Like the characters of her work-in-progress, The Sum Of All My Parts, author Andaleeb Wajid crochets intricate patterns with words, weaving through layers to arrive at the meaning at the center of her characters’ lives. Having decided to be a writer at the tender age of ten, Wajid’s works afford us a glimpse into roles we may never inhabit – a headstrong young girl in an orthodox Muslim household, a bookworm navigating the Big Fat Indian Wedding through the blogosphere, three generations of women who tell their stories through recipes. Wajid draws inspiration from the life around her. Here, she talks to us about her childhood, her love of food and her philosophy of life.
The Fuschia Tree: When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
Andaleeb Wajid: I was probably ten. I was sitting at my father’s desk in his home office and the feeling just kind of swooped down over me – all I wanted to do was to sit at a desk and write.
TFT: What did you grow up reading?
AW: The usual Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and lots and lots of Reader's Digests. And, of course, Phantom, Mandrake, Tinkle and my English textbooks.
TFT: Did anyone ever try to dissuade you from becoming a writer?
AW: Thankfully, no. Everyone has always been extremely encouraging.
TFT: What was the first piece of writing you published, and at what age?
AW: It was in the Deccan Herald and I was in college then, probably 19 or so.
TFT: What inspired you to begin writing a book?
AW: The idea of writing a book was daunting. I was happy writing short stories until a publisher told me that there were more chances of a novel getting published than a collection of short stories. At that point, I wasn't doing it for the whole “I'm a writer, I need to get a book published,” kind of thing. Writing was all I knew, and I felt like it would be an achievement to write an entire book, so I gave it a go. I tried to string together a couple of my short stories, and eventually they took the form of Kite Strings, my first book.
TFT: How long did it take to finish?
AW: I wrote very sporadically, so it took nearly two years. Now, I look back and wonder why I took so long. Since then, the longest I've taken to write a book has been six months.
TFT: How much of the life around you is reflected in your books?
AW: Initially, quite a bit. I've tried to separate myself from my characters and feel like I've been successful. Nevertheless, the settings of my books are the places that are closest to me.
TFT: Which part of your life is reflected the most in your books?
AW: The normal everyday life of an average Muslim woman I suppose, which somehow comes as a surprise to many readers who find that their view of Muslim women as fed by Bollywood is not quite accurate. However, I have also written a few books that do not revolve around Muslim characters, so I would say that one of my most recurring themes is finding direction and understanding what you really want to do in life, irrespective of your religion or beliefs.
TFT: How much appeal would your books have to readers outside of India?
AW: I'm not really sure, because when I write I am not concerned with the reader as much as I am with getting the story out. I like to think that good stories overcome cultural barriers. As one of the reviews of My Brother's Wedding put it, “What makes the book stand out is the unapologetic representation of a well-to-do, modern, but somewhat conservative Muslim family and the dichotomy that faces the children of such a family when they step out in a world where traditional barriers are being challenged everyday.”
TFT: From all the books you’ve written, which is your favourite?
AW: It's hard to pick favourites, but I would choose two. One is More Than Just Biryani which is being published this year by Amaryllis. It's a book that is close to my heart because of the emotional journey that the three women protagonists take with the help of food. The other is an unpublished work called The Sum Of All My Parts and is my favourite because I feel it is my most refined piece of written work yet, but with a lot of heart in it.
TFT: The Sum Of All My Parts is about four women figuring out life through a crochet class. What inspired this book?
AW: Usually, it's a tiny idea that somehow manages to balloon into a book over time. In this case, I've always been fascinated by crochet because of my grandmother, who loved to crochet, and who tried unsuccessfully to teach me this craft. I felt that writing about it would be a tribute to her, although in time the book evolved into a grand love story, the kind that survives and resurfaces even after decades. I think one of the reasons I wrote this book was because there are so many layers to people and we are often content to believe the one layer that we get to see.
TFT: Being a writer myself I know the tendency not to finish every book we start. How many unfinished stories do you have?
AW: I had a folder in my computer a few years ago while I was still working at a regular job. It consisted of stories that I had started but never gotten around to working on. Since I quit my job, I'm happy to say that the folder has been methodically demolished, leaving only one story which I'm not sure is good enough to turn into a book.
TFT: Who was the first to read your work?
AW: My siblings and a few select friends on whom I rely for impartial reviews.
TFT: If you could go back in time, what are the two points in your life you would like to relive?
AW: I suppose any time when I was a child and my father was alive and completely healthy. There are tiny moments of happiness in our lives that evaporate soon enough, and we don't know any better than to grab them and hang on to them. I would just love to relive those.
TFT: What’s a normal day in your life like?
AW: It differs a lot based on whether I am currently writing a book or not, and whether my boys have school or not!
TFT: Which character from literature are you most like?
AW: Not to be presumptuous (I know you probably weren't referring to my own books), but my next book, My Brother's Wedding, has a character called Rabia (also known as Q) and she's this arrogant diva-ish kind of older sister to the protagonist. For some reason, my siblings felt that I'm a watered down version of her. I know, siblings, right! However, I think I'm most like Mehnaz from my first book, Kite Strings.
TFT: What would you have liked to be, if not a writer?
AW: I love baking; I'd probably have tried to open a patisserie.
TFT: What’s your favourite dish?
AW: There's this fabulous prawn masala that my mom makes. Can't think of anything else that comes close to it – not even biryani!
TFT: Who are some of your favourite writers?
AW: Jodi Picoult, J. K Rowling, Martha Grimes, Agatha Christie, Jhumpa Lahiri and Marian Keyes.
TFT: If you could live on only four foods (you have these in abundance), including the essentials like salt, water, gin, what would they be?
AW: Chocolate, pears, ice cream and apples.
TFT: You're traveling around the world with one book and one song. What are they?
AW: The book would be The Holy Quran. It's not just a religious text, but a way of life and a guide that has come to my aid many times. The song is a bit more difficult, because I suppose I'd tire of any song eventually.
TFT: What song describes you best?
AW: ‘Aane Wala Pal Jaane Wala Hai’ from the 80's Golmaal. It talks about seizing the moment, and that's what I believe in.
TFT: What were some of the jobs you had when you were young?
AW: I did a stint as a technical writer and then as a content writer for a documentation company. I started out on the job scene very late.
TFT: What would you tell a lost, young practitioner in your field?
AW: Grow a thick skin. Stop taking rejections personally (I really should practice what I preach!). Be extremely bullheaded about your work and don't stop writing just because you've finished a book and are waiting to get it published. I made that mistake and waited for four years before starting on my second book.
TFT: Besides your work, what is the one thing that completely consumes you?
AW: Guilty pleasures, like watching reruns of The Vampire Diaries.
Sanjana Kapur, a writer by profession, loves children’s books and finding stories wherever she goes. She currently makes a living writing for children.
Andaleeb Wajid is a Bangalore-based author who likes to write about food, relationships and weddings, not necessarily in that order. She is married with two sons, who unwittingly add a lot of colour to her vocabulary.
Perennial discontent is the determinant characteristic of human nature. Our aversion to satisfaction is what keeps us eternally curious, always searching for something more meaningful around the next corner. We peck through the unraveling entrails of our past for prophecies of the future, chase recurring motifs to root out their significance, and search for signs in the banal backdrop of everyday life.Read More
By Sanjana Kapur, Issue 25, Meaning: In Search of Significance.