Twinkle Khanna on being a best-selling author, her latest book, MeToo and more
Looks like the year belonged to Twinkle Khanna, the writer. Her latest book, Pyjamas Are Forgiving, also makes a case for consent.
Twinkle Khanna, today, is known as the best-selling author. In the past, she has been an actor, she has done films like Jab Pyaar Kisi se Hota Hai (1998) and Barsaat (1995). She also turned a producer when she produced Pad Man, the screen adaptation of her short story. She is loved for her sense of humour, which is sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes sharply satirical but mostly cruelly honest. Her last book, Pyjamas Are Forgiving has made her the highest-selling female author in India in the year 2018, according to Nielsen BookScan India. The book is narrated by a middle-aged woman who signs up at a luxury Ayurvedic spa-resort, for her sleep disorder. The other guests, to her retching surprise, include her ex-husband and his current wife. Thus starts a journey of inner conflicts, sinful pleasures, and fornications. The book is replete with metaphors and symbolism. We catch up with the writer. Excerpts:
Let’s start by asking you a question that you hate being asked- let’s get it off the way. So, what’s the question that you hate being asked, please also answer it?
Why I didn’t change my last name from Khanna to Kumar. My answer has always been the same- I am married not branded. I am not a tiny company that a big firm like Godrej has taken over and now I have to change my brand name as well.
A question no one is asking you but you want asked (please answer that, too)
What is the secret to your fitness? No one ever asks me this and I want to tell them that lying on a couch with a book in your hand is the greatest exercise you can provide to an often neglected part, your brain.
Now the obvious: How does it feel to be the Top-Selling Female Author Of 2018 In India?
When you are writing, what you are doing is basically playing out the arguments in your head, it is primarily for yourself. It is only after you are done, that the reader and various apprehensions begin to make an appearance. The fact that Pyjamas Are Forgiving has done so well just makes all the long hours chained to the desk and, I suppose, the inherent solitude that accompanies the writing process, a little more worthwhile.
Do titles and awards like these come with a certain degree of pressure — of writing another best-seller, of expectations of the readers?
I am not sure to what degree pressure affects my writing, I am unaware of it, or at least consciously. Books, as a reader, have always been a source of comfort, and even now as a writer, the world of words is the one place where even if I am having a terrible day, once I begin, I forget my own issues and am lost in building this alternate world. These days when I walk onto a stage though, my introduction usually seems to say, ‘Here she is Mrs Funnybones who is going to make you laugh for the next hour.’ Now that is scary! And like a performing seal, with the usual seven pounds of atmospheric pressure multiplied into a 100, I have to begin my sit-down comedy act.
Your book makes a point about consent, a ground for #metoo. What’s your take on the movement unrolling in the film industry?
I don’t look at it as unrolling in just the film industry but am glad that it has cut across all industries. It will have a large hand in paving the way towards true equality rather than the version we have all accepted in the past.
What does it mean to be a female author vis-a-vis just an author? What are the challenges?
I would say the challenges for a female author are the same as they are for most working women regardless of the fact that you may work as many hours as your partner, child rearing and managing a home are still things that are primarily your responsibility. I find the dual roles of being a writer as well as a mother the most complex, at least during the last stages of a book, where you are completely absorbed in a paradigm world. The former requires that you ignore the demands of the living which you can’t as the latter.
People expect you, the popular writer, to take up causes, be their voice, no matter what the issue or your personal opinion on the matter.
It took me a while to understand that I have to concentrate and consolidate my work towards a few key causes. Menstrual health is an area that I have written about in columns, in my second book and produced Pad Man which dealt with the same issue. I am now continuing the same work with Save The Children on ground level. I think, at least for me, focusing on one cause and tackling it from different aspects is more important than just lending my voice to myriad issues.
Social media is a double-edged sword. What has been the most memorable experience on it and one that you wish had never happened?
I would say that memorable experiences have been meeting one of my favourite authors Ken Liu through Twitter and I had my ultimate fangirl moment. I can’t say that I wish it had never happened but when I posted a picture of a man using the bathroom in lieu of a toilet, there was outrage, but within that I realized many things including my blind spots around privilege which led to a greater understanding of the world around me.
Not many are lucky and talented to have a second career. How has becoming an author changed your life? When did you develop a desire to become an author, we would love to hear the story.
I wrote half a book when I was 18 and in fact Noni Appa was originally part of that book though the protagonist was then an eighteen-year-old granddaughter. I also carried around a black felt file as a teenager that contained all the poems that I had jotted down, primarily about maggots and death. To be honest, the poetry that I dabble with even now, is still rather appalling. I had a plan that I would finally retire to Goa when I was sixty and write a book, it is mere fate that it happened in my forties.
What motivated you to start your own film production company?
Muruganantham’s [Pad Man] story was compelling. It was something that had to infiltrate the consciousness of people from all walks of life and cinema is the only medium in my opinion that could truly accomplish this so I made Pad Man. If I find another story as meaningful then I will make another film otherwise I will stick to hunching over word documents.
Will we see you producing a film on Pyjamas...?
I have no such plans. I am now just juggling a few ideas about what to write next and waiting for one to knock me on the head.
How does your husband, actor Akshay Kumar, contribute to your writing work, if at all?
I narrate my stories to him on long car rides but I don’t think he has read any of my books, as he well, just doesn’t read!
And if you had to sum up the year 2018, how has it been?
A chaotic, tiring but fulfilling year and all I want now is to lie in a hammock with an apple martini and a good book.