We’re on the phone, with advertiser-turned-author Anuja Chauhan of The Zoya Factor and Battle for Bittora, who is from Bangalore, but her witty comments and spunky rebuttals have us laughing miles away in Mumbai. Chauhan confesses that she writes about what she sees around her and gives us an insight into her latest book, Baaz, which is a glorious romance set during the brink of a war between the USSR-backed India-Mukti Bahini alliance and the America-aided Pakistani forces.
Baaz is based on the 1971 Indo-Pak war. What kind of research went into writing this book?
The characters are largely fictitious, but the setting is real. I have done all kinds of soft and hard research. It started off with conversations with many fighter pilots, some of who were in my family and some of who they introduced me to. The raw data came through directly chatting with them. Then, I read a lot of military non-fiction books that dealt with the subject to get a deeper understanding. YouTube has a lot of videos on this, so that also formed part of my research.
What was the inspiration behind writing a book on the IAF?
I’m always accused of writing autobiographical novels. I do tend to write about things I have experienced. I just feel strongly about those subjects. Armed services are something I feel I have the credibility to write on, since my father was in the army. Seven men from my family served in the ’71 war, so it was very hotly discussed at our dining table for a long time. Also, I didn’t want to write about women anymore. Some of my books have been very girly and I think I’ve had it. I knew that I wanted to write about the armed forces. Youngsters today don’t really know too much about the ’71 war. In that sense, it was a short war and has a happy ending for India at least. It’s a chapter of history that I didn’t see anyone talk much about. Also, I’ve always been fascinated with fighter pilots. It’s great to hang out with them and pretend its work (laughs).
Your female protagonists are much spoken about. Are they inspired by real- life characters?
Every character I write about is inspired by someone I know well or maybe not too well, it could be on someone I’ve met or read about. I plagiarise from life a lot. But of course it’s all mix and match. I may take one character trait from one person but the reason for that trait I might take from someone else.
Does it bother you that your books are often labeled as chick lit?
Labels used to bother me. I don’t think it is right to put a stamp on someone and say you are a chick lit writer, so you should only write about shoes and men and not talk about politics or social issues. But that’s nonsense. It’s like in films they call it ‘typecasting’. When people try to label you, demystify you and put you in a box its creative death. We should be able to try and do as many things as we like. It’s perfectly normal for people to have three careers in one lifetime. Similarly, why can’t I write something more than what you think I’m capable of writing?
Do you believe your latest book will help you get out of any typecast?
I write about topics that are close to my heart such as politics, advertising, faujis, my family and girly bonding. If you start writing with your eye on what the audience wants, that is creative death. I try to be as authentic as I can. I know actual fighter pilots will read this book and I can’t appear like a fool in front of them, so I did my research. I can’t write it in a slip shot and in an unsearched manner. I also did heavy researches while writing The House That BJ Built and the Battle of Bittora.
Social media makes authors a lot more accessible to readers, but they also face direct criticism. How has it impacted you?
I don’t get trolled for my writing but everybody seems to be bothered about my religious choices. People say things like,‘Tumne isai se shaadi karli’(you got married to a Christian). Now and then I get some dirt on my Twitter saying, “You’ve popped out a Christian child from a Hindu womb”. I get these messages and I think, ‘Wow, is that anyone’s business?’ I only get trolled for my views on religion, but for my books, surprisingly, there’s little hate.Most Indian authors seem to be writing to get their works adapted on screen…It’s good because writing doesn’t pay that much. Films have a much bigger budget and they have a wider audience. Hopefully, you will have a wider readership for your new book through a film. But a movie can never measure up to a book. I have never felt that way. Take for example, Room, The Princess Diaries, Harry Potter, etc. The tradeoff is visibility and money.
Do you write for a particular audience?
I’ve done advertising for so long that I am horrified of target audiences. And again that’s creative death. Because in search of an audience you try to pander and then when will you write. Like they say dance like no one’s watching, sing like no one’s listening and write like no one’s reading. Honestly, that’s the only way to do it.
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