It’s been quite a few years now, since the Bangalore-based writer Andaleeb Wajid started writing – her first book ‘Kite Strings’ published in 2009 is about a teenager Mehnaz, all 13 and rebellious and getting to terms with living in a Muslim household – the book received good reviews and went to become popular in the just emerging ‘Young Adult’ genre of fiction. What followed were ‘Blinkers Off’, ‘My Brother’s Wedding’, ‘More Than Just Biryani’, her three-book series ‘Tamanna Trilogy’ – and the prolific writer went on churning one best seller after the other. Her latest book, Asmara’s Summer’ in addition to dealing with a youngster’s dilemma of dealing with coming from an uber urban milieu and having to live in a locality that is in stark contrast – also dwells upon the smart and grounded Gen Y that also knows to empathise and understand people around.
A conversation with her turned out to be fun and exciting as she offers a sneak peek into her world of writing.
Asmara is an interesting character, innocent, yet smart like all youngsters of the generation, wicked in her own way, yet compassionate. Where does this character come from?
I’m not really sure. Sometimes, characters come to my head fully formed, and sometimes they evolve as I write the book. For Asmara, I knew that I wanted her to be someone popular but also conscious of her social status and her surroundings. All generations of youngsters have bowed down under peer pressure and she’s no different. What does make her special is her eventual acceptance of the way things are although she does make a difference to the people around her too. I’ve also always tried to make my heroines very individualistic; they might fall in love quickly but they won’t accept it easily because of the fierce streak of independence that they have. Asmara too is like that. She’s focused, she’s confident and most often, she knows what she’s doing, but she’s also prone to be swept away in the moment.
Ha ha, no. I had a rather sheltered childhood and I was 19 when I got married. My writing comes from the heart, tinged probably only a very little from my own experiences, and relying a lot on imagination and quiet observation of people.
Which area came to your mind when you described Nani’s house and the locality?
Well, there really is a Tannery Road in Bangalore. It’s exactly as described in the book. In fact, I was once passing by that locality in an auto when the thought struck me, what if a girl from an upper middle class family had to live here for some reason. How would she deal with it? What would her reactions be? That was literally how Asmara was born.
Youngsters today are very street smart, savvy, and although they might have pre-conceived notions of the world, they are able to adapt to reality soon enough, just like Asmara.
Are you trying to say something through your book?
Well, my intention is to tell a good story, and ensure that people have fun reading the book, and if a message creeps in without me even knowing it, and readers find it useful, then well and good. In Asmara, my point was that people everywhere are the same. They may dress or talk differently but what lies beneath either a flashy, bling-y exterior and a sophisticated, elegant exterior might actually be similar, and we only need to realise that before forming opinions of people.
Well, I have a seventeen-year-old son myself although he is no help to me whatsoever! I do read a fair bit of YA and I also watch a lot of American TV shows although that’s purely for enjoyment and not just as research.I also feel that being young is a state of mind and although my creaky knees might protest, in my head I’m still seventeen.
And what are the changes you see – in the youngsters and the Indian society?
A lot of changes from the time I was a teenager. I think back then, we would mostly bend over backwards to please our parents and make sure they were happy, or maybe it was just me! Today, kids definitely are more conscious of what they want, and zero in on what will make them happy and theystick to it. Good for them.
For my first book, I was writing blind. As in, I had no idea where the story was going. I was letting the story lead me where it wanted to and I didn’t know how to control it. So, thinking of a possible readership was out of the question for me. I just wanted to finish the darn book. However, as I’ve written more books, I’ve managed to get hold of the reins and steer the story where I want it to go. I’ve written quite a few young adult books and a couple of general fiction books also. I’d like to think that there’s no particular readership and that everyone will want to read my books, because I’ve got feedback from a varied range of people, from teenagers to people in their 50s that they’ve enjoyed my writing.
Well, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I just like to say I’m stuck sometimes. And I usually give myself a break from writing to come unstuck. I watch a movie, take a walk in the park, bake a cake – basically I let the story rest in the back of my head for sometime so that when I come back to it, I’ll figure out a way to get past what’s stopping me.
Fun books with a tendency to make the reader either empathise with my characters (because they’re the same age as my characters) or relive their own youth (because they’re much older people, like me). Of course, it’s not just fun all the time, especially in my books like ‘More than Just Biryani’ (Amaryllis, 2014) and ‘When She Went Away’ (Duckbill, 2015) which deal with serious issues as well. But at the core of it all, if a reader opens my book with anticipation and comes away feeling that the anticipation was well deserved, then I’ve done my job.