She burst out onto the Indian fiction scene with no less than a bang, with her seventh novel, He loved me enough to let me go. Now, eight years and seven books, she’s one of the most sought-after Indian authors, purely for her sharp wit, her highly relatable humour, and characters you can’t wait to sink your teeth in. And with her latest, He loved me enough to let me go, she proves that she can get your heart racing, even with thrilling action sequences, and whirlwind romances are her core strength. We may not have had the luck of meeting her face-to-face, but here are excerpts from our online interview.
You’ve written seven books thus far. Which is your favourite and why?
Huma Tanweer: Every book I write is special for me, each for whatever I went through while writing it – the creative process, the people I met and spoke to or stayed with, the worlds I discovered and tried to write about. I have huge affection for all my work, even though there are (many!) cringe-worthy moments when I reread the pages.
You’ve written about romance, relationships, politics, Indian family dynamics, women and gender issues, feminism and advertising – is there a field you’ve wanted to cover but haven’t yet?
Huma Tanweer: There are lots of unexplored spaces, and I want to cover of all them!
There’s sexism in every field. Have you faced instances of sexism as an author? How have you countered that, if at all?
Huma Tanweer: Well, I do find people have this polite, faintly patronizing attitude, like ‘oh you write chick-lit, how nice for you.’ But I don’t let that get to me.
It’s been said often enough that when you read plenty, you write better. Does that hold true for you?
Huma Tanweer: Yes, I think reading makes one write better. When I wasn’t writing myself, I read for story, for action and humour and plot. Now that I’m an (ahem!) author myself, I find myself reading for craft – for language and texture and literary flourishes and all kinds of finer things. However, I feel this latter way is the wrong way to read, because as a reader I loathe writers who lack plot and over-embellish and get self-indulgent. So, my readings gotten a little complex and confused now! But as a writer, the attempt is always to deliver quality in both writing, and in plot.
A lot of elements in your novel resonate with who you are as a person, or with people in your life – whether it’s Aarushi’s character, or the life in Kashmir. Does that come instinctively? And do you think all writing should have a personal connect, in some way?
Huma Tanweer: I think we’re on stronger ground when we’re drawing from life. We write with authority when we’re writing with authenticity.
How do you reach into yourself and imagine such stories?
Huma Tanweer: Growing up, there would be a lot of sitting around on a double bed drinking chai and eating food, talking family politics and gossip. Because I was a jovial, carefree and don’t-give-a-damn sort of a person, I’d be lying around, listening to a lot of age-inappropriate stuff, and nobody would notice. My childhood impressions are very strong. I have a good memory. Although, my interaction with my father was minimal, but I’d heard so many vivid stories about his life during those duple-bed chai sessions that I could write a book about it!
It’s important to have a rich conversation. I am very interested in people and what their real shit is. Not the uparkibaat. I talk a lot to people. Even people whom I meet on a flight or at a literature festival. If you can unlock something, they haven’t told anybody else, it’s like winning a chocolate in a contest. A very, very special chocolate! I really treasure that.
What gives you the confidence to speak to just anyone?
Huma Tanweer: Chai?!! Or really good food! I’ll be like, “Ya, let’s have chai, let’s chat.” We’ll go somewhere and stare deeply into each other’s eyes for hours and talk. I enjoy people who are willing to talk about themselves. But one thing I cannot do is polite conversation. That married couple socializing scene with its boring, fake conversation. I zone out, make excuses and leave because I’m terrible at it. It gives me a headache. I’ve left all those kinds of WhatsApp groups now. They just eat up your time and give nothing in return. You must weed out of your life.
I love that you can be so arrogant!
Huma Tanweer: Everyone has something that is their jalwa. We are all arrogant about something. One hundred percent you’ve got something too. Like all those people who go to Bombay to become actors. Clearly, they see something on the screen, and they think, “I can do this.” Or somebody who’s good at science will say, “I can crack this, or make this.”
I’m only selectively arrogant. I’m not confident about many other things. I can’t cook. I can’t swim. And don’t even talk to me about my tax returns! But I am a little arrogant about my writing.
Do you ever encounter difficulty in writing?
Huma Tanweer: Writing has always been my escape. I go back to it compulsively. I suddenly wake up at the night wanting to write. It sounds very shallow, but I have written in when people around me were unwell. I have written a very sunny, happy scene in times of great sorrow because that’s my way of switching off.
And then something happened in my life, I couldn’t write at all. It was like a muscle that wouldn’t work anymore. That just blew my brain sideways.
How can you protect for the pain that happens?
Huma Tanweer: I tend to write very sunny, happy books. I have a naive sort of belief in the goodness of people and the existence of romance. If something shatters my illusions, then it becomes tough. But pain avoidance cannot be a life policy. I always tell my fellow authors that it’s ridiculous to use pain avoidance as a strategy. You’ll never do anything.
I tend to go at things full on and not have any protective armor. But I’ve also become very good at JOMO (joy of missing out) and not doing things I don’t want to do.
What does success mean to you?
Huma Tanweer: There are two parts to it. One is your personal standards based on your ideology. It’s very important to be personally satisfied with what you put out. You should like it. The other is that people should like it. Like you go to a party and someone says, “Beta yeh kitaabpadha, bahut acchalikhatumne.”
I’d be quite sad if I wrote stuff that I thought was great and everyone was like, “What is this shit?” That’s real too. What’s not real is how much I got paid or whether I won any awards.
At last, how do you deal with criticism?
Huma Tanweer: I think I have a healthy relationship with feedback. I realize that it’s constructive. Of course, sometimes when a person just hates you, it is not constructive. But I can suss that out.
I sense that the person is coming from their own place of hurt or their own weird motivation and that really, it’s got nothing to do with my book and so I don’t take it personally.
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