An Interview with Author Advaita Kala

In 2009, her ‘almost single’ girl’s 282 page rollercoaster ride left the readers wondering what is in store for them next. Came 2010 and Siddharth Anand entrusted her with the task of penning down the script of Anjana Anjani! It’s 2011 already and if you’re wondering about the whereabouts of this author, you must know that she’s busy structuring a ‘heroic’ Kahaani for Vidya Balan’s next. Know Advaita Kala, the ex-hotelier, an avid reader and essentially, an author at heart as she provides  insights about her life in an exclusive interview with The Viewspaper.

1. How is ‘writing’ defined in your dictionary?

Advaita: That’s a tough one to answer. I think mostly it’s a form of expression that comes easiest to me. There is so much noise in this world, that for a long time, especially when growing up which can be a confusing time for anyone, it was a way of organizing my thoughts. Giving meaning to the changes and the things that were happening in my life. In a lot of ways it continues to be that.

2. What made you quit your stable career as a Hotel Executive?

Advaita: I love hotels, but I realized that if I had to continue writing I would need to make a choice. Hotels are very demanding when it comes to time, twelve hour working days, six days a week, it is difficult to do anything else. So it was a chance, I took a risk really. Fortunately for me opportunities came my way. And thanks to the rigorous work ethic in hotels, I continue to work hard, but gratefully I can set my own schedule now.  I could always go back to hotels. My closest friends are hoteliers, I am still very connected with that world. I love writing about food but I will never write food reviews, its still my world, there is no distance. And some of my closest friends run the best restaurants in the country, I would probably get dunked in a wine barrel if I was critical.  Now that I think about it that might not be a bad idea at all!

3. Who is Aisha Bhatia inspired out of?

Advaita: I think she starts being me at that point in my life and then just goes on to be her own person.  It is fiction the book. It’s a very honest book and readers tell me that all the time. What I have only got used to recently is the fact that people I have never met before come up to me and talk to me like they know me, because they have read the book and believe its me. It’s hilarious and disconcerting! And they ask the most inappropriate personal questions J – like are you married now. Emphasis being on the now! When I say no, they then ask if I am seeing someone. This is people I meet for the first time. And to think I wrote the book so that people would stop asking single women that question! It totally backfired.

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received as an author?

Advaita: It will always be when people say it made them laugh that was the aim behind this book. I laughed a lot while writing it, it was a good friend to me.

5. How was the journey of taking ‘Almost Single’ from just a draft to a book in stores?

Advaita: I learnt a lot. I didn’t know anyone in the world of publishing. Later on I made friends with the writer Amitabha Bagchi, (we were published in the same year by Harper Collins), his book came out six months before mine. So a lot of the figuring out I did through him. He was very generous about sharing his experiences, and I think I knew what to avoid thanks to him. Then Ira Pande read my first draft and encouraged me to find a publisher.  So that was really all the help I had and then there was my publisher Harper Collins.

6. Being an avid reader, who are your favourite authors? Anyone from your contemporaries who you admire?

Advaita: Too many to name, but this winter when I was in New York, Joyce Carol Oates, one of my all time favorites, was doing a reading two subway stops away from my apartment and I was looking forward to that for weeks. A real fan girl, unfortunately there was a blizzard and the reading was cancelled. I was gutted. It was awful. But just the thrill of seeing a writer you admire, the fact that they are accessible is pretty special. From girlhood – Ruskin Bond – to now, writers continue to be people I admire.  In terms of Indian writers who are writing today, it would be Amitabha Bagchi, he is a very fine writer. There is Aravind Adiga. Then I enjoy Anuja Chauhan, she is very clever in the way she uses language, much like we use it today. I adore Vikram Seth, enough said. He went to The Doon School, I went to Welham’s but alas it was a couple of decades apart! Mukul Deva is very prolific, I think he writes two books a year or something. I always say he writes them faster than they can be published! I admire his discipline. If you plan on being a genre writer, I think he is a great example of one.

7. How has life changed after ‘Almost Single’? Any crazy fan stories to share?

Advaita: I don’t think it has really changed for me. Maybe more people know who I am but that’s about it. I have an exterior world and an interior world, and they co-exist peacefully. Some crazy fan stuff but really not worth getting into. But encouragingly, and my readers are very encouraging, some read everything I write anywhere and then give me feedback. So that’s pretty amazing that people are tracking my work like that and taking the time to share their opinions.

8. How is script-writing different from putting down a book?

Advaita: It is collaborative, while writing a novel is a solitary act, that is the biggest difference as I see it. Other than that, my involvement remains the same, creating character, structuring the narrative. In a film there are many visions, so that impacts what finally gets out in the world but with a novel, you remain the only story teller.

8. Touted to be one of the Youth Icons of this country, what would you like to say to the youth of India?

Advaita: I would like to say get involved, find your voice. I know there are many other pressures like college, jobs, competitive exams and these are important. But just like you find the time for other things, find the time to stay involved in the issues that impact us, be it corruption, public safety etc. You will inherit this country one day, you have the greatest stake in how it is being shaped, so make sure you don’t stay ignorant. And very importantly on a personal note, don’t be afraid to fail.  Successful people emerge from failures, its not that they don’t fail. They just get over it faster and learn from it. So take chances, go out there and dare to dream. Life is not meant to be a spectator sport.

Garima Obrah