As someone who has never been married, I was initially reluctant to read ‘Rewriting My Happily Ever After: A memoir of divorce and discovery’ by Dr Ranjani Rao when it came out. But everybody who reviewed it said it was uplifting and not depressing, so I decided to purchase a copy and I’m not disappointed.
Ranjani leaves for the US as a starry-eyed bride, but the marriage does not work out and she walks out of the marriage with her young daughter. The memoir is uplifting and inspiring. Ranjani inspires and motivates. Her narrative style pulls you in even if you are not the intended target audience. Ranjani’s account is with grace and dignity and not about airing her dirty laundry in public. It takes sensitivity to write like she has and I’m deeply appreciative. The author also writes about her experience with infertility, miscarriages and the difficulties she faced to conceive. The takeaway for women in crumbling marriages is that one must be educationally qualified and economically independent.
On page 20, Ranjani says “expressing vulnerability makes us stronger”. As someone who has listened to some of Brene Brown’s podcasts on vulnerability, I found myself drawn to this.
On page 48, in the chapter called ‘Books Matter’, the author talks about coming across the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ She also speaks about ‘You can heal your life’ by Louise Hay. I’ve read both these books. I’ve also watched the movie version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ starring Julia Roberts. Ranjani attended the ‘Heal Your Life’ workshop and it seems to have helped her a great deal. She realized that her own limiting beliefs were stopping her. She was carrying guilt, blame and anger within her for all that had transpired. She also cites Robin Roberts’ memoir “Everybody’s got something”, which I plan to check out.
She learned not to compare her life to anyone else’s since one has no idea what the other person is going through and what their journey is all about.
Writing about meditation, the author says “Going inward was as frightening as being lost in the woods. I was afraid that dark thoughts – grief, blame, self-pity- would emerge from the shadows of the recesses of my mind where I had pushed them. Meditation was supposed to be a way of sitting with your thoughts. I was not ready.”
In the chapter on prioritising self-care, Ranjani talks of getting her eyebrows done and how that small act of self-care signaled to her that she had taken the trouble to put herself first.
“Through books and activities that helped me soar over the disappointments of my home life, I escaped the dark depth of my loveless marriage that could have otherwise sucked me into depression”.
“Reading always calmed me down, but I had not considered writing as therapy.” She mentions the book, ‘365 days to a balanced and joyful life’ by Sarah Ban Breathnach, which helped her.
In a later chapter, the author wonders “who was I really?” – “A scientist. A writer. A mentor. A friend. When I stripped off all the labels, I was a person who had the right to pursue a life of purpose that was in alignment with my own values.”
“Who was I? I couldn’t answer the question. Who could I become? Anyone I chose to be. I could take the next sixteen years to figure it out if needed. Learning takes time. First, I had to unlearn. Next, I had to uncover the real me.”
“Nourishment comes in many forms. So does happiness. Surrounded by books and friends, sharing food and stories, I felt content. Somewhere deep in my soul, a palpable ease settled in. Yes, there was a part of me inside that was broken, but the edges were not so jagged anymore.”
By telling us how she rewrote her happily ever after, she shows the path for newly divorced women everywhere. It is recommended reading for those in troubled marriages or partnerships.
Years editing: 11 Job title: Consultant editor Job description: Edits different kinds of content (from infographics to case studies) and develops company style guides Location: Suburban Chennai, India
How did you get your current job? My boss from a previous office approached me with a work-from-home offer.
What copyediting training have you had, and what positions have you held? I have a master’s degree in journalism and communication. I’ve been a freelance journalist, copywriter of greeting cards, associate creative director at a leading advertising agency, and copywriter of marketing collateral at a technology company. I’ve worked in copyediting roles with the National Institute of Information Technology, Aptech, UBS, The World Bank, India Syndicate, Flipkart, and now Gutenberg.
DOING THE JOB
Are there any complementary skills that are important in your job? Yes, it’s important to know about content marketing, graphic design, and social media…
“A novel” approach to technical writingby my dad K.S.Loganathan
Here I feature a very special interview. One with my dearest dad! His book is releasing shortly. Do read on for his beautiful answers to my questions.
Tell us about your latest book. Why did you write it, and how does your work matter?
‘Reinforcing Fibers in Tires and Mechanical Rubber Goods’ is my second mega book on rubber technology. The first, Rubber Engineering’ was published by the McGraw-Hill companies in 1998. It is an aid to vocational education according to an international apprenticeship program in Rubber technology. It came at a time when the rubber industry was shifting eastward, and it was well-received. It was also a great business card for my emerging consultancy practice after a long tenure at Dunlop.
The half-life of an engineering or science degree is constantly decreasing due to technological developments but the attrition in one’s knowledge with age is not offset by academic textbooks or research papers. Keyword searches and posts on the Internet are not a substitute for a good education. In industry, lost knowledge, in particular “know-how” due to employee turnover or retirement or relocation of plants is a serious concern for even companies that have a training and succession plan. A rich legacy of technology of the pre-Internet era is unknown to the scholars in the present generation.
The current work is a self-education tool for practitioners in the inter-disciplinary field of textiles and rubber. It is a first-of-its-kind crossover design guide to rubber engineering with fibers. It is based on my industry experience and is targeted at young professionals entering the rubber industry from diverse academic backgrounds. I shoot for a practical rather than a purely theoretical book. Engineers are looking for current information and actionable advice rooted in reality to solve problems in their profession. The book includes various touchpoints with material science, engineering and tire mechanics, composite structures, processing and product designing for load-bearing, power transmission, and transport applications using terms that would be familiar to graduates from the various fields. As such, it is a professional and reference book.
2. How has the pandemic affected publishing?
COVID-19 has had a disastrous impact on the world’s creative industries, especially on the print media and the printed books industries. Even though people turn to books in difficult times, the publishing chain, which is vital to society, has been over-stressed. Conferences and trade exhibitions have been postponed or have gone virtual. The pandemic has also transformed the ossified educational system overnight into a fluid, digitized learning apparatus that can reach millions. The time is right for innovation in creating, collating, and disseminating knowledge and entertainment to the public in new and effective ways. Augmented reality used for knowledge capture is still in its infancy but may move centerstage in the time to come.
3. How do you determine your audience for this type of work?
A reference book has an academic audience for traditional and emerging subjects and industrial research groups for specialized topics. My book is on a subject that has so far not been taught in colleges or industrial training courses and there are few active practitioners in the field to serve as mentors. On the other hand, the end-products are mass-produced and sold and are of great importance to society and the environment. The potential audience who would never hear about the subject otherwise is large. It is much like selling shoes in a barefoot-village environment. Not everyone is in that place, but if you are, you might as well put your best foot forward.
4. How is technical writing different from fiction?
Technical writing is bound by verifiable facts and reality unlike fiction, which thrives on emotion and imagined experiences. Fiction readers want to be taken on a journey to another place and time with their favorite characters.
The vocabulary of scientific and technical/semi-technical words in industry usage is often different from the language used in everyday life, and it can cause a lot of trouble to the outsider or even the scientific community. In common parlance, “strength” is used to describe how powerful or resistant something is to withstand an applied force. In science, the term is a material property of isotropic (monolithic materials like metals), which is the limit to its load-carrying capacity. In composites, which often replace metals for light-weighting, especially in the aeronautical and automobile industries, the load-carrying capacity is determined by the local failure due to flaws and cracks, which propagate under impact and over-stressing. It is not a material property as such but a characteristic depicted by a similar parameter such as residual strength or compression after impact strength under critical stress. Much of the terminology in rubber and textile industries is a rollover from cotton fabric manufacture and metallurgy practices, which means that a term like strength can be confusing. The author cannot assume that the reader has a wide knowledge of all branches of engineering as opposed to common knowledge. The first task for an emerging discipline or for an author in an inter-disciplinary field of work is to develop the vocabulary and the vision to build a structure for the intended audience.
A structure is essential in the expression of technical facts and ideas. It is hard to find an unbiased, neutral work on any subject since so much of the publication chain depends on the profit principle and draws inspiration from war assembly lines.
5. How did you structure the book?
It is rare that in technical writing, one gets a blank canvas to paint on, so to speak. “Storytelling” has been a buzzword and a boredom-killing stratagem in business communication for a while. However, it would seem to be out of place in a scientific track if a Kalavathy were to appear every ten pages or so with a tall story to make a point. But the structure of a narrative – plot, character, theme, contradictions, and resolutions – can be gainfully employed in technical writing with the interpretation left largely to the reader. The story arc must unfold as the book progresses.
To begin with, I created and treated the subjects in the index as characters in the story to be introduced and developed as the plot thickens. Usually, the book index is the last job that the author does as a reader service when the book is almost ready to print. Putting these subjects down as post-its on a whiteboard and stringing them like good homicide detectives do on television, helps to introduce some order. The problem however is that there are more than 500 characters in my book – even the Mahabharata has only 300 characters or so. But I could downplay the role of minor characters as it is done in these stories.
The story arc is determined by the hierarchic nature of textiles – fibers, yarns, cords and fabrics to 1D, 2D, and 3D structures incorporated in various rubber products.
Long-form writing has practically disappeared from the industrial scene since the mid-1980s when statistical and automatic process controls, benchmarking, screen tabulation etc. became popular. A descriptive operational process in the traditional sense conveys far more than a quality metric does and is a valuable training aid for beginners in the absence of a mentor. However, text tends to be linear and with limited information carrying capacity, while 2- or 3- dimensional visualization or representation can foster a balanced presentation of a topic. I prefer technical writing in which a number of 2-D or 3-D elements by way of tables, cross-impact matrices, isometric projections, and good graphics supplement a clearly written text. Moreover, the potential reader is often deterred by higher mathematics and modeling. It requires a significant design effort from the writer to reduce the time, concentration and cognitive investment of the reader. In a single-author work, it is far easier to smooth out wrinkles and ensure that the ideas and advice as well as the figures all support one another.
Regarding the other strategies used, I recommend that the readers discover them. Suffice to say that it is a novel approach to technical writing.
6. Why did you self-publish the book?
Traditional publishers have the advantages of production and marketing scale, and in-house editorial, formatting and design skills that are hard to find on the freelance market. They bring their own audience to the author e.g. public and school libraries, academic community etc. and offer more support and structure. However, even if the book is a runaway success, the author is left with a jackal’s share of the spoils. I preferred the self-publishing route to have a good control over the production and guide the precision in the initial placement of the book, keeping crucial momentum going after its publication, albeit at some financial risk. It is now easier than ever to get published, especially by the self-publishing route.
Authors are expected to publicize their book themselves through social media networks. I believe in starting with a small audience to test-market the book and improvise as we go along. Carpet bombing of the unaware public with a publicity social media blitz is not a good idea.
7. What are your views on copyright protection?
There is a constant tussle between transparency or openness or secrecy, which extends the gamut from individuals to companies, societies, and governments. Individuals are the most vulnerable and their successful creative endeavors must not result in a loss to themselves. It is all too tempting to plagiarize or pirate intellectual property, as society often turns a Nelsonian eye to these things, compared to say, petty larceny, and considers education as a birthright. Unfortunately, patents and copyright protection require public disclosure, which may give the game away to a marauding inventor, and the intellectual property rights are in effect only a moral salve for regulatory bodies.
8. How can technical books be marketed in the present situation?
All said and done, you can only position the book in the marketplace. If it is any good, readers will come to it.
9. Why is there a marked difference between the local and market prices of books?
The costs of distributing books across borders rise astronomically due to postage, taxation and distributor’s margins and also if language translation is involved.
10. How will you measure the success of your endeavor?
The measurement of success of a book is not in the copies sold but in the lives or perspectives it has changed and the know-how it has transferred. Writing it has certainly changed mine by crystallizing my thoughts and arranging them in a 3-D order rather than in a messy space. The archer becomes the arrow. “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man and writing, an exact man” – ( Francis Bacon).
See the book in this video. You may purchase the book from Amazon .
Comment/Feedback from Mr. T.V Ramachandran, President, Broadband India Forum, on this interview:
“I was delighted also to read the excellent interview you have given on the subject of technical writing. You have articulated very nicely the various pertinent aspects involved. Heartiest congratulations for this. Please do convey my compliments to your daughter for the good questions and for conducting this useful interview.”
The day I fell in love with you A poem was born On the pages of my diary That’s safe from prying eyes You awakened inside me Emotions strong and sublime I thought about you all the time Far-away echoes of a time and place Were replaced with new thoughts Whispers of happiness And an image of your face The person I once was is now gone And the new me is journeying through life With the help of words that I string together To express the feelings that you’ve stirred inside The very same ones that keep me alive
–––––––––– “I write to make sense of the world.” – the writer
Could you tell us what your book ‘How to read your husband like a book’ is about?
It’s about understanding the “inner mind” of husbands through everyday situations. The way they think and act and what it means is revealed through illustrations and little nuggets of insights. It’ll throw light on the behaviour of husbands and is aimed at helping married women understand them.
2. What prompted you to write a book on this topic?
An incident during my college days in 1989 triggered the idea for the book. An aunt in the neighbourhood was telling me one day, “Raj, why is your uncle non responsive when I want to discuss something, on weekends it’s difficult to get the TV remote from him, and he’s forgetful of important things…” This left an indelible mark on me. It cropped up now and then, but finally in 2015, I began to write ‘How to Read Your Husband Like a Book’.
3. When did you start working on this book? How long did it take for you to finish writing it?
As I said, I started penning this in 2015. It took me six years. I had to observe and pick the right situations that resonate with married women, so that it helped them enrich their relationship.
4. What do you have to say about the institution of marriage?
Marriage is beautiful and everyone must experience it. It has stood the test of time. It’s natural for man and woman to come together but it’s nurturing when we come together and start a family. We’re made that way and I guess will stay that way.
5. What part do you think humour plays in a marriage?
Humour is an important part of the everyday wife-husband relationship and one can laugh away the worries when a spouse has a sense of wit about them. Without humour, marriage could turn out to be rather serious. But on the lighter side, marriage is also fodder for a million jokes.
6. Do you vary your style for writing different content formats? How so?
I chose short form prose laced with humour because the subject is important, the time demands it – reels, shorts, TikTok; and audience attention spans are dipping. Moreover, I chose illustrations and single page nuggets because one should be able to just open the book and read any page. I choose formats based on subject, form, platform etc.
7. Who are some of your favourite authors?
I loved RK Narayanan, Somerset Maugham and Shakespeare. Even author P Raja, from Puducherry, my professor at college.
8. What advice do you have for newbie authors looking to get published?
Research and find the right kind of publisher who specialises in your genre. An author is a marketer, too, so create plenty of content around the subject of your book and be ready to fire on all cylinders on social media, blog, video, webinar, and more. Find where your audience is and choose the platform to connect with them. Be consistent, but more importantly persistent. It’s a 5-day match, so be ready for the long haul. Don’s lose steam, ever!
9. Which books on writing would you recommend?
I’ve been writing since the age of seven and I didn’t really read much on writing. I just work on my craft every day, even at 54. But I’d recommend choosing some books/ courses on the art of writing better, signing up on copyblogger, following writers you like.
10. Do you have lessons to share from your own writing journey?
When I was at school, I used to keep a notebook by my side, even when I went to sleep. A writer needs to have some discipline and rigour, so write regularly. That’s something I learnt early.
I fell in love with the Internet medium when it arrived in the world. I built Zodiacs4u, an astrology blog with 250K page views a month. 13 months later, in 2008, I sold it to a US content company.
When Slideshare was new, I leveraged it for Impiger Mobile, where I worked for a few years, I grabbed 2000+ leads and 144k views in two years, with 25 decks.
The reason I’m saying this, writers should be curious to test and try new platforms and formats of content. Writers should explore life.
Pick up a copy of ‘How to Read Your Husband Like a Book’ on Amazon
‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’ is Daribha Lyndem’s debut novel of 199 pages published by Zubaan books, which is an independent feminist publishing house. They publish fiction, nonfiction, academic and children’s books for, by and about women in South Asia. The book has been longlisted for the JCB prize for literature and named by Vogue India as one of the best summer reads of 2020. Daribha Lyndem works with the Indian Revenue Service as a Deputy Commissioner of Customs. The book consists of interconnected stories that throw light on Shillong as seen through the eyes of the protagonist as she grows up in the 90s. As someone who has never been to Shillong and who can’t recall reading any book set there, I was eager to read this book, which was sent to me by the kind people at New Asian Writing.
The name of the book immediately brought to mind the game ‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’ we played as children. The game entailed receiving a letter of the alphabet per round and all participants coming up with a name, a place, an animal and a thing that started with that letter of the alphabet within a specified time and awarding points based on how uncommon the names were. The game is referenced in a couple of chapters of the book.
Brief summary of the ten chapters
In the first chapter, the author tells us the story of Bahadur, a Nepali in Shillong who had five children, one of whom was mauled by dogs. The author goes on to say that hardly anyone came to the boy’s rescue, except for her father.
Chapter two is the story of Mr Baruah who ran a shop that sold cards, stationery, toys and curios located in Barik, the centre of Shillong. Mr Baruah had married a Khasi. In this chapter, we read about a racially motivated hate crime.
Chapter three is the story of Tommy Lu, a Chinese immigrant who owned a Chinese restaurant called AVVA. Two hundred and fifty years ago, Tommy’s forefathers had moved to Kolkata from China. His wife ran a nail salon, his father was a dentist, and he had two children, a son and a daughter. Tommy had to sell his businesses, pack up his things and move to Kolkata with his family since he was a victim of extortion.
In chapter four, the protagonist talks of a yellow bear that her father gave her as a present when she was five. It is the first gift she remembers receiving from her father. She talks of moving from Nongrim hills to their own house in Rynjah when she turned eight. The reader is also introduced to a man known as Cousin Muscles whose moniker was inspired by Jerry’s brawny cousin in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. What happens to the yellow bear as the protagonist grows up forms the theme of the chapter.
Chapter five is about Mrs Trivedi, the Hindi teacher who did not get along with the other teachers. The school children came to their own conclusion that it was because Mrs Trivedi was a divorcee or because she smoked too much. Incidents involving Mrs Trivedi are described and in the end, she leaves the school. “Some said she was back with her husband in Kanpur and that they had made amends. Many joked that she had finally been institutionalised. But soon, people forgot about her.”
Chapter six is about Mr Sarkar, the mathematics teacher and stories involving him.
Chapter seven titled “the Lawmali Graveyard’ is about the protagonist’s grandfather who died in 1984 and the subsequent visits by the family to his grave. “It allowed us to remember those who have passed on, not in a reverential way with stiff sombre faces bowed over a cold stone structure, but in a mellow mood where we retold funny anecdotes. We became comfortable with the dead and more comfortable with our own dying.”
Chapter eight titled Bishar Mary is the story of Bishar Mary or Bi, who came to the house when the protagonist was thirteen. Bi and her husband were not married in the traditional sense although he was the father of her children. They lived together. The protagonist and her friends used the term “Khasi style” whenever a girl had a baby out of wedlock.
Chapter nine or “The revival” is about God and religion in the protagonist’s life. Chapter ten or the final chapter called Yuva is about the protagonist’s best friend Yuva.
I attended an Instagram Live on 2 October 2021 by Zubaan books at 5 pm when the author read out from one of the chapters in her book. However, due to a technical issue, we all lost audio and couldn’t hear her. When I rejoined the talk, the reading out from the chapter was over!
Details I gathered from the Instagram Live I attended of the author
The author mentioned that she had bought a kindle mainly to read her own book, which had initially come out only on Kindle, but now the hardback has arrived. The book is semi-autobiographical, but some of it is fictionalised. She called the book Name, Place, Animal, Thing to give a sense of familiarity to the reader since it was a game we all played in school. She also mentioned Flames, which was another game we played. She aimed to make the book “nostalgia-heavy” by “not lachrymose.” All the chapters are named after Names or places or things. Names of people, place- graveyard, thing- the yellow bear.
She started writing the book in “October of 2017 or 2018” and finished it in February the next year, which was five months. She said she was already thinking of these stories since she was sixteen. The last story in the book is the least fictionalised. The characters were inspired by real people, but she changed all the names. Her close friend Yuva is the only name she hadn’t changed. Yuva died when the author was twenty. It was important to Daribha to write about this death since Yuva was a very close friend. This book will not have a sequel but she has ideas for a second book, which will take time since she is working full time. She is giving it “years and years”.
Quotable Quotes by the author
“I don’t think my book is an all-encompassing novel on Shillong. I only wrote through the eyes of a child”.
“I find the term “NorthEast” and “Seven Sisters” very reductive. I wish people would bother to learn the names of the states.
The author’s favourite books and short stories
She is reading a book called “A swim in a pond in the rain” which is by George Saunders, which was recommended to her by her friend Priya. She likes Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” and Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg. She tried emulating the work of Ray Bradbury and was inspired by “Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg, which drew heavily on memories.
“There will come soft rains” by Ray Bradbury is one of her favourite short stories. She likes Saki’s stories ‘The open window’ and ‘Dusk.’ When she was 14 years old, her favourite novel was “The Lord of the Rings”. It meant a lot to her ‘coz her dad gave it to her. When she was 22, “One hundred years of solitude” was her favourite novel. She has read “Wuthering Heights”, “Middlemarch”, “Great Expectations” and “One hundred years of solitude” more than once. She has read fairy tales more than once as a child.
The author’s advice to new writers
She gives advice to new writers, “Think of it as a job. If you decide to write five chapters, write five chapters every day. Keep an hour every day for writing. Shut out your YouTube and Instagram. I like to keep a book I admire next to me and when I feel stuck, I open it for inspiration.”
I was recently featured in ‘The Whole Wide World,’ a unique anthology by Sweetycat Press. The book consists of “episodes” from 80 authors worldwide. The cover by Priti J is eye-catching and tremendously appealing.
Of all the anthologies my writing has featured in, I had the most fun writing this one. My dad tells me that this type of writing by multiple authors of a detective story was popular in English serial magazines in the 1920s, and Agatha Christie was one such famous early writer of such episodes.
The book is targeted at 14-18-year-olds and follows the adventures of Detective Curly Knucklewad and his assistant, Wanda Wowzer, as they travel the world to look for the missing recipe of the Limp Noodle Sauce. The episodes are by turn comic and chilling. Mine is the eighth “episode” in this anthology.
How The Whole Wide World was assembled- ( from the book) “Each episode is a flash fiction story or narrative poem, each one without a specific conclusion that fit together like a puzzle. It’s comparable to watching a TV show where each episode presents new situations and new dilemmas but the show itself is The Whole Wide World. The main characters, Detective Curly Knucklewad, and his assistant, Wanda Wowzer, may change slightly( another remarkable thing is how similarly they are portrayed in so many episodes), but given that the 79 authors whose episodes were accepted for this anthology were given nothing to go by other than the names and roles of the detective and his assistant, the two characters never go outside the parameters of what they are to do: search for the thief who stole the Limp Noodle Sauce recipe.”
Your memoir “of divorce and discovery” will be out soon. Could you tell us more about the book?
Rewriting My Happily Ever After is a true story of a three-year period of my life. At that time, I had walked out of my marriage of sixteen years. Despite being brought up in Mumbai, having an advanced degree and having returned after spending fourteen years in the US, I had always lived in either my parent’s or husband’s house. Moving out was a major decision which required me to learn, unlearn and relearn many things while I figured out my new life as a single parent. My book covers my journey to independence.
To help other women who may find themselves at the same crossroads as me.
Going ahead with the decision to divorce is not a trivial one for women who live in a culture that looks down upon a ‘broken family’. Even women who are financially self-sufficient or have family support prefer to live in a unhappy but familiar state instead of finding a happy life outside of the known boundaries of their life. I wanted to share my thinking process and the coping strategies I used to figure out my new life.
3. How long did it take for you to write this book? Could you tell us more about your journey?
I procrastinated for over ten years but began writing earnestly in Jan 2021. I wrote for 50 minutes every morning before my workday began. It required commitment, discipline, and some suffering to bring the book to life. Some days it was difficult to relive those painful memories of the past but the greater goal of connecting with readers made me keep going.
4. This is your fourth book. How has the experience of writing it been when compared to your first three books?
My earlier books were compilations of short stories (Negative Space) and essays (No Longer NRI and Train Friends). Those were easier to put together because they were written as standalone pieces around a theme.
This memoir is my first major book-length creation and took much more concentrated effort. I wrote the chapters as independent pieces and then moved them around to make the narrative cohesive. It required three drafts, a handful of beta readers and a professional edit to bring it to its final stage.
5. How did you gear up to write this memoir?
To be honest, I needed a lot of convincing to sit down and write this book. I intuitively knew that there was a need for such a story to be out there because divorce is a topic that Indians/South Asians tend to brush under the carpet. Still, I was reluctant to subject myself to the pain of reliving a difficult part of my past. But having a decade-long gap between the events described and the writing made it bearable. I am glad I wrote it because the writing was cathartic and also gave me closure.
6. What advice do you have for someone who would like to write their memoir?
I would recommend that you read a lot of memoirs to get a good understanding of the literary form. While there are formulas and standard approaches, you should be clear about the story you want to tell and how you want to do it because after all, memory is subjective and evolving. Just like a fiction writer chooses what to put in and what to leave out, a memoir writer also creates a narrative with very specific and intentional choices about the story and the storytelling, even though the events are unchangeable.
7. How has your background as a scientist helped you in your writing process?
This is an interesting question. As I mention on my website, I observe life carefully, look for signs and trends, verify it with my own understanding and then propose a solution, a suggestion, or an insight. Personal essays come easily to me because of my background because it involves a deep exploration of certain ideas and themes. And although I enjoy fiction, it does not come as naturally to me.
8. Whose memoirs would you recommend to writers?
I have read memoirs by Americans like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love), Dani Shapiro, Melissa Gouty – I would recommend all of them. Recently I have become very interested in memoirs by Indian writers like Kalpana Mohan, Ashwini Devare and Rohini Rajagopal. I interviewed these three authors on my blog and the discussion was fascinating. I intend to continue the author interview series for Indian memoir writers.
9. Who are your favourite authors and what genres do you like?
My current favorite fiction writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Marjan Kamali. I also read a lot of non-fiction – current read is How to raise a feminist son by Sonora Jha and of course, I’m always on the lookout for memoirs J
10. Do you have lessons to share from your writing journey?
Writing is a means of creative expression. But like all art, it requires patience, practice, and discipline to hone the craft and to go deeper. The learning happens in the doing and gives tremendous personal satisfaction. Being able to share it with others is the other side of the coin which is wonderful but is not the motivation to continue with your work of writing. It helps to keep this in mind.
If you want to write, do it for the right reasons.
What’s your latest book, ‘Diary of an Angry Young Man’ about?
Hello Aishwariya. Diary of an Angry Young Man is inspired by true events and the protagonist is based on a real person. The book is set in Bombay in 1992 and Mumbai in 2012, the latter around the time of the Nirbhaya incident, which had moved the nation to anger. Among these angry people is one ordinary angry young man whose anger and actions bring him under the radar of both the police and the beggar mafia. In addition, he has unemployment and a volatile home environment to contend with. Through his journey, we see how a disturbed childhood can lead to an unfocused and unstable adulthood. And how hope and clarity can come from the most unexpected of people and places. The genre of the book is Coming-of-Age/Crime/Drama.
2. What prompted you to write ‘Diary of an Angry Young Man’?
When I was a kid, there was one particular young man in the area close to where I lived, who had become a figure of childhood folklore of sorts and we knew him only by his nickname. He had achieved a high level of recognition, given the issues he stood up for and the scraps he got embroiled in. He seemed destined to go nowhere in life.
I visited the area years later as an adult, and was surprised to learn about how life had completely turned around for him and his current vocation. His unique journey revealed him to be an unreasonable and fearless man, and I admired his resilience and goodness of heart despite the cards that life had dealt him. I felt compelled to tell the surreal story of this angry young man.
3. When did you start working on this novel? How long did it take for you to finish writing it?
I started writing this novel in 2013, right after the Nirbhaya incident had shaken the country to its core. It started off as a short story and I finished it in a month or so. Yet, it felt incomplete as there was much more to this man’s journey and a short story wasn’t doing justice to it. I rewrote it as a full-length novel and kept working on it off and on and over the years to its final draft in 2021. So, to answer your question Aishwariya, it was written over eight years but the first full-length manuscript took around six months.
4. Could you tell us about your writing journey and the books you’ve written?
I started writing my first novel when I was pursuing my MBA in Sustainability at San Francisco State University. In my free time, I sat down to pen a screenplay (since I was a recent Bollywood export) but wrote a book instead. I had no intention or even knowledge of publishing but thoroughly enjoyed the process. A friend read my draft and encouraged me to publish it. The book was Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai and was awarded a special mention at the Hollywood Book Festival and longlisted for the 2013 Crossword Book Awards, which encouraged me to write further. Two novels followed – HiFi in Bollywood and I am M-M-Mumbai.Diary of an Angry Young Man is my fourth novel.
In addition, my short story, The Mysterious Couple, was featured in Sudha Murty’s anthology – Something Happened on the Way to Heaven and another short story, Kaala Baba, in Neil D’Silva’s urban horror anthology – City of Screams. My other short stories include The Saas-Bahu Conflict which was published in the HBB Horror Microfiction Anthology and In Your Eyes in Tell me Your Story’s LGBTQ anthology Pride, Not Prejudice : Decriminalising Love.
5.Your earlier books were Mumbai-centric. How have they been received?
Even though the books were Mumbai-centric, they were well-received my readers all over. The books are set in Mumbai because that’s the place where the stories come from, since I grew up there, but the emotions and conflicts in the books are universal. I try to make Mumbai a character my books so that the setting doesn’t seem alien to readers who don’t know much about the city.
6. Do you have lessons to share from your own writing journey?
Writing is a very solitary and challenging journey that can alienate one from the things and people that matter. One has to learn to switch off and on from one’s book.
Also, it helps to keep making notes and have some clarity before commencing the writing journey rather than putting pen to paper and seeing where it goes. The stories somehow come out better.
7. You’ve written short stories and novels. What different techniques do you apply for both?
Both are enjoyable experiences and require courage before I commit myself to writing them. But for short stories, I need to have full clarity on every part of the story and character as the length is short and any new addition while writing could throw me off course. With novels, there is room to move things around, bring in new characters, twists etc. as I have enough length to do justice to them. So, with novels, I have more freedom to be spontaneous with some aspects as long as the beginning, end and certain essential elements are in place.
8. What do you think are the qualities essential for a good writer?
Passion, diligence, patience and discipline. Above all, reading helps make one a better writer.
9. Could you name some of your favorite books?
I have favorite authors rather than favorite books. My genre of choice is crime fiction and my favorite authors are mostly from Europe who write crime fiction series in their own languages which are translated into English. I can’t think of any book that I have read more than once.
10. Which books on writing would you recommend to aspiring writers?
For fiction, Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk. Of course, there are many more. For aspiring writers, the best way to develop your writing style and instincts is by reading EVERYTHING, with a focus on the genre in which you want to write in.
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig – This book is like a warm hug. The author shares with readers a list of his favourite movies, recipes and books in addition to his musings on life. In short, he writes about all the things that bring him comfort in the hope that they could help the reader, too. Matt Haig has always been open about his mental health struggles and I’ve loved his other books like The Midnight Library and Reasons to Stay Alive. What I loved about this book is that unlike some other books that discuss mental health, this one is least likely to be triggering for the reader.
The Full Platter by Abha Iyengar- I loved this collection of flash fiction by Abha Iyengar. Each story is different and with 40-odd stories, the reading experience is pleasant and enjoyable.
The Secret Life of Debbie G by Vibha Batra and Kalyani Ganapathy – This graphic novel is a coming-of-age tale about a sixteen-year-old girl named Soundarya, who likes to be called Arya. In the book, we enter Soundarya’s world and discover that her mother is a divorcee, who is looking to remarry and has a suitor in mind. How Soundarya deals with this new development, considering she might soon have a half-brother and half-sister forms the crux of the book. Add to it teenage drama involving becoming the talk of her school due to social media and how it changes the relationships in her life and you have a rather spicy graphic novel for the modern reader. It addresses issues such as fat-shaming, sexuality, gender, outing, bullying etc and is suitable for the internet generation.
Arrivederci by Amrita Valan – I read this collection of fifty poems by Amrita Valan. There is no underlying theme to the book. It is a collection of her fifty best poems. Some of the poems are rather long. I liked the last poem in the book titled ‘The Last Poem’ the best. I also liked ‘Life Lessons of a Poet’. Her poems deal with themes of love, longing, loss and death.