Email Interview with author Meghna Pant

15 08 2012

How do you see yourself? From being an interviewer to an interviewee? You have interviewed Sir Richard Branson (Chairman of Virgin Group) in the past. What has the transformation from holding a mike to being held one done to you?

I don’t think it’s really changed anything for me. I like to think that it’s actually a blessing to be on both sides of the mike, since I know what a journalist wants and what an interviewee can give.

A Bloomberg-UTV correspondent to an author whose book goes into reprint within a month of its publication. What does ‘One and a half Wife’ hold for the readers?

Most readers, who’ve been writing in from around India, say that they couldn’t put the book down. They say it’s a page-turner and that the writing, the characters are engaging. Most have said that the theme is of contemporary relevance, which allows them to identify with the narrative. That said, I think that each reader will relate to the story in a different way, depending on their disposition, upbringing and environment, and I do not want to take away from their experience by pre-determining how they should feel about a particular character or issue.

Amara, Biji, Baba, Prashant and a hive of characters. Are there personal references to these characters you have created?

I identify with each character in ‘One & A Half Wife’; from Amara’s emotional struggle, to Prashant’s misplaced love, to the unfolding of Riya’s gentleness, to Baba’s quiet strength, and Shikha’s courage. Each character probably has a little slice of me, or a bit of people I’ve met along the way, but no character is entirely based on a single person.

I have to confess that I had the best time writing Biji’s character. For me she is a caricature on a stereotypical Indian mother, and you fall in love with her despite her borderline wickedness. Biji came so alive, that often times while writing I could feel her bullying me into giving her the best and funniest lines in the novel.

You have lived in various countries and cities like Mumbai, Singapore, Zurich and New York. Weather conditions are sometimes harsh in some of the cities you have lived in. Your perfect weather condition to collect your thoughts and pen them. What would that be?

Like a true desi, I love the rain. My perfect setting would be to write when it’s raining outside. A cup of adrak chai would of course complete the picture.

How do you see marriage?

Marriage is institutionalized love. And it’s interesting you ask that question, because each person has a different experience from their marriage. Amara, for instance, bemoans that her own mother didn’t warn her how tough marriage would be; “That each moment was a minefield waiting to blowup; that a single wrong could negate all rights? Why had she only told Amara to be married at a prescribed age, have babies by a certain time and behave herself, whatever that meant now?”

And then you see Amara getting the honest outlook on marriage from her mother-in-law, of all people, who says, ‘I have learnt that a good marriage is healing for the soul, something to relish. But a bad marriage is a long sentence, suffering, a thing to be endured. I guess the only good thing about a bad marriage is that it’s perishable like human life.’

Divorce was frowned upon some 20 – 30 years ago. Now, it’s just another thing. A passing cloud.

I’m not sure if I entirely agree with the statement that divorce is a passing cloud. Sure, in big cities it doesn’t carry the taboo that it once did, but I believe that in the smaller cities and towns, it’s still a big deal. Ask a divorced person.

And that’s exactly what Amara goes through when she returns to Shimla and finds that underneath the veneer of modernity, there is still a stronghold of traditionalism.

I read somewhere that divorce is the single most stressful time in a person’s life and if you read Amara’s story you will see what really happens to a woman whose marriage fails. As she tells her best friend, “Stacy, I’d rather be married and unhappy, than divorced and happy.”

One and a half wife has been longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award, selected as a top ten finalist in WordHustler’s Literary Storm Novel Contest, and made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. What do these awards mean to you?

It’s a very humbling and joyful experience to be given these awards. As a debut author, I was extremely nervous about how One & A Half Wife would be received because people have the option to hate it, or worse still, ignore it. Fortunately, the reviews so far have been good, and the novel has gone into reprint within a month of its release. People have been writing in from all over India telling me how much they loved it, and that is really the biggest reward.

How was meeting one of your idols or should I say the man behind the ideals of some of the greatest novels India could produce? How has Salman Rushdie helped you in the construction of a novel?

I have met Sir Rusdhie on two occasions. The first time was at a restaurant in New York where he was laid-back and enjoying the attention from our group of very excited girls. The second time was at his book reading of The Enchantress of Florence. He is a genius beyond imitation in my eyes, and I admire the way in which he promotes upcoming ethnic-Indian writers. It would be a dream come true, if he notices my work and likes it.

How do you juggle your two identities? Journalist by day and a writer by night.

I’m always working and since I can’t give up either my full-time job or my fiction writing for the foreseeable future, I guess I’ll continue being a workaholic.

What made you fall into the well of writing? Or who pushed you?

I think each one of us is a storyteller from childhood. After all, the first thing we do on learning how to speak is to ask our parents to tell us stories. We grow up regaling friends with small stories from our life. We go to work with a “suit-and-boot” story, listed by way of our resume, and try to impress colleagues with stories of our achievement. On a personal note, I was an avid reader growing up, and wrote my first short story at nineteen. But I became serious about fiction writing only around 5 years back, and now can’t imagine living a life where there’s no story to tell.

Your brother is also an author and a stand up comedian, Sorabh Pant. He has recently written a novel ‘The Wednesday Soul’. It’s a house of authors. Is there any kind of pressure to outdo the sibling?

No, I think we love each other too much to compete with each other, and we both write different genres and have completely different day-time jobs, so there’s not really any need to outdo the other. In fact, Sorabh has given me great guidance and support since he was published before I was. He also keeps trying to make me understand Twitter, which – to his utter exasperation – I can’t seem to grasp. He’s such a passionate, sincere and focussed person, something I’ve not seen in any one else, so even though he’s my younger brother, there’s no one I look up to more.

Celebrities like Rashmi Uday Singh, Neil Bhoopalam, Sammir Dattani and Abhishek Bachchan have launched your book in different cities or have been a part of your book readings.

It’s very kind of them to take out the time to promote new talent.

How did Westland adopt your book?

I emailed them my manuscript according to their submission guidelines. The next thing I knew, Prita Maitra, my editor at Westland, replied in two hours to say that she was really enjoying reading my work. In two days she said she loved it enough to sign me on. Such kind of confidence in a new author was really inspiring and honestly, a big relief.

What was the best thing you have heard about your book?

Lots of positive things. One of the readers said that she found the aftermath of Amara’s divorce very solution driven and could apply it to her own divorce. The most common reaction has been: “I couldn’t put it down and skipped sleep/the Euro Cup/work/ my bus stop/ the IPL to finish reading it.”

A novel can be read anywhere and at anytime. While reading a novel, the place where the reader reads it and the mood he / she is in has a bearing on the impact it creates. Your novel can be a dark humour for some, for some it might be a book of sorrow, for some it might be the outcome of an arranged marriage. And for a person like me it is a fine powder of all these mixtures. As a writer what do you think of the novel? And as a reader – meaning if you hadn’t written it, it’s a work by somebody else how would you view the novel? Would it still be the same?

Definitely. I write what I’d like to read.

Have you ever experienced writer’s block?

No, fortunately not. In fact, my head is constantly swimming with ideas and plots and characters, and I simply don’t have the time to put it all down to paper.

Your book goes into reprint within a month of its publication. To what extent can marketing help sell a novel?

I don’t think marketing had anything to do with the reprint, since I had no marketing budget and don’t even live in India to be able to do much. I came down in the first month of the release to do some book readings in Mumbai and Pune, but apart from that I think the novel is doing well on its own merit.

If the rights of your book are sold to be made into a movie, who do you think will do justice to the movie? The cast and the crew?

I think Vidya Balan would make a great Amara, while Kiron Kher or the mother from Bend It Like Beckham, would do Biji justice. The rest I have no idea. But Mira Nair would really identify with this book, since she’s studied in Shimla, lived in New York, and immigrated to the US in her teens like Amara does; along with other startlingly similar experiences.

What does success mean to you?

Feeling like you’ve given something everything you have.

And Failure?

A great way to learn and start over.

Your upcoming work?

My collection of short stories is ready for publication. I am also in the early stages of writing my second full-length novel based in – and between – India and China. It’s a dark comedy that portrays a family’s greed, lust and power, in the wake of geopolitical tension.

Formula for being what you want to be? A piece for the readers?

Look within you. The answer always lies there.