Frankly Speaking

Tell us about yourself.
I’m an author with two books published by HarperCollins, a marketing professional with more than 12 years of experience at Unilever and the HT Media Group and most importantly, the mother of three young children.
As an author, where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration from life – I write humorous stories largely based on urban life and relationships. My first book, “Just Married, Please Excuse”, is practically autobiographical; that’s what made a large number of people say that they really relate to the story as their own. “Sorting Out Sid” is my first foray into fiction, and it’s inspired by the tendency of many modern relationships to break up, as we can see all around us. It’s the story of a 36-year-old man dealing with his divorce and various other issues. Here again, early reviews say it’s the relatable nature and humour that make the book a good read. Life provides the inspiration, and the story is then taken over by imagination!
Who do you count as your influences? Which writers do you look up to?
I love the works of Bill Bryson, Gerald Durrell and James Herriot – all three write mostly from their experiences, but in an inimitable style that brings the reader into their worlds and leaves them with a smile on their faces (and occasionally, a loud chuckle, especially in the case of Bryson). I definitely look up to them, as well as many others.
Where do you stand on the balance between finding your own style of writing and borrowing elements from people whose writing you admire?
So here’s the thing – your own style of writing is always your own. You may be influenced by what you’ve read, but ultimately it’s a mish-mash that evolves as your own voice. I don’t believe you can actually lift someone else’s voice, unless you’re a voice artist or a professional mimic. If you try that as a writer, you become a pale imitation of someone else. In all probability, you won’t sound authentic enough to be liked very much. I’d say it’s a fabulous idea to read and imbibe a lot; enjoy a whole bunch of books from different genres and let your own style evolve, which happens over a period of time. The balance comes pretty naturally if you just read a lot, write a lot and go with the flow.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Free time... what’s that? I’m kidding! I have lots of free time, and I balance it between my family and reading as much as I can. I’m also a Zumba instructor on weekends; I got my license a few months ago and enjoy it thoroughly. I’m taking piano lessons along with my daughter who is way ahead of me, and I’m starting yoga this week. Just to clarify – I’m able to do this because I’ve made a conscious choice to step out of my full-time job in the corporate world. I instead take on only select projects as consulting assignments.
Where do you stand on censorship in literature and media?
I don’t have a clear viewpoint on this because as a writer, I tend to believe in absolute freedom of expression. As a mother, I’m not sure I want my kids to be exposed to too much too soon.
Honestly, I don’t really believe that censorship means very much in this day and age where just about everything is accessible on the Internet anyway. At the same time, we have to be aware that what we see on screen (more than what we read, actually) does influence people.
I’m currently reading “Lolita”, and I’m both fascinated and horrified by the author’s ability to incite sympathy and almost a sense of liking for a man who is a self-confessed paedophile, and a terribly manipulative one at that. That’s the power of stories, of words.
A book was recently pulled off Indian shelves because of complaints from religious corners. Is India becoming too sensitive to sentiment? Does this sort of incident take away from what we can contribute to the global scene?
Yes, I do think that we’re a little too sensitive. There is the side that cannot tolerate any form of critical analysis, and there is the cry of outrage from the other side. They ask how on earth a book of this sort could be withdrawn, and then they move on to a new issue of outrage without actually doing anything. Frankly, I find both viewpoints a little tedious. And yes, it probably takes away from what we can contribute if we have to worry so much about whether such topics can be written about. Hell, it’s tough enough to find readers without having to worry about someone who decides to take offense and move to ban your work!
What do you think of young authors in India? Is there anyone who stands out on your eyes?
With some shame and trepidation, I confess that I might be the youngest Indian author that I’ve actually read. “The Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Devakaruni Bannerjee (yes, I know she’s not young) is one of my absolute favourites.  I also really enjoyed Anuja Chauhan’s “Those Pricey Thakur Girls”. Anuja herself looks terribly young, and her characters are just in their early twenties, so I’m hoping that counts!     – as told to Ashwin