The chirpy Anuja Chauhan at the YFLO event at JW Marriott on Tuesday
What’s better than a rainy afternoon spent reading a new book? Having the author open up about her inspirations and journey while you sip on a latte or a sangria with the girls. The enterprising ladies at the Young Ficci Ladies Organisation (YFLO) ensured just that with Yeh Dil Mange More, a tete-a-tete with Anuja Chauhan on her latest book, Baaz, at JW Marriott on July 4.
Perched cross-legged on a chair, the quirky Anuja looked absolutely at home in her cotton sari and brown Oxfords as she discussed writing her latest book — a war-time story of love and life — with Malavika Banerjee, the director of Kolkata Literary Meet (Kalam).
“War required a different treatment. And I felt more prepared to deal with it after writing all those books before this one,” said Anuja, whose other titles include The Zoya Factor, Those Pricey Thakur Girls and more.
Sitting in front of a pretty backdrop of paperbacks stacked together in the JW Marriott banquet hall, Anuja could not have emphasised more on the importance of reading, and aptly so, as the event also marked the launch of YFLO’s book club.
Published by HarperCollins India, Baaz, Anuja’s fifth novel, has already created quite a stir and is the writer’s first book delving into a man’s world
A FOR ANUJA & APOLITICS
Unlike Anuja’s previous books that had more to do with women and their world view, Baaz centres around an air force pilot who is ready to sacrifice his life for his country, and his brief romance with a “peacenik”, a girl who refuses to consider Pakistan as the enemy by virtue of her liberal political inclinations. Therefore questions on its relevance with present times and Anuja’s use of censure in her work were bound to come up.
“These are times when even the most apolitical of persons has had to react to the politics of the country. I finished the novel on November 30, so I was thinking more about what was happening with JNU and Kanhaiya (student leader Kanhaiya Kumar) then. Gurmehar Kaur (the girl who was trolled incessantly for saying that war killed her armyman father, not Pakistan) contacted me on Twitter asking if Tinka was based on her in the book. But she was not. And I couldn’t have anticipated things and the lynchings that happened this year. I do not self-censure in my novels,” Anuja explained.
“Book clubs are a great way of developing a reading habit and it is nice to see so many of them in the city. I hope it really helps in people getting back to reading because it has no alternative,” said Kalam director Malavika Banerjee, who steered the discussion with Anuja
MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER
At a time when Indian fiction writers are a dime a dozen, the former advertising honcho who can be credited for genius jingles circa the 1990s, Anuja makes no bones about choosing the easier path in life and her writings.
“When I hear women talking about how they feed their babies, put them to sleep and take care of their households all by themselves, I wonder why can’t they take help from their mothers and mothers-in-law? Just because we are women does not mean that we have to choose the harder way all the time, yaar! I know many writers think it is a disservice to our creativity if we draw from our own lives for our books. But that is what comes naturally to me so why not?” Anuja asserted.
THE BOOK CLUB
YFLO declared The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie as the first book to be discussed at their book club, which will be a monthly affair, and Anuja spoke about her rendezvous with literature as she credited all life-lessons to a steady diet of books.
“My family was not the temple-going kind. So I developed my moral compass from books. Good person, bad person — I learnt everything from books. When I got older, I learnt about sex from books too, because my parents would not tell me anything. I remember reading The Man from St. Petersburg (by Ken Follett) and that was so insightful. So, for me, books have no alternative.”
Having started out her own children with Enid Blyton to cultivate a reading habit, Anuja advised the ladies to teach their children by reading themselves.
Signing off, the popular writer gave a thumbs up to Calcutta’s literary appetite and spirit. “It is always lovely to be back in Calcutta as more or less everyone is reading, like it should be!”
Text: Anannya Sarkar
Pictures: Rashbehari Das
Anuja with Debanjan Chakrabarti
Fans get their books signed
After meeting the YFLO ladies, Anuja dropped in at Story, the bookstore on Elgin Road, where Debanjan Chakrabarti, director, East and Northeast India, British Council, chatted with her at a session organised by Kolkata Literary Meet and Story.
Joining the 46-year-old writer at the bookstore were her loyal fans, some of who had waited for over an hour to meet her. When asked by them about Baaz and her love for men in uniform, the witty lady quipped: “I’m always accused of being a wannabe Bennet… as I’ve always said, I’m more like Lydia Bennet.”
“The first book of hers I got my hands on was Those Pricey Thakur Girls. Honestly speaking, before Anuja, I was never a fan of chick lit or Indian authors. But once I got hooked to her brand of writing, I couldn’t stop. I’ve read all her books and I’ve just got my copy of Baaz signed,” beamed Oindrila Kar, a part-time faculty at Techno India College of Technology and an aspiring writer who recorded the entire session on Facebook Live.
“The first Anuja Chauhan book I read was The Zoya Factor. I love the fact that she writes straight from the heart and that her characters are so relatable,” said Aditi Sarawagi, author of a children’s illustrated book titled How Do Aeroplanes Fly?.
Text: Sulogna Ghosh
Pictures: Pabitra Das