Esha Pandey currently lives in the beautiful isles of Lakshadweep and is finally making her debut as an author. She is an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and holds a Masters in International Relations and Masters of Philosophy in American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Before becoming a civil servant, she dabbled with the idea of being a journalist and worked with Times of India as copy editor. She has won the United Nations FPA Award for Excellence for the best short story. I Will Meet You There is her debut collection of short stories.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Esha. Tell us something about yourself not many people are aware of.
Esha Pandey: Hello! Thank you for having me. Well, a lot of people were caught unawares when my book came out. Professionally, I am an IPS (Indian Police Service) officer and not expected to write. But I have been writing since my school days. In fact, it was this interest in writing which forced me to join Times of India as a journalist. So, a lot of people don’t know that I interviewed famous Indian cricketer Dhoni, when India was playing against England at Green Park in Kanpur.
Vinita Kinra: How has life on the exotic Lakshadweep islands shaped your writing?
Esha Pandey: Lakshadweep came at a very important point in my life. My first born was a few months old and I really needed a very slow-paced life. Lakshadweep offered ample opportunity to write. The matriarchal society of Lakshadweep influenced in shaping some very strong women characters in my stories.
Vinita Kinra: What triggered the idea for your debut collection of short stories, I Will Meet You There?
Esha Pandey: Since I have been writing from a very young age, I always dreamed about publishing my book. Somewhere the idea got lost. I was very busy with my career, then I got married and was not able to write that often. Then came the posting to Lakshadweep and my life opened up. I could write and play with the idea of publishing my book. Though the Indian publishers prefer novels to short stories, I still tried my luck at publishing my collection and it worked.
Vinita Kinra: You explore different facets of love in your first book. In your perspective, how has the concept of love evolved in contemporary times?
Esha Pandey: I don’t think the concept of love has changed too much. However, our expectations from the relationships have surely changed. There are still no boundaries for people who fall in love, but how they behave when they fall in love has changed.
Vinita Kinra: What other themes do you intend to unravel in your forthcoming books?
Esha Pandey: I am keeping an open mind although writing about love and creating characters who are in love is my escape from reality. My book, I Will Meet You There, also deals with various relationships like those between in-laws, between a boy and his grandfather, and so on. I would like to focus more on human relationships and various sentiments which accompany love in my future books.
Vinita Kinra: If you could summon the genie, which author from the past or present would you like to be and why?
Esha Pandey: It would have to be Jane Austen, hands down. She has inspired generations after generations to be proud and confident. Be it Elizabeth Bennet, Emma or Fanny, her protagonist is a super confident girl, who never tries to fit in. She is accepted with her flaws and that is the beauty of her writing. She leaves you wanting more. Even today, so many years after Pride and Prejudice was published, one wants to know what happened at Pemberley after Lizzy and Darcy got married. She has created characters and stories which are etched in our memories and make us go back to them again and again.
Vinita Kinra: How important is the commercial side of writing and promoting your books as opposed to the sheer joy of the creative art of expression?
Esha Pandey: In this day and age, promoting your book is very important. If a book is not promoted properly, it might never reach the target audience. It does steal your thunder and leaves you anxious, as you can never know how much promotion is enough. With beginners, publishers leave most of the promotion to the author. So unlike earlier times when you could write the book and forget about it, now you have to be on your toes and put yourself out there. Sadly, there are many authors writing similar books, and your promotion strategy ultimately affects your sales and not the story of the book.
Vinita Kinra: Do you think writing books is a viable career option as opposed to conventional jobs?
Esha Pandey: Once you are established, yes it is, but not for beginners like me.
Vinita Kinra: Is there any habit, belief or superstition you associate with your writing process?
Esha Pandey: Not really. I write whenever I can. I hardly ever have the luxury of time with two kids, a demanding job and a fairly laidback husband.
Vinita Kinra: Aside from writing, what are your other passions?
Esha Pandey: I love singing and listening to music. I also enjoy traveling.
Vinita Kinra: Tell us about your publishing journey. Was it smooth or bumpy?
Esha Pandey: While the market has opened up for novelists, there are very few takers for the short story. It took a long time for me to find a publisher (whom I liked). There were small publishing houses which were willing to take my book on, but I wanted more. My suggestion for anyone who is looking for a publisher is to wait. Do not accept the first contract which comes your way.
An excerpt from the story, “The Kiss of Life”:
Five days after I left Lucknow, my course began. One day when I was walking from my hostel to the Library, it started raining. I was wearing an ankle length skirt, so I pulled up my skirt a little and started running towards the Library. Suddenly I saw somebody running towards me with an umbrella. And then I was under the umbrella with the most handsome man I had ever seen. He had jet black hair, big black eyes, and he was fairly tall.
“Excuse me Ma’am,” he said, “I need a favour.”
“What is it?” I asked, “I have got myself into this stupid bet and five hundred rupees are at stake. I have to kiss the most beautiful girl on this campus while it’s raining. Please help me.”
I don’t know what got into me and I said, “Do you always take permission or are you just being polite?” and the next moment the umbrella was shut and it was raining on us and Raphael kissed me for the first time while his friends cheered him on. I forgot the time, the place, the rain, myself and the public, when he kissed me. When he stopped, said thank you and walked away, I had to lean on a tree to stop myself from falling.
Next time when we met, that is, the next day, he told me that he was visiting his cousin in the university and there was no bet involved. It was just impulse. He saw me running in the rain and knew what to do. We started dating and I realised that like me, Raphael liked to stretch limits as well. He was a pilot, posted in Delhi at that time so we got to see a lot of each other and at a time when nobody was around me, he was my support system. However, he fell in love with me before I could. He says: ‘I am a feminine answer to his male quest’ and while I was in my second year of the course, he proposed.
Vinita Kinra, featured among 150 most remarkable Canadians, is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.