New Chip on the Block features upcoming writers. Today we meet Amrita Anand Nayak, author of Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts.
About the author: Amrita Anand Nayak is an IT professional working with BMC Software, Pune who has lived in many parts of India. She completed her education in Delhi and moved to Pune for her first job with Infosys in 2003 and has since adopted the city as her own. At present, she is juggling between her job and family and struggling to keep her sanity and balance intact because according to her, ‘the little bundles of joy in our lives mostly come with huge bundles of responsibility and promise of countless sleepless nights’. Besides story-telling, she enjoys anchoring, dramatics, sketching. She is an avid reader and book-lover herself.
Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts is her first book.
You are an IT professional by day, author by night. When did you decide to give writing serious thought?
As professionals, we are always bounded by deadlines, work pressures and competition. So, though I was bitten by the writing bug long time back, I was never able to pursue my hobby seriously, as there were practical limitations for devoting time to writing. Thankfully, such a time did come for me when I could carve out some spare time! It was the period of my maternity leave. I started penning down my thoughts and framed the plot of my debut novel then. In between the rounds of feeding, soothing, changing diapers and general babysitting – believe it or not, I did get some time, and writing for me was the best form of relaxation. Once I started, there was no looking back. I continued even after my maternity leave was over and in a span of five months, I was able to complete the book!
Managing time between work, commute and writing must have been rather difficult. What was your routine like?
Well, I am a morning person. For the book, I used to get up early in the morning and write for an hour or two. After Office hours, I would come back and spend time with my little one and rest of the family. Once everybody went off to sleep, I would write again, as long as my eyelids endured being open and my brain functioned. I would eagerly wait for the weekends, when I would go and sit in the neighbourhood coffee shop and write to my heart’s content with no one to disturb me and a steaming cup of coffee to keep me going! My family really helped me a lot by taking care of my baby in my absence and cheering me on throughout.
Your first book – Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts is now available. What is the book all about?
The book is a tale of three froomies (friends-cum-roomies), Leena, Tia and Jasmine, who share an apartment and along with the apartment, they share many wonderful moments of laughter, tears, adventures, heartaches etc. besides sheer gossip! There are many more characters – boyfriends, parents, friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances et al who spice up the story. The story travels from Pune to Japan, from USA to a remote village in Haryana, from Mumbai to Kerela and the list goes on. From Fashion shows to Khaap Panchayat, from casual affair to true love, from Church choir to discotheques – the reader is taken on a whirlwind tour, a tour as much of emotions as of places. Among the protagonists, while Leena and Jasmine’s present is greatly affected by their past, Tia always weighs her actions keeping in mind the future she desires. It’s to be seen, whether they manage to break free of their inhibitions and listen to their hearts when it comes to finally shaping their lives. All along the way, they stand by each other dutifully and face the challenges of life with style and chutzpah. Leena, Tia and Jasmine are three modern-day girls hailing from three different cultural divisions of India whose lives are joined by one common thread – the fact that they are room-mates and best friends for life.
The story is set in Pune. How have you felt about this city ever since you moved here from Delhi?
I love living in Pune. When I first moved here from Delhi nine years back, I was ready to go back to Delhi with all my bags packed, within a couple of months. But I could not go back because my job had a year-long contract clause. So, I had to wait for a year. But by the time the year ended, I was in love with the city! I discovered Pune along the way. I fell in love with the culture, the atmosphere, the people, the language, everything! The city has such a beautiful cultural heritage and yet it has embraced modernity with panache. Pune has great eateries, cool hang-outs, premier educational institutes, booming IT sector, sprawling real-estate, beautiful hills in its surroundings and what not! The people are warm and gentle. The climate is excellent. And of course, Pune is very safe, especially for girls, and if I compare it with Delhi, well… there is absolutely no comparison! I discovered true freedom here. It’s a great place to be and I feel at home here.
Getting that first book published is a real challenge – especially with publishers. Can you tell us your experience?
You are absolutely right. Getting one’s book published needs patience, perseverance and well, luck! When I sent my book proposal (a proposal typically comprises the synopsis, chapter outline and two-to-three sample chapters) to the leading Indian Publishers, I was pleasantly shocked to see that two out of three responded positively and asked me to send the complete manuscript ASAP. At that time I had just completed three chapters out of twenty. My maternity leave was over and I had to join back at work. So, completing the book ‘asap’ was going to be tough. But thanks to the interest shown by those publishers, I was highly charged-up and motivated to complete my novel as soon as I could. Besides, being an IT professional, I am used to working with deadlines. Once I finished my manuscript and sent it across to the publishers, I did not hear back from them for months! I did not know what to do! But I did not lose hope. I contacted a few more publishers and fortunately for me, one of them was ‘General Press’ who believed in encouraging new talents. They took it forward and published it. Finally, the patience and hard work paid off!
In one instance in the book, TenderLeaves is mentioned by the protagonist. Do you mind elaborating this part of the story?
When a writer writes a book, a part of her/his personality gets translated in the book. In my book, many shades of my personality are visible here and there in different characters of the story. I love reading and I really look forward to receiving books from Tenderleaves library once I have placed my order or “grabbed them online” as you call it. This protagonist Tia is also an avid reader and one night, after the girly chit-chat, the three flatmates retire to their rooms and Tia proclaims she can’t wait to get started with the book she has borrowed from “Tenderleaves”. Through this sentence, the readers are subtly told that Tia is a member of this online library. And if few readers are not aware of what ‘Tenderleaves’ is, now they’ll surely go and check it out. When I was writing this book one year back, personally, it was my humble way of acknowledging the wonderful library of yours, of which I am a big fan.
What has the reaction been at your office and among friends now that you are a published author?
Frankly, I had never expected the kind of reaction I got. In the office, I was flooded with e-mails and messages and congratulatory notes once people got to know about my book. So many folks have bought it and in this list there are few people who have never read a book in their lives (other than text books and technical references)! They just bought it because they knew me and wanted to encourage. Now that they have bought it, they are reading it and actually liking it! I feel so happy to know that I have made readers out of non-readers. Also, my colleagues, especially women told me they felt inspired to pursue their hobbies after my example. This is because they can identify with me – I am just one of them. My friends won’t stop raving about the book and telling me they are proud of me. I feel really gratified and humbled by this response.
What do you enjoy reading yourself?
I love reading fiction, non-fiction, magazines, journals and even technical blogs. But my favourites are thrillers and detective fiction. Somehow, reading for me is mental stimulation as well as relaxation at the same time. I just love Lee Child’s Jack Reacher adventures. When I was young, I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like Agatha Christie. She has a special place in my bookshelf, my memories and my heart. Lately, I loved the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. But apart from all this action, I also love to read books on social issues or stories that touch the heart, like The Kite Runner. Among Indian authors, I like Anurag Mathur’s satire and sense of humour and Jhumpa Lahiri’s simply told yet very real and poignant stories. She is an inspiration in my life.
Going forward, are you looking to explore other genres? What do you have in mind?
Yes, definitely. Presently, I am toying with the idea of a sequel of this novel. But after that, I am going to diversify and write on social issues through fiction. I would also like to dabble in the crime and detective genre one day. My father was in the Intelligence Bureau and probably that is one of the reasons why I find myself getting drawn to investigative thrillers! There is yet another story brewing in my mind that is based in a future time zone but it’s not a science fiction, rather it’s about a paradigm shift in the social structure in future. I am all set for at least next two to three years, with ideas and plots in nascent stages in my head, that need to be developed as full-blown stories on paper.
Any advice for those writers who haven’t been able to sum up your courage in attempting that first book?
Three words to the aspiring writers –“Go for it!” Pen down your story, start scribbling your thoughts and I am sure, if you truly love writing, you’ll find time for it. Even if you do not find a publisher, there is always the option of self-publishing. So, go on – start your book and then do not stop till you finish it. Pursue that dream. Take the plunge. The joy on seeing your book published and purchased and actually read and liked by folks is unparalleled. So, just go for it. You owe it to your dreams.