years later and feel no, that wasn’t it. So yes, I will share when there is something worth sharing.
So coming to your latest book, you have explored a very important aspect; mental health. Why did you write about this, given it’s such a taboo in India?
So it started with the idea of personal loss. People feel that once you have lost someone, especially a parent, and it has been six months or more, you should move on. But what if that person is not able to cope with it. So the protagonist, she is trying to deal with her loss but she is not able to pull herself out of it. I wanted someone to be there for her, like a healing personality who understands what is going on with her, and helps her out of it.
I especially wanted to show this girl who can make mistakes, because in India women are supposed to be like fairy princesses who cannot make mistakes. They cannot make irreversible mistakes, but she does make mistakes and how she now needs to move on from those. Writing this book was such an intense process. I had to stop in parts because there were tears in my eyes, and I couldn’t see, but I had to take a pause and get started again, and I am just relieved that all these thoughts finally got out on the paper. I wanted her to be a human first, and then a girl.
I especially wanted to show this girl who can make mistakes because in India, women are supposed to be like fairy princesses who cannot make mistakes.
So where did all the research come from? The emotion? Does it stem from personal experience?
I actually went through a personal loss very young in my life… I lost my sister when I was 19 and she was 17, just before my first book came out, and it was very painful. I had no one I could share this with, and that’s why I wanted Akriti, my protagonist to have someone for her. It was so difficult, we couldn’t even sit at the dining table and have a normal conversation. Even now, it’s been so many years, and people expect that you should be over it, but it comes in waves, this depression or loneliness. I have been fortunate enough to be able to pull myself out of it, but I wanted to deal very sensitively with the subject of personal loss.
How did you come out of it?
One day at a time, honestly. I had friends who have helped me out of it even if they didn’t know much about it, because I don’t really share about my feelings. There were times when I could not be alone with my thoughts and I had to be with friends or watch TV or read books because otherwise I would just spiral. But I guess time is a great healer.
And probably the fact that you were writing and got it all out on the paper. You must’ve been consumed by the process because you had literally two books per year coming out!
I can do without the external validation because writing has healed me and I try to concentrate on the content and dealing with one issue with each book.
Yes, I was writing way too much back then. And writing has been God given, and I would’ve continued writing irrespective of whether it got published or not. I can do without the external validation because writing has been healing and I try to concentrate on the content and dealing with one issue with each book. But I do keep a level of separation from myself, whatever I have been going through, I slip into this character’s shoes, and then I think about her life and her situations and it’s an escape mechanism. I call it Writing Therapy which I have talked about in my TEDx talk.
But this kind of work pressure, how do you cope up with that because having two books per year is lot of work and you are a really young person to have 12 books in your name.
I have always had two things to do in my life – I was studying and writing a book, then I was working and writing simultaneously. I am a good manager of time, and great at compartmentalising and prioritising.
You have a huge following on social media. How do you manage that?
I am far removed from it. At this point of time, I just do Instagram. I stopped Facebook around two years back. But mostly I am in a space where I don’t get affected by it – both the positive review and the negative ones. It really does not get to me now.
Someone else’s bravery or courage will inspire you. I feel everyone has a quiet courage about them.
What message would you like to other women writers?
To have women role models. Because someone else’s bravery or courage will inspire you. I feel everyone has a quiet courage about them. Even if it’s not evident and you are not aware of it. And read a lot.
Who is your female role model?
Jhumpa Lahiri, since years. She moved to Italy, and wrote a book in the local language. She was at the top of the game at that point of time, but she didn’t care about the numbers. She just wrote what she wanted to. You must set your own parameters for success. Don’t measure yourself against worldly parameters.
So what’s next?
There is a memoir which I am working on, I will talk more about it once it’s a little bit more in shape.
Image Credit: Nikita Singh