Source : The Hindu Literary REVIEW – Sheila Kumar
‘My characters’ Muslimness is secondary to the story’
Andaleeb Wajid is a household name in Bengaluru, with a large oeuvre —18 novels and counting — that spans genres like Young Adult, romance, sci-fi and horror. Recently, a couple of her books have been optioned by film production houses. Wajid started off with slice-of-life stories about young Muslims but has broadened her scope with each book. Over the years, she has honed her craft well but is still writing from the heart. Excerpts from an email interview:
You are one of the most prolific published authors in the country today. What drives your pace and output?
I write constantly and consistently. After I wrote my first novel Kite Strings, I took a break, waiting for it to get published. When that happened three years later, I realised I’d been an idiot not to have been writing in that time. So I got down to writing continuously, making up for lost time!
Does contemporising your stories with its mainly Muslim milieu come easy or do you work at setting up and sustaining a specific atmosphere?
The Muslim milieu part was not deliberate at first, I was just writing stories from the lens through which I perceived the characters. But things changed along the way. If you read my earlier books like My Brother’s Wedding and the more recent ones like The Crunch Factor or Asmara’s Summer, there’s a decided shift in the way my heroines behave and think. There is lesser assimilation of what society expects and more assertiveness in the characters. This was a deliberate choice. I wanted to write stories everyone could relate to, and not just a ‘this is what happens behind closed doors in Muslim houses’ story which exoticises and otherises Muslims.
You are a publisher’s dream because you play a major part in promoting your work on social media and off it. Is this part of the job for you?
Well, I like to be involved in all the aspects of publishing because, at the end of the day, I want more people to read my books. I’m happy that there are new mediums available today to promote books.
It’s a combined effort — publishers have social media teams who come up with some excellent book-related creatives, and I try to push them as much as I can, on the different platforms I’m comfortable with.
The Muslimhood of your characters is kept light… is this deliberate?
Yes. My characters’ Muslimness is secondary to the story and sometimes, even incidental. Some of my recent books (It Waits, Night at the Warehouse) don’t have Muslim characters at all because I think the story comes first, everything else is secondary.
Continuing with Muslimhood, there is no mention of the problems Muslims face today in any of your books. The conflicts are all internal, not external. Would that be a conscious decision to steer clear of controversy?
To be honest, I haven’t given this much thought. I wanted to write stories about people like you and me. I’ve lived quite the cocooned and privileged life and have not faced the amount of discrimination others have faced. Maybe that has shaped my consciousness into writing narratives that are ‘normal’ rather than filled with conflict. Then, I don’t like controversies because at the end of the day, I don’t want anything to come in the way of my writing.
“I am flabbergasted when I meet with questions like, why didn’t you write this book in Urdu? How come you wear a burkha? There seems to be a big disconnect between my work and my personal appearance.” This is what you had told me years ago, in an interview for your first book, Kite Strings. Have things changed for you since then? Or have you changed?
Both. Things have changed because I think people have stopped seeing my burkha when they see me, which is what I’d wanted all along — people to focus on my work and not my appearance. I too have changed in the sense that I’m more tuned in to the world around me, especially in the current political climate. If I don’t feel comfortable wearing a burkha somewhere, I don’t. The choice is mine and it always has been, actually. I just didn’t know that with as deep a conviction as I know it now.
Tell us about the MAMI Word to Screen sessions you attended last year and this year.
MAMI Word to Screen is a great opportunity for content creators from films and web series to learn about authors and their books. Two of my books were shortlisted last year and I had to pitch them on stage, for producers and content creators. I went in with no idea of anything and came back having learned quite a bit. This year, my books were only longlisted, which meant I didn’t have to do the stage bit but could still meet producers and others who showed interest. Seema Mohapatra’s StoryLoft Productions has already optioned Asmara’s Summer and The Crunch Factor to adapt for web and feature film, and there’s been a lot of interest from platforms and production houses like Netflix, Amazon, Sony Pictures, etc. Apart from these, a few production houses like Hotstar, Jio have picked up some of my work for reading and evaluation; but of course, these things take time.
What’s up next?
As of now, there’s House of Screams, which was published by Penguin Random House last month. I have a romance novel, A Sweet Deal, which will be published by Fingerprint next year. I’ve pitched a couple of ideas to my publishers and I’m waiting for the go-ahead before I can start working on them.
The interviewer is a manuscript editor and novelist based in Bengaluru.