An Exclusive Interview with Bestselling Author Neelam Kumar


TLT: Firstly, big congratulations on your inspiring life journey and for all the milestones that you have achieved. Well, can you please share your experiences as a Cancer Crusader with us!

Neelam Kumar: Thank you!  While we struggle with one C—Corona, why do we forget the threat of the other C? Cancer? I have used the horror script of my life—early widowhood; single parenting; the unimaginable struggles; my encounters with Cancer (s) to live with courage, hope, and joy and infuse the world with positivity through my books and motivational talks. One person in India dies of cancer every 50 seconds. The number of cancer cases in India is predicted to double in the next 20 years. Yes, the truth is India is sitting on the verge of a cancer epidemic. And yet there is so much ignorance and lack of awareness about cancer.

Myths and superstitions abound around cancer. I was horrified to hear stories of village women getting beaten by their husbands for getting “infected” by cancer, before being thrown out for a new, younger woman. Or a father diagnosed with cancer opting to save his treatment money for the dowry of his only daughter. I decided to do my bit to shed off the fatalistic, resigned view of cancer many of us have. I decided that I would come out in the open about my illness and celebrate life. To tell people that cancer is no longer a death sentence if you catch and treat it early. This is why I became a Cancer Crusader.

Bestselling Author Neelam Kumar with her books

TLT: What was the impetus behind this very special book of yours, To Cancer, with Love: My Journey of Joy?

Neelam Kumar: When Cancer struck a second time, I began looking for hope and joy to lift my spirit. Unfortunately, I found grimness everywhere—classic movies like “Anand” in which the silently suffering, sacrificing hero inevitably dies. In the three classics, I read “Tuesdays With Morrie” he dies; in “Grace and Grit” she dies; In “The Last Lecture” he dies. I had made up my mind that the rest of my life would be the best of my life. I wanted a happily-ever-after story for myself. Finding no happy book on Cancer in India, I decided to write one myself. That is how “To Cancer with Love-My Journey of Joy” was born. It was picked up by Hay house publishers and zoomed on to become a bestseller.

My book is about an alter ego-Carol, who emerges in my darkest moments to make me see life through her own lens of undiluted joy. Carol is witty, spunky, and a joyous adversity fighter. All I had to do after that was to follow my own script. Somewhere during the pain of Chemotherapy, I became Carol herself– despite my bald head. My book “To Cancer with Love” by Neelam Kumar has helped thousands of stricken, suffering, and their caregivers find hope. Very happy to share that the new edition of this book has just been released. Have you ordered your copy yet and dropped a review on Amazon to bring hope into the lives of the stricken and the suffering?

TLT: You have written 10 books in a stride of a few years only. So, what are some of the tips that you would give those authors, who want to stay long in the field and make it big like you?

Neelam Kumar: Be unrelenting in the pursuit of your craft. Make a difference through your words.

TLT: You’ve also worked with the legendary author, Khushwant Singh in your book, Our Favourite Indian Stories. Therefore, can you please describe your experience of working with the legendary Indian Author!

Neelam Kumar: The experience was a life-transforming Master class. I learned the art and science of writing a bestseller from the literary giant and hard taskmaster, Mr. Khushwant Singh himself. He had seen a spark of brilliance in the amateurish books I wrote before he made me the offer of co-authoring a book with him. I had just come back from the USA after topping my Master’s in Journalism course. He punctured my ego every time I cribbed about the hard work he was putting me through. “America ke liye kafi kur liya, apne desh ke liye kya kiya? Kaisi writer hai tu?”That would quieten me down. I always felt I was working towards a bigger cause. With no Google to help me, I had to travel to each State of India to collect and translate hitherto unknown, untranslated literary gems in regional languages of India to make them accessible to English-speaking readers. I also did a lot of footwork to physically visit Sahitya Akademi, libraries, and unknown regional authors across the country.

 Our book –Our Favourite Indian Stories by Khushwant Singh and Neelam Kumar become a bestseller. In fact, it still is, long after Mr. Singh has passed away. What did I gain? The precious secret of writing bestsellers was finally revealed to me. I also received invaluable training from a litterateur of Mr. Khushwant Sigh’s stature. I shall be ever grateful for that.

TLT: With 10 books already in the shelf and surely many more to come, what has been your biggest learning as an author?

Neelam Kumar: That words can calm, inspire, reassure. They can also create misunderstanding, confusion, and chaos. This is why Authors will continue wielding power and this is why we must choose our words carefully.

TLT: Well, for many budding authors the experience of an established author is nothing less than a treasure. So, can you please describe your experiences while getting your debut book, I, A Woman published?

Neelam Kumar: Those were the Stone Ages for English writing in India. Having started writing in the ’80s and ’90s, I was one of the Pioneer writers of English language books in India. Along with others, I have worked and struggled hard to dig up a path for budding authors. I remember people saying, “When you write names like Sarita and Sanjay in an English book, it sounds funny. We are used to Sam and Cindy.”Yet we plowed on, getting readers used to this new trend. Changing perceptions and tastes. And we did a lot of physical labor.

With no Google to help me, I had to make long train journeys to Delhi from Bokaro Steel Plant where I was working then, my manuscripts held tightly in my arms. Trust me, it was a nightmarish experience going from one publisher to the other. They behaved like arrogant gods and were very dismissive of an unknown writer. I remember one publisher actually asking me, “How many bedroom scenes are there in your book? I need those to be able to sell. Look at the new writer -S.D. who is emerging? Her books sell. Go learn something about this business before writing anything.” Humiliation was something dished out in abundance to unknown writers from publishers who knew nothing about the art of writing. Had it not been for my passion for writing, I would have crumbled and stopped writing. I did not, thankfully.

Later on, Divine Justice played its cards when my Mentor Mr. Khushwant Singh called the fellow up to inform him what a great writer I was, after our book, Our Favorite Indian Stories by Khushwant Singh, and Neelam Kumar became a bestseller.

Cut to present: I felt a wicked sense of satisfaction when the same publisher literally began begging me to publish a book with their publishing house. So the challenge was of facing humiliation from publishers who treated writing as a “bricks and mortar business” without respecting the sensitivity of a writer or having the foggiest idea about literature. The door-to-door experience used to be a very humbling one. Besides, they all demanded big sums, which I refused to part with. Dear aspiring authors, you really don’t know how lucky you are with Google, literary agents like The Book Bakers, PR, and marketing to help your book. Remember, pioneers like us have created a trail in the forest. It is now up to you to pave it with gold.

TLT: You have been an exceptional writer-author and an inspiration to many. So next, I want you to tell us about some of those writers, who had inspired you in your journey!

Neelam Kumar: I used to be fascinated by the fluency and ease with which my parents, Mr. O N Panchalar and Mrs. Urmila Panchalar wrote their books in Hindi and Russian. As a young girl, I dreamt of becoming like them. Having been a voracious reader, every writer left some impression on me, but I would like to mention 4 favorite writers who have inspired me:

  1. Dr. Brian Weiss (Many Lives, Many Masters)
  2. Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist)
  3. Daisaku Ikeda (Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death… And Everything in Between)
  4. Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull)

TLT: You certainly have won many awards of different categories for your work. However, can you please tell us that which award gave you the most satisfaction and an immense amount of pleasure after winning!

Neelam Kumar:  The “Nargis Dutt Memorial Trophy” for changing the narrative of cancer in India from grimness to hope.

TLT: Is there any message that you would like to convey to your readers? Or any piece of advice, which you would like to give to the readers out there!

Neelam Kumar: I believe that it is rare to be born a human being. Therefore, if we waste this privilege by not living with joy and contributing to humanity, we would have wasted this opportunity. Spread love; Spread hope. Hope is the greatest medicine. And it’s free!

Dear Readers, do not stop reading books. Respect and support writers.  Buy and read their books. Drop reviews on Amazon. Never expect free books or free Talks from Authors who have poured their life-experience into their work. Respect their passion, craft, and dedication despite the odds they face. Do not let books lose the battle against digital devices!

TLT: Are there any other books being worked by you? Please let us know about your future projects.

Neelam Kumar: A book that is awaiting publication is for Young Adults. I want youngsters to experience the richness of Indian myths, legends, and stories through the lens of modern, easy-to-apply Life Skills.  The book is my attempt to create youngsters who are rooted in Indian culture and have global sensibilities. Besides this, there are several ideas. Several offers. But as soon as something excites me enough to grab it, I will. My heart has to feel bowled over. Until then the factory of my brain is busy brewing cocktails and concoctions.

TLT: Thank you so much for answering all my questions. All the very best to you for the future and for your books too!

Neelam Kumar: Thank you for The Literature Today!

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