Refused to give in to the urge to be humorous in her forthcoming book, according to Twinkle Khanna

Twinkle Khanna spends her mornings writing. When she doesn’t have a deadline approaching, she begins as soon as her daughter leaves for school or as early as 4.30 or 5 am. It goes on till eleven in the morning.
“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,” claims Khanna. We met her at her Juhu office by the sea 30 minutes past noon on a weekday, and although we didn’t agree with her assertion, we nevertheless laughed.

Khanna is back in Mumbai for the launch of her fourth book, Welcome to Paradise. Last year, she relocated to London with her daughter Nitara in order to pursue an MA in fiction writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Following a five-year hiatus, the book features five short pieces spanning over 200 pages, addressing weighty topics such as betrayal, sadness, and death. It may be said that it is a minor divergence from Khanna’s well-known “very funny” writing style.

We find out throughout the talk that the 49-year-old best-selling novelist made a conscious effort at it.
“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.

That being said, Welcomes to Paradise is by no means dull. Certain passages will make you chuckle or smile since sadness is always laced with humor. “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 difficult to strike a balance between humor and serious subjects? “No,” she responds honestly, adding that the forms and structures of these stories are what get her excited. “I had decided to write the story in the book, The Man From The Garage, in first person,” she explains, providing an intriguing behind-the-scenes glimpse into the book’s writing process. And it was written from Huma’s perspective, but I realized it was insufficient. Because of this, there are two points of view in the story: Sara’s and Huma’s. We switch perspectives at the beginning of the book because one chapter is followed by another.

However, as the mother and daughter get closer, you can see how their differing points of view merge onto one page. Additionally, there is this type of behind-the-scenes craft at work that initially gives the impression that they are far away but eventually brings them closer together both on the page and emotionally. Therefore, I found that kind of scaffolding to be important.

Regarding the novel, Khanna cannot definitively say which year she began working on it. Something she has had for a very long time is Jelly Sweets, the final narrative in the book, which is based on the life of her own great-grandmother.

 “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 she also said “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,

Writing Jelly Sweets, which addresses the sorrow of losing a child, was one of Khanna’s ways of preserving her past 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 saying our goodbyes, we asked Khanna about her experience as a student. We discovered that she had been considering getting an MA for long time and, like most people, was nervous about going to lunch with someone. “I remember telling the school-college counselor I intended to return to university when I took my son there years ago to plan his future education. Perhaps, then, the notion has always existed. I signed up for two Oxford courses during the pandemic. By the time I was done, I felt like I had learnt a ton about the craft and the structure of storytelling,” she says, expressing her happiness at being surrounded by peers and other authors.

She made pals during a group assignment in the third week of university when it came to having someone to have lunch with. They continue to be glad to annotate each other’s work and now belong to a group named “Scribes in the City.” She acknowledges that moving five flats hasn’t been easy, but she is fortunate to have her family’s support, especially her 21-year-old son Aarav, who volunteered to watch her daughter when she needed it.

With her dissertation on non-linear narrative architecture and Alice Monroe’s pieces being longlisted for the coveted Pat Kavanagh Prize last month, Khanna recently finished her MA. “This validation from an academic institution is very gratifying, (sort of saying) that yes, you are on the right path—especially in the field of art, where there is no set formula,” the artist observes.

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