Light. Darkness. Two extremes and relationships engulfed in this knotted way have to be unraveled one day. How does it happen?
Kaffeinated Konversations gets all brewed up with questions for Radhika about her book, her writing and how it all began. Well, its time to get to know her more through #kaffeinatedkonversations…
- Congratulations Radhika! Your book is just out and there’s great anticipation about the response to it. How do you feel?
Thanks so much Kavita. Yes, God and the readers have been kind. The book has been receiving a tremendously encouraging response. Almost every day I wake up to at least half a dozen messages from friends and readers who love the book. It’s sheer delight.
- What made you take up writing and choose it as a conduit for your creative expression?
For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the written word. My father is an avid reader, and I undoubtedly get it from him. But my first conscious foray into writing can be ascribed to an incident when I must have been on the cusp of teenage. I remember reading in the newspaper about a thief, who once apprehended, confessed that inability to buy his pregnant wife some expensive medicines is what pushed him to commit that crime. The law, of course, couldn’t care less for such extenuating circumstances; and the man was punished, nevertheless. The news article ended with the information that his heavily pregnant wife is now making the rounds of the police station, begging the authorities to relent. That news item triggered something inside of me. I remember feeling angry, very angry. And also, for the first time, at a loss to express that anger. I decided to pen down my thoughts and share that with my father when he came back from work. And somehow, those few lines, with my father’s help, turned into a whole fictional account of a conversation with a thief and found its way to that year’s Annual School Magazine. A few months later, that whole incident and the ethical dilemma it presents to the society as I had chalked out in my piece, became a theme for the Debate Club’s next session. I remember feeling oddly redeemed that day. The idea that words written on a piece of paper can start conversations on a wider scale and a bigger platform was quite comforting. I think I was hooked.
I had wanted to be a journalist. My father did not approve of that profession much, and he told me I could only do it if I made it into IIMC. I of course, didn’t. So after that heartbreak, I think I consciously moved away from writing for a while, engaging in only occasional scribbling, that too for my eyes only. But old love always finds a way to pull you back towards it, and so did my writing.
- Writers have variously described writing as self indulgence, self inflicted pain or delusional work…… what does it mean to you?
While I wouldn’t describe my work with those words, I do see why someone else would. Artists in general have a stronger receptive strength for the realities of the world around them. The facts and feelings that they collect thereby, voluntarily or involuntarily, become the fodder for their work.
The realities of this world are painful and harsh, so no wonder when projected in one’s art, that pain magnifies manifold. It can and it does, get pretty heavy sometimes. But why shy away from acknowledging the ugliness of the world? Let’s acknowledge it, own it up, and put it forward juxtaposed with the beauty this world has to offer, because there is a lot of that too. Deduce answers, to unsolvable questions. Provide possibilities, where none exist. Offer hope, where is it desperately needed. Isn’t that kind of work cathartic? That is exactly what it is to me.
- How did you approach the writing of your novel?
My novel actually started out as a short story; a letter from a distraught mother to her estranged son. And then it started taking up dimensions and tangents that I was tempted to explore. So to be honest, there wasn’t a pre-meditated well designed approach. I went where my heart and hands took me; and realized only a few months later that if I could sort this jigsaw of a story out, I might be on to something. I fitted what I already had on a broader plotline and started filling the gaps. That is as close I came to a structured approach. Also, I am a hardcore pantser. So this is just about as much planning as I can handle, anyway, without letting it cramp my style.
- Is the young adult readership more open to new concepts and ideas compared to adult readership?
I wouldn’t say that as a blanket statement. I believe it is an individual trait. But yes, I believe youngsters may be more open to experimenting with different things, in general, with everything in life. And as one gets older, the tastes get more stabilized, more refined. So this applies to their reading choices as well.
- Is popular and accessible writing far removed from deeper nuanced writing? Do you make conscious efforts to be entertaining?
Sadly yes. See, the thing is, popular and accessible writing is like junk food. When you crave a pizza, a plate of sophisticatedly plated dish of foie gras won’t do, no matter what level of culinary expertise it demonstrates. But that doesn’t mean making a pizza cannot not be a job entailing culinary excellence.
That is the problem, the gap between popular/accessible and nuanced writing is fast growing, and being recognized these days as a chasm that cannot be filled. I see writers talking about ‘dumbing down’ their writing in order to reach more audiences; and I have come to hate that term. What does that even mean?
To make one’s writing meaningful and yet entertaining is hard work. It’s quite literally, walking a tightrope. It is tough and it is tiring. And that’s what most of us shy away from in the name of dumbing down. And thereby also do a disservice to the field of literature in the process.
I think good, sincere and straight from the heart stories are and will always be entertaining.
- We loved the choice of elements portrayed in the book cover. What inspired those touches?
This book cover came to me like a blessing. I can take no credit for it, honestly. I had given a very different brief for a cover which although beautiful, just wasn’t working out graphically. But then, the graphic artists and my publisher Dipankar Mukherjee, started on a fresh page with just the blurb and the main sentiments behind the book – hope, resilience and a reconciliation of a past and a future. And that’s how this cover was born.
- How did you come up with the title?
This whole book, in a way, sprouted from a poem by Mary Oliver that I read a while ago. It is called The Uses of Sorrow and it goes thus.
Someone I loved once,
gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand,
that this, too, was a gift.
The idea that darkness can be a gift just clung to me as a vine, taking roots with time, feeding on my thoughts and imagination. The title, In The Light Of Darkness, was born of the same premise.
- Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. The three key messages from the book co-relate to the three main characters. Susan’s life and her tribulations are a testament of a fact that no matter how hard a parent tries to do what is in the best interest of their child, sometimes they fail. Not because their intentions aren’t pure, but because they just don’t know any better.
Matthew’s story gives the message that no matter how big a mistake one has committed, genuine remorse and intention to atone can undo it all and bring the redemption one seeks.
Meera’s life reminds us that sometimes we can confuse self-destruction with self-preservation. And when that happens, we must rely on the judgment of those who love us, to bring us the clarity we need.
- Which ‘current’ and not-so-current authors do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy a lot of ‘not-so-current’ authors, and the list is practically endless. But the ones who have a permanent spot on my nightstand are Ayn Rand, Virgina Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and from closer home Khushwant Singh and Saadat Hasan Manto.
- What books have influenced you?
Too many to mention. In a way every single book taught me something. Whether it was what to do, or what not to.
- If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Ayn Rand and Virginia Woolf. Undoubtedly.
- Is there anything particularly challenging when you took up writing?
Time Management, especially as a mother of a four year old. Add to that the impingement of social media on our time, and I am practically left with no time to write. Result is long, caffeine-fuelled nights, to catch up on work.
- What’s the most enjoyable part of the writing process and why?
Most certainly the latitude we allow ourselves while working on the first draft. Nothing is off limits. All characters and their back stories are important. All scenes and conversations have limitless potential. This is exceptionally fun if you learn to ignore the word count ticker on the bottom left of your screen.
- With so many literary festivals, launches, book readings and other hoopla becoming mandatory for writers, how did you cope with it?
Thankfully, my staying away in a faraway town, in the middle of nowhere, has helped. I always knew, given the distances and my kid’s young age, travelling too much would be a problem for me. So I never counted on it much, while drawing up my promotional plans. This is where social media comes in with its infinite potential to connect you with your readers, regardless of where you are. Look at this, next week I am speaking to readers and writers in Indore, from the cozy confines of my home in Unchahar.
- Does your own writing sometimes surprise you? Share a piece of the text from the novel that you’re happy about.
Yes. Most definitely. Some parts of our writing come so effortlessly, so fluidly – they just waltzes right in. The letter from Susan to Matthew, came that way to me. I think I had been thinking about it for so long that when I actually sat down to write it, words just poured out. But it is too long and too crucial an element, for me to share here.
- Would you like to share any reader feedback that strongly affected you?
I recently read the review by Tikuli. In fact, she had been sending me texts ever since she started reading the book, about how it was connecting with her. And accomplished poetess, writer and a blogger herself; it was so encouraging to hear those compliments from her. I think more than anything else that is what we writers crave the most – to connect with a reader on that profound and emotional a level. I was quite affected by her kind words. Still am, to be honest. You may read the whole review here (https://tikulicious.wordpress.com/2016/08/24/in-the-light-of-darkness-radhika-maira-tabrez/) and you’d know what I mean.
- Do you have any advice for other writers?
I am not accomplished enough to offer any, I feel. But will just share my learning in the entire journey of writing this book. Nothing works better than honest writing. The moment you start factoring in anything else – readership, popularity, what sells, what doesn’t – it adulterates your expression. So write from your heart first; then of course at a later stage, edit with a sharp mind.
- Do you have anything specific to share with your readers?
Read. As expansively as deeply as you can. Read what others are reading. Definitely read what others are not yet reading. And then spread the word about any good stuff that you come across. Help it reach more readers.
- Just saying it aloud… did you have any imaginary friends in your childhood?
Ha ha ha. No. But now I am very curious to know if that is a question you pose to everyone or was there some vibes I gave off that made you ask me that?
KK: Hahahaha…. that was just a “do-spill-your-secret-if-you-have-any” kind of fun question, Radhika. It was amazing interacting with you! Thanks a lot!
Thank You. It has been a pleasure answering your questions.
To read Kaffeinated Konversation’s Review of Radhika’s book: https://kaffeinatedkonversations.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/in-the-light-of-darkness-book-review/
Connect to her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/radhikamtabrez/
Radhika Maira Tabrez is a hustling mother by day and a writer by night. When she isn’t dancing to the tunes of her three-year-old son, or experimenting in the kitchen for her husband; she loves to read, watch movies, and engage in DIY home décor projects.
Her formative years were spent trying to muzzle the writer inside her, and fairly successfully too, considering she acquired along the way a full-time MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM), Pune and built a twelve-year career in Learning and Development.
During her time at SIBM, she became the first and till-date the only, female to be elected as President of Students’ Council in over 35 years of the Institute’s history.
The corporate life that ensued wasn’t a bad life to lead; except that often during the meetings at work, just as it had been at the lectures in college; her truant mind would escape to the world of stories she longed to tell. While professors and superiors admired her diligence in taking down every word they said, Radhika was actually documenting a conversation with her characters or sometimes, even with herself.
It soon got to the point where she realized that the only things she really cared about, were her infant son and… well, those voices in her head! Both, fought heroic battles to wean her away from the corporate life, until one day, as 2012 drew to a close, the battle was won. Love and Art triumphed over Reason and Industry, and she finally quit her job.
Initially, Radhika wrote non-fiction articles about things she saw and felt. As a new mother, with her hormones in the driver’s seat, it was both cathartic and easy to do. Encouragement from her husband and friends finally got this closet writer to start putting those thoughts out in the open. People found her writings a charming pot-pourri of hard-hitting and light-hearted ideas.
Her writings regularly feature on Readomania.com and her Facebook Page : ‘Just a thought – By Radhika Maira Tabrez’. Her stories have been published and recieved with rave reviews, in ‘UnBound – and eMagazine’; Sankarak and two of Readomania’s anthologies – ‘Defiant Dreams’ and ‘When They Spoke’.
Her debut novel would be out, later this summer.