Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Kiran. Tell us something about yourself that not many people are aware of.
Kiran Manral: Thank you for inviting me. Well, I have zero survival skills. I don’t drive, swim or cycle.
Vinita Kinra: Share with us the moment when your heart said to you: “I want to be a writer!”
Kiran Manral: I don’t think there ever was a moment, I think I always knew from the time I was a very young girl that I would be a writer. It’s just that I took my own time to finally hunker down and write my first book.
Vinita Kinra: What sparked off the idea for your latest book, Karmic Kids?
Kiran Manral: Karmic Kids was actually my parenting blog, which chronicled the growing years of my son from the time he was a baby to the time he was ten. It was quite popular, and among the most well-read blogs in that space. I shut it when he turned ten, and when the idea to convert it into a book came to me, I approached Hay House with the proposal and they found it interesting and took it up.
Vinita Kinra: How much of your books are autobiographical where characters reflect your personal experiences?
Kiran Manral: My first book, The Reluctant Detective, most probably, was the closest to real life because it dealt with a thirty something suburban housewife. The subsequent books have seen me go beyond my comfort zone and write about 20 somethings and a 78-year-old (forthcoming in 2016).
Vinita Kinra: Who has been your greatest mentor?
Kiran Manral: My English professor at Mithibai College, Mrs. Srilekha Bose. I owe her all the confidence I have in my writing. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.
Vinita Kinra: Does the journey of seeing an idea develop and flourish into a full-fledged book teach you something about yourself or make you a better person in any way?
Kiran Manral: I think it taught me persistence, the ability to take rejection on the chin and not personally, and it taught me, most importantly, to believe in my work and myself.
Vinita Kinra: Having explored fiction and non-fiction in profound depths, which genre do you prefer?
Kiran Manral: I think both have their charms, but I err more on the side of fiction. It gives you more leeway to play around.
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?
Kiran Manral: I think promoting one’s books is a necessary evil in this day and age, and I do it gladly if it can help my book reach out to the readers. There is so much volume on the shelves every single day that it is a battle to just get your book noticed, and one must do all one can. Having said that, I now realize that the best marketing and promotion you could ever get is positive word of mouth. Left to me, I would prefer being left alone to just sit in my attic and get on with my writing, but I know it is necessary to get out there and talk about the books, and so I will. This is because I owe it to the book and the publishers who invest in it.
Vinita Kinra: In your personal context, is writing about escaping the reality or embracing it?
Kiran Manral: A bit of both. Also for me, it’s about creating an alternate reality. Writing is my inception—a parallel universe I inhabit while I am in the process of creating the book. I borrow heavily from the universe I inhabit in reality to build it, though.
Vinita Kinra: Do you think writing books is a viable career option as opposed to conventional professions?
Kiran Manral: Only if you sell in lakhs. Else stick to your day job to pay your bills.
Vinita Kinra: Trace for our readers your publishing journey. Was it fraught with challenges or did you encounter beginner’s luck?
Kiran Manral: Well, I had been blogging for quite a while when two dear friends, Parul Sharma and Priyanka Chaturvedi, coaxed me with a lot of insistence to write a book. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis and sent it off with a hope and a prayer to Deepthi Talwar at Westland, who liked it and asked to see the rest and that was it. Beginner’s luck, I guess. That was how my first book came out. I had to struggle a fair bit for the next one, though.
Karmic Kids: The Story of Parenting Nobody Told You
Did I really make this wailing ball of flesh?
He had been nine months in utero, and god knows, I was curious to see how he’d turned out. So when they placed him on my stomach, a little mewling ball of flesh, I recoiled. The blood, the blood. I am, to put it politely, a little squeamish about blood. It was a miracle I didn’t pass out from the sight of this little creature they said they’d pulled out of me, even though it bore little resemblance to a human right now, never mind that it gave credence to the man descended from the apes theory. And of course, there was the myopia. Mine not his.
“Where are my spectacles?” I squealed, realising that the first moments of mother child bonding were to be perennially marred by the fact that I couldn’t see him too clearly. And of course I wanted to see him clearly, I had a roster list of things to be tick marked off, five digits per limb, one nos male appendage, two eyes, two ears, one mouth and such.
“Where are my spectacles?” I squealed again. The anaesthetist looked at the gynaec who looked at the nurse who then looked at the ward boy who grunted and looked around in a fair amount of confusion before it dawned on the cabal that the spectacles in question had been handed across to the mater for safekeeping, and the mater was outside the operation theatre, and a minion was despatched to retrieve the spectacles from her, and my mater in keeping with her penchant for keeping everything safely, had deposited the spectacles in the shelf back in the hospital room we were in, which was at a considerable distance away from the operating theatre. Consequently, my first view of the offspring was that of a red blur that looked somewhat like a newborn kitten or puppy, although the primary impression, in retrospect, was that of a monkey. Maternal love did not well immediately in the maternal breast, I must confess.
They whisked him off to be cleaned up, weighed and tested and announced proudly to me that he’d got an AGPAR of nine and my competitive streak automatically reared its ugly head and asked what the top score in this test was, and damn it, if he couldn’t ace his AGPAR now what hopes did we have at the JEE some years down the line.
I should have kept those spectacles handy. Perhaps for the next offspring, I told myself.
I stared at the little mewling ball of flesh kept gently next to me, the side of me that wasn’t attached by intravenous needle to drip. Just then, he scrunched up his face or the crumpled, wizened red squashed thing that was his face then and opened his eyes to look at me. Grey eyes. I froze. I imagined the spouse dashing off paternity suits and shaking an irate fist at me. Such lovely grey eyes and thick curling lashes. The newly minted maternal heart, it completely melted into mush, the oxytocin I know now, that had kicked in, and how. I would fight tigers barehanded, climb down cliffs, throw myself in the path of a speeding, and even do calculus again if I needed to, for this child.
Vinita Kinra 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.