Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rakhi Spirit : Meghna Pant and Sorabh Pant

This RAKHI, i have a mindblowing Post.  A double interview of a famous brother and sister duo.

Meghna Pant, author of acclaimed novel, 'One & a half wife' and Sorabh Pant,  Inida's top 10 performing  Comedian and author of  'The Wednesday Soul'.

Read on.....

1. Hello Meghna.  Congratulations on your debut novel, ‘One and a half wife’.

Thank you.

2. Your novel spans a period of sixteen years to and fro, from Shimla. Was this a deliberate attempt to focus on the changing social mindsets?

Yes, I think India has changed dramatically since 1991, which was the year we opened our country to foreign investment. Little did we know then the social revolution that MTV and ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ would bring. I was just entering my teens at that time and became part of the first Indian generation of teenagers to watch American television and a Michael Jackson concert. India then and India now are almost two different countries. I didn’t visit India for two years between 2008-10, and on my return felt so outside of it, like it had changed beyond belief. So for someone who left India in say 1990 and didn’t come back till 2006, which is similar to what happened to Amara and her family, imagine the culture shock of returning to a home that’s become a stranger to you.

3. Any autobiographical part? Have you also studied in American High School like Amara?

Most debut authors write autobiographical fiction. I didn’t. Amara’s story and persona are quite divergent from mine, and that to me is the point of writing: to put yourself in an unfamiliar environment and encapsulate someone quite unlike you. To write about a journalist, or Mumbai, or an extrovert, would have been easy for me, since I am familiar with these, but I want to challenge myself when writing, and push my boundaries to see how far my imagination and sub-conscience can take me.

And no, I didn’t move to the US till my late twenties, and that too just to work there.

4.The mention about the distancing between Amara and her NRI cousins seems to be a NRI reality.  Do you think NRI’s are guilty of not acquainting their kids with their Indian roots?

Quite the contrary.
I’ll tell you a personal story. When I first went to the US, an uncle and aunty in their late 50’s – distant family friends – came to pick me up from the airport. During the car ride they asked me – after knowing me for all of five minutes – whether I had Muslim friends. I was shocked. Having grown up in Mumbai, I have never made friends on the basis of religion, and this seemed to me a very archaic, bigoted way of thinking. But it captures the mentality of a lot of NRI’s, especially those in the US.

NRI’s think they are steeping their children in Indian morals and norms, which don’t even exist in India anymore. Especially in the US where it’s difficult to keep coming to India for visits, most NRI’s have lost touch with their motherland, and in an attempt to hold on to some identity and “roots” they practise what they grew up with in yesteryear India. This to them is still India, while modern day India has moved forward – in many ways – by leaps and bounds. In ‘One & A Half Wife’ I am capturing NRI’s who left India thirty-forty years ago and are stuck in a moral time capsule.

5.  Do all Indian migrants from India suffer from an inherent restlessness, a silent pull from native India?

I’ve lived outside India for almost ten years now, except for some time in between. And I admit that I am always craving to come back. I miss home, and the sheer madness and energy of India.
Indian migrants are a divided lot. Since I’ve lived in Europe, South-East Asia, America and the Middle East, I’ve seen a whole spectrum of NRI’s. While in Singapore and Dubai most NRI’s are very connected with India, due to their frequent visits made easy by the short distance, those in Europe find themselves in a truly foreign environment, where few speak English and there are no familiar auspices, so they really pine for India.

The US though breeds a different kind of NRI community. Having made a life so far from home, struggling with the rigours of obtaining a Green Card, assimilating in an open society that speaks a familiar language and allows diversity to thrive, Indians there are proud of being in America. Driven and successful, they instill so-called “Indian” values in their children, especially when it comes to marriage, food and festivities, but are happy to embrace the American work ethic, accent, passport and ambition. NRI kids in the US are generally the most confounded lot; they look down upon Indians from India (FOBs), state that ‘dal’ looks like puke (very similar to what Prashant says in the novel), but come home to parents who speak in an Indian accent and find them a good Indian spouse. They live under the shadow of two disparate identities, and I completely empathise, on one level, how difficult it must be to not know who you really are, which is why every reader feels some compassion for Prashant.

6. Amara is a millennium girl, living in America. But she does not have a boy friend, Indian or American?

Biji would not allow it.

7. The relationship between Amara and Prashant never even takes off. Yet Amara leaves it to Prashant to make the final decision of a divorce.

There’s an old truth to life which I strongly believe in. If you don’t confront your fears and problems, they will come back to you in some form or the other, until you surmount them. Amara is aware that her marriage is not the real deal, but it sounds so perfect on paper and gives her parents everything they’d dreamt of, that she feels it a duty to her family and society. I wanted Prashant to leave her no option, to throw her out of the house (yet he is not the anti-hero), because sometimes you have to be forced to fail and make mistakes to move forward in life. Life on cruise-control, as Amara tries so hard for hers to be, would not have made her reach her potential and really experience life. 

9. Even today in UP and Haryana, women face tough and unfair stance from Khap panchayats. While divorce is not a trivial matter, in certain cases it becomes a necessity. How can we sensitize this in the middle class?

While earlier divorce was more widely prevalent in the really high or really low rungs of society, it is becoming more commonplace for the middle class. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to society, especially in states like UP and Haryana. I especially chose Shimla for Amara to come back to after her divorce, because if she’d returned to a city like Mumbai, she would not have faced such problems. Amara found a guide in Shikha, a divorce support group, she decided to get out of the house and stop hiding in shame, to become financially independent by setting up her own business, and even returned to society the treatment they meted out to her. These are small steps that women from the middle class can take.

10. With Aamir Khan advocating second marriages even in twilight years, through his serial ‘Satyamev Jayate’, are we moving towards acceptance of second marriages?

Hats off to Aamir Khan, not just for advocating second marriages and being an exemplary example of it, but also for tackling India’s biggest socio-economic problems in an intelligent, solution-oriented and sensitive way. I advocate this very concept through the character of Shikha in ‘One & A Half Wife’ who every Indian woman can seek hope from. She deals with her second marriage by becoming a stronger, more aware and better version of herself, and in loving herself attracts the kind of husband who is right for her.

11. The divorce laws in India are weak. A woman is not assured of basic rights, like a share of property and a settlement.  Why do you think this has not been brought to the fore by women lawyers, NGOs or lawmakers?

Like Aamir Khan says in RDB, ‘No country is perfect. We have to work to make it perfect.’

Give the system time. These lawyers, NGOs and regulators are trying. The recent amendments in the Hindu Marriage Bill are one such step. Divorce is still an almost sacrilegious concept clawing its way against the revered institution of marriage. It is not a statistic, like GDP growth, that we have to have a race for. It is a medium that changes the life of a family, of men, women and children.

And I believe that if we want women to have basic rights, then instead of criticising others and passing the blame, take responsibility for this injustice. Start a blog, stage protests outside the parliament, reach out to hapless women. We live in a free country and if we don’t like something, we can do something about it. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

12. A lot of women stay in unhappy marriages due to economic reasons or societal pressures.  Do you think the bias against divorced Indian women will ever end?

If not this form of bias, another one will emerge. Women – and men as well – will always face people’s judgements in whatever they do, unless they are already pre-approved by the generations gone by. As an individual you have to find strength within yourself and actually start trusting yourself, such that your voice becomes your true guiding light. 

I don’t believe in self-pity. For women in bad marriages who have to stay put, I say find happiness within yourself by doing small things that make you happy – eat chocolate, do social service, plant a rose tree. For women with the option to walk out, find the happiness that the universe has in store for you – learn salsa dancing, adopt a child, go live in a new country.

13. Do you think counseling can save a marriage gone wrong?

In the novel there is one paragraph that explains why a marriage cannot sometimes be saved:
“Prashant and Amara’s marriage hadn’t died dramatically. It had died of neglect and errors and abrasiveness. It died under a long protracted illness for which there was a diagnosis but no remedy.”

It’s easier to mend something that has cracked but not broken. Simply talking about things, communicating, can resolve many differences, and if it’s done in a healthy environment, with a marriage counsellor or a neutral friend, it could fix the relationship, or at least allow the couple closure if they still decide to go their separate ways.

14. Your debut novel is up for many awards. How accomplished do you feel about this?

The greatest award has been readers who’ve written in from all over India to say how much they enjoyed the novel. I feel happy and humbled, and hope that more people feel a connection with my writing.

16. What next?

My collection of short stories is ready for publication. I am also in the early stages of writing my second full-length novel based in – and between – India and China. It’s a dark comedy that portrays a family’s greed, lust and power, in the wake of geopolitical tension.

And now, a peek into the mind of the immensely talented and crazy Sorabh Pant: 


1. Congratulations on your novel Sorabh.

Muchos thankus :). 

2. The three words that come to my mind about your novel are:
Whacky. Imaginative. Energetic. Do you agree?

I think 'deeply twisted' and, 'the product of a deranged mind' have come to mind to some as well. But, those are the three words, indeed. I should just put them above my desk for the second book - whatever it may be :). 

3. Nyra belongs to the female group Delhi Belle, yet she is classified as a Wednesday soul in after
life - soul category with subconscious suicidal tendencies. It is only later yhat she becomes free
of tr Wednesday soul tag.

Nyra IS the female group, Delli Belle :). I'm actually planning a prequel on her actions and what she achieves. Will be much fun to see a kick-ass Delhi woman beating the crap out of all those idiot men. Also, she's wrongly tagged as a Wednesday Soul, by an afterlife officer who is too busy to give a damn :) - so, exactly like have our bureaucrats!

4. Why did you pick on Pythagoras as one of the characters from gone by era?

Well, the afterlife has Mathematicians who read your eye scores and tell you your karmic score. Who better than Pythagoras - our most famous Mathematician. I was thinking Aryabhatta and others but, I didn't want the afterlife to be only for Indians. People from other countries die too. The Greeks deserved a representative!

5. Seriously speaking (if this is possible!) what ar your views about the status of a soul once a
human dies?

Precisely what's there in the book actually. I sincerely hope that's how it happens - if God is compassionate and has a sense of humor and we know this is true because he/she gave Fardeen Khan a career! I do believe we will be judged on our actions and granted second chances - I mean there are so many total a-holes in the world, they deserve retribution! The bits about the flying birds and the Jumbo Jet Elephants is mere imagination though, that would be cool!

6. Are you a movie buff? Is this inspired from any Hollywood movie?

I'm an entertainment buff. I can't endure most novels that are beyond 400 pages. Unless you've written a classic - who has the time? I mean Tolstoy, Dickens, Dostoyevsky could, but, not everyone can. I wanted to make this novel insightful (hopefully), entertaining and half a joke every page. Hopefully, I succeeded. 

The big inspiration though was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and so many others - Phillip Pulman, Lee Child, Jonathan Stroud, Sussana Clark and numerous others were great inspirations too. And, of course our favorite books of fiction - mythology and religious books :).

7. How long did it take you to write this novel? Were there really 87 rewrites.

They were. I wanted it to be exactly 400 pages long and let the reader really get to know the world of death. My publishers basically said - you're not worth THAT much paper. They were right, I guess. I kept adding pages to each draft when I should have been subtracting but, my editors Prita Maitra and Aradhana Bisht were delightful. And, barring some silly typos (which were a technical gaffe) and some part of the climax - I love the book! 

8. Lastly I can only say one thing. I can’t wait to see you perform live. When are you coming to Delhi with ‘Pant on Fire?’

Ah, next Delhi show should be in August. I love the Dilli! It's so much heart and history. Follow me on Twitter @hankypanty and all the updates shall be there :). Hope to see you there soon. Will autograph your Wednesday Soul copy even! 

Thanks so much!

Thank you Sorabh for that delightful insight, and i am publishing it right NOW :)

Finallly the FUN part of this Post:

1.      What is your earliest memory of each other as kids?

 Meghna : Apparently I slapped him on the day he was born. To be fair, I was all of one and very upset that this little baby had put my mother in pain. But most of my memories are of him sleeping in the oddest of places – under the sofa, on top of a cupboard, in the bathroom. When I was seven, I remember trying to beat up my 100-pound best friend Gappu because she pushed Sorabh. This unfortunately set a trend, where instead of him beating up boys to protect me, I grew up beating up boys wherever we went if they dared to touch him.

Sorabh:  I was a pretty dazed kid. Meghna has some photographic memory of some really ridiculous incidents but, I think that's a mix of lies and imagination. Hahahahaha. My first memory was her being angry with someone who tried to bully me in a fancy dress competition. I thikn I was 5, that's probably when I first woke up.

Oh, and also - to wake me up in the morning my mom literally used to pick me up and throw me into a tub. I was like a mentally unstable kitten and barely be alive and would zombie walk to see this sister of mine nattily dressed and ready with pigtails and ridiculous spectacles in tow. This seemed to be the theme for life!

2.     Recall the most memorable Rakhi of your life.

SorabhI'm generally broke on Rakhi since I have 1 real sister (I hope) and around 7 cousin sisters. I'm more unhappy with my sudden lack of financial stability that I rarely have any coherent memory. :). No, but - it's always fun to meet everyone and pretend like they think I will protect them.

I think we did a trek once on Rakhi, which was pretty cool. We even did the 'ceremony' on Skype, so yeah we're tech whizkids!

Meghna : He  has answered that. 

3      You are both authors, so did you grow up on Enid Blyton,  Nancy Drew, James Hadley Chase?

Sorabh:  No, but, we've always had a completely different taste in reading even as kids. I remember reading all of Meghna's Enid Blyton's book for girls. Malory Towers, St. Claires and a really worn out copy of Naughtiest Girl in School - because I had no idea what a book was. Then I moved to Five Find Outers - which she can't stand :). So, even then they were differences. But, barring Blyton, Harry Potter, World According to Garp and the usual literary classics (Crime & Punishment, 1984, Old Man & The Sea) - we've probably never read the same genre of fiction, ever!

 Meghna :  He has  answered that.

4      Share one thing you adore about each other and thing that bugs you no end.

 Meghna : I love the fact that he’s really passionate about his job and had the courage to forsake security in a society like ours in pursuit of something he really loved. The only thing that bugs me about him nowadays is that he’s working too hard and it’s impossible to have a conversation with him, because he’s always interrupted by the phone, BBM, Email etc.

SorabhI think my sister herself would say - the thing that bugs me about me is my perfection. So, I'll give her that. It's Rakhi - so, why point out negatives? Even though, it sounds totally sissy to say this - but, she couldn't be a better sister.

I love her lunacy and how she's always  been there for me and the family. However, her American paranoia (a new found gift) is hilariously annoying. Don't put a cellphone and yourself in the same state as you - your face will melt etc. But, forget all that - my sister is awesome. If you disagree - she may knock you out.

5.      Your message to all the bro-sis out there this RAKHI.

Meghna: Make sure you get a nice gift, sisters. And don’t forget to give your brother a nice long hug.

Sorabh:  You share a damn bond - you came from the same gene pool. No one else (hopefully) on this planet did. It's a strong bond, exercise it. Talk to each other, hang with each other and it'll all be awesome. Also, buy our books for each other. The Wednesday Soul and  One and One & a Half Wife. It's the perfect gift. For each other. But, mainly for us!!

So, that brigs me to tthe end of a delightful post.  Hope you enjoyed it and  don't forget to buy their books, it is a great RAKHI offer!.