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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

‘First books have an innocent artlessness to them’

Author Anuja Chauhan says, today, she finds Zoya Singh Solanki to be horribly gauche

books Updated: Nov 12, 2019 17:51 IST
Navneet Vyasan
Navneet Vyasan
Hindustan Times
Anuja Chauhan
Anuja Chauhan

One just has to gaze through a few pages of any Anuja Chauhan book, and before they know it, they’re already 30 pages into the story. Chauhan’s writing is engaging and funny, and if that wasn’t enough, it is also mischievous. “I’m so glad I took the plunge into writing my own stories, instead of the stories of products, like I used to do in advertising. Writing novels is amazingly liberating and gives you a tremendous sense of power,” she says. And the author is not one of those who quit their job because it was not working out, for she had an extremely successful stint in the advertising industry.

However, the decision to take a plunge did come with its vacillations. “With this great power comes great accountability, because it’s an extremely lonely job. There is no team, no back-up, and no collective responsibility at all. If you don’t wake up and hammer out your word count for the day, there will be no book to show at the end of the year, and you will have transitioned from being a writer to merely being unemployed,” she quips.

It has been more than a decade since her sparkling first novel, The Zoya Factor, was published. And today, when she reads it, it is the same feeling for her as it is for an actor who’s watching his/her first film. “Of course, I cringe. Zoya feels horribly gauche to me when I read it now,” she says, adding, “But on the other hand, first books have a certain innocent, cocky artlessness which is hard to replicate when you become more practised. They’re raw, fresh and full of low-hanging fruit!”

Chauhan admits that people often call her a “Delhi writer”. But in her very first novel, her writings read out a vivid and evoking portrait of Mumbai. “I do have huge affection for Mumbai, because I’ve shot so many ads there over the years. The things I know best in Mumbai are the hotels and the studios, so I stuck to describing only those,” she says.

“I love books that tell a simple story intertwined with a larger, even epic setting that captures the issues of the times. So books like Gone with the Wind, or Battle Cry (by Leon Uris) or To Kill a Mockingbird were stuff I found inspirational,” she says on her favourite books.

Little Women, Chauhan says, was a big hit in her family because they were a family of four sisters, too. Other than that, Chauhan names “The Chronicles of Narnia, the Alice books of Lewis Carrol and the romances of Georgette Heyer as her favourite books because “they’re just so sparkly and witty”.

Chauhan’s debut novel piqued the interest of B-Town and this year, Zoya Factor was adapted for the screen. “For me, my book is the final product — it’s my vision — complete and final,” she says when asked about her involvement in the filming process.

However, the author admits that in India, there is a dearth of readers and a film gives wings to a book to fly even further than it did. “I don’t really get any creative control on the film-making process sadly, because film-making is all about the director’s vision. And creative control is oxygen to me. On the other hand, the film’s pay well and they get you a lot more exposure, because sadly people barely read in India but they’re all obsessed with Bollywood. So, it helps your profiling, gets you more lit-fests invites, the occasional business class travel and interviews with newspapers like yours.”

After The Zoya Factor, the author went on to pen numerous books, which were both critically and commercially successful. But Zoya still remains the closest to her when asked about who (her characters) does she feel closest to? “I love everybody I write, but out of all the girls I’ve written, Zoya and Eshwari are the ones who are the most like me personally. I also love Bonu Singh from The House that BJ Built, because she has such a wonky moral compass, and such voluptuous curves, which is something I’ve always wanted and never had,” she laughs.

As for the current literary scene in the country, the author is as witty in life as she is on paper. “It seems to be all about myths and legends and religion which isn’t really my jam,” she says.