Hope to inspire people to stray from the ‘normal’: Author Nish Amarnath
The author of the mystery thriller Victims for Sale, which is the story of a plucky journalist versus a thriving sex racket, intends to keep drawing upon her newsroom experience to tell stories that are real, poignant, and mystifying.books Updated: Mar 27, 2018 17:43 IST
Sandhya ‘Sandy’ Raman is a prodigious young journalist who relocates to the UK to pursue higher studies and pick up experience as a stringer with news houses. She puts up with the Sawants, an Indian-origin family, but just days into her stay with the family, an incident shocks her out of her wits. What follows is a series of freak occurrences, a private sting operation, and a spate of murders that chill the reader down to the bone.
Author and journalist Nish Amarnath’s first novel, Victims for Sale, reminds you of a David Fincher movie — punctuated with shock, horror, and a lingering air of mystery. Within seemingly normal surroundings, something sinister is building up, but with a profoundly pertinent message at the core of the narrative. However, Sandy, the protagonist, won’t back down.
“She is an epitome of the young new-age Indian woman,” says Amarnath, who has carved her heroine out of her own consciousness and experiences. “She is a character intended to be relatable to every Indian girl or woman who has aspired to run away from ‘normalcy’ and push her boundaries in an attempt to live her truth,” she says.
The description fits in particularly well with Sandy, who upon discovering that the Sawants have been forced into getting their intellectually-disabled daughter, Asha, sexually abused by a care organisation for disabled women, sets out to take on the racket, even at the peril of her own life. In fact, strong women abound here, and Sandy is only leading the way with her unworldly optimism. She isn’t afraid of love, of pursuing the truth, and of plunging headfirst into danger.
“Victims For Sale grew out of my experiences as a journalist researching for a potential newspaper story in early 2006 when I came across an instance that pointed to a detrimental emphasis on family honour as the cornerstone of a moral compass resting solely on women, regardless of their well-being,” explains Amarnath, and adds that through the book, she intends to inspire readers to rebel against the social conditioning predominant in Indian and South Asian communities around the world, that treats women as carriers of family honour, and rape as a violation of that honour.
With the world still coming to grips with systems in place that perpetuate sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement sweeping social media, and the Time’s Up movement working to put an end to sexual misconduct at workplaces across the world, Victims for Sale also calls for more inclusivity, throwing light on the silent epidemic that is targeting people with intellectual disabilities.
How much of an alarm, then, does she intend to sound in the public consciousness about this stranger-than-fiction reality? “Through Victims for Sale, and other writings in the future, I hope to play a small part in uplifting the collective consciousness of humanity. That will involve straying away from what many consider ‘normal’. That kind of rebellion, for me, involves drawing public attention to critical issues that have tended to get swept under the carpet, whether it is mental retardation, mental illness, sex, love, marriage or honour crimes,” says the author, who came up with her first book, a non-fiction business biography, at the age of 18.
Written over 12 years, across nine cities in three continents, as Amarnath completed two postgraduate degrees, copious amount of research and field work as a journalist has gone into the book. Surely, it must not have been easy? “It has indeed been a bit of a rollercoaster ride… [But] this book has been a strand of constancy and stability amid the vagaries and nomadic gradients of my life.” In a day and age when more millennial writers are struggling with lack of time, proliferating distractions, and living-out-of-a-suitcase lives, advice on how to keep at it as a writer could really come in handy. “One must seek out their own voice, and try to connect more with themselves,” she says, and recalling her own experience writing Victims for Sale, adds, “It is important to be true to yourself and work on your writing honestly.”
For Amarnath, who had a near-death experience at just 10, and who managed to get through the London School of Economics’ media and communications programme while still in her bachelors, writing is a “visual” experience.
“I structure my narrative in terms of scenes. And I write each scene, imagining what it would look like if it were a movie. My writing also involves elaborate research, surveys and interviews that offer a glimpse into the lived experiences of subjects,” she shares.
Does the author, who enjoys the suspense of Mary Higgins Clark, the legal thrillers of John Grisham, and the work of screenwriter and novelist Sidney Sheldon, see herself as growing into a similar author with a formidable body of crime thrillers? “I specialise in stories that carry a blend of mysticism, psychology and/or alternate realities within starkly real settings. I believe in telling a unique and compelling story that audiences can relate to through their own experiences and perceptions. Rather than focusing obsessively on genres, I try to pick one genre, and do it justice,” she says, however adding, “I am certainly open to writing more crime fiction, and drawing upon my own newsroom and industry experience to tell stories.”
And interestingly, two of the titles she is currently working on, deal with media and the news industry. One of these is an untitled financial and political thriller based on the revelations of a naïve newsroom editor. The second is named Bitch on Wheels, and is a satirical media thriller set in Delhi.