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Did not cave into the pressure of being funny in new book, says Twinkle Khanna | Eye News

Writing is a daily morning ritual for Twinkle Khanna. She starts as early as 4.30 or 5 am if she has a submission to make, or as soon as her daughter is off to school if deadlines aren’t looming. It continues till 11 am. This routine could even continue on vacations if she has a deadline, as happened recently. “Because I know my most productive hours, I’ve learned to be protective of it. I’m useless after the noon. At 3 o’clock, I find it difficult to even find words to say,” says Khanna. We met her 30 minutes past noon on a weekday at her sea-facing office in Juhu and though we wouldn’t agree with her statement, we chuckled along.

Khanna, who moved to London with her daughter Nitara last year to pursue an MA in fiction writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, is back in Mumbai to launch her fourth book, Welcome to Paradise. Coming after a gap of five years, the book presents five short stories spread across 200 odd pages and deals with heavy subjects like death, grief and betrayal. One can perhaps say that it is a slight departure from Khanna’s writing style, which is known to be ‘very funny’.

Over the conversation, we learn that it was a deliberate attempt by the 49-year-old best-selling author. “What really felt important to me with this book was the fact that I did not cave into the pressures that I’ve had all these years — of being Mrs Funnybone, of inserting a joke on every page. I wrote this book authentically, and with the stories that I chose to tell, and in the way that I chose to tell, which may not have always been the case,” she says, adding that she felt this pressure a lot of times over the years, most definitely during her last book, Pyjamas are Forgiving (2018). “I felt the pressure that they expect this from me, they need this from me and so I did (cave in) and those are my regrets,” she says. It was during this time that Khanna took a conscious call to do away with it. Stating that the pressure was internal and so was its shedding, she says, “my column has a different voice than my book and that’s how it is going to be for now.” The stories, she adds, can be humorous but only if they serve it.

However, this doesn’t mean that Welcomes to Paradise is dry. Some parts will make you smile or laugh quietly, the way humour always lurks around tragedy. “The humour will always be there. It may not be obvious though. It may be dark humour because I look at life in that manner so that seeps into the stories,” she noted, adding, “I can’t really write about serious things absolutely seriously, because I get bored.”

But is it tricky to balance humour with subjects that are dark? “No,” she puts it bluntly, adding that for her, the tricky part is the structures and the shape of these stories. Sharing an interesting behind-the-scene moment from the writing of this book, she says, “I had decided to write the story in the book, The Man From The Garage, in first person. And it was from Huma’s point of view but I realised it’s not enough. And that’s why the story has two points of view — Huma’s and Sara’s. In the beginning, there’s one chapter followed by another, so we are moving from one perspective to another. But as the mother and daughter get closer, you start seeing their perspectives come onto the same page, with different paragraphs. So there is also this sort of behind-the-scenes craft that is happening, that makes you feel that they’re far apart, and then they’re getting closer emotionally and on the page as well. So that sort of scaffolding was important to me.”

Festive offer

When it comes to the book, Khanna finds it difficult to pinpoint a particular year when she started working on it. Jelly Sweets, which is the last story in the book and borrows from her own great-grandmother’s life, was something that has been with her for the longest time. “I had notes written for it about eight years ago when I was a columnist with DNA. I remember Sarita Tanwar, my then-editor, looking at it and saying that it is beautiful and heart-tugging and asking why am I not finishing it. I told her that it was percolating in my brain and would take some time. Strangely enough, it was the last story I finished in this collection,” she says, adding that she started the story Welcome to Paradise before the pandemic and the others were written during her time at the university. “I wasn’t working exclusively on the book in the last five years. I set up Tweak, which took two years. Then I did my master’s, which kind of worked in conjunction with the book,” she says.

For Khanna, writing Jelly Sweets, which talks about the grief of losing a child, was partly a way to immortalise her history and legacy. “When you’re young, you’re looking forward and running. When you’re my age, you kind of slow down to stroll and look around. And then when you’re in your 70s and 80s, you sit on a bench and look behind. I’m in the strolling phase and I’m looking around, but I’m also reaching that bench stage in life. Somewhere, I felt that I was the last one to remember this story. And so it was important for me to (write it) in the form of fiction. While it is not exactly her story, my great-grandmother did lose her son, and later married her neighbour and then had many children in her glorious life after that,” she says, adding that the beauty of the story was that “there is so much sorrow in the world but there’s also joy, and that kind of counterbalances the amount of grief we have”.

Before bidding adieu, we asked Khanna about her student life, only to learn that she had been thinking about pursuing an MA for quite some time and like most people, she too was anxious about having someone to have lunch with. “Years ago when I took my son to a school-college counsellor to plan his further studies, I remember telling the counsellor that I wanted to go back to university. So maybe the idea was always there. During the pandemic, I took two courses from Oxford. By the time I finished, I felt like I had learned so much more about the structure of storytelling and the craft,” she says, adding that she was so happy being immersed in this world of writers and peers that she decided to go and pursue her master’s. When it came to having someone to have lunch with, she found friends in the third week of the university during a group project. They now have a group called ‘Scribes in the City’ and are still happy to annotate each other’s work. And, while it wasn’t a cakewalk considering she has moved five apartments so far, she admits being blessed to have the support of her family, including her 21-year-old son Aarav who made himself available to babysit her daughter when she needed it. Khanna recently completed her MA with her dissertation on non-linear narrative architecture and Alice Monroe’s stories being longlisted for the prestigious Pat Kavanagh Prize last month. “Being in a field of art that has no fixed formula, this validation from an academic institution is very gratifying, (sort of saying) that yes, you are on the right path,” she notes.

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