A trained bharatanatyam dancer and a marathon enthusiast, Lata Gwalani, author of Incognito, talks about women, writing, emotions and the many facades of feminism.
On a rainy evening in a crowded City hotel, Lata Gwalani who was in town to promote her first book Incognito, talks about women, writing, emotions and the many facades of feminism.
The conversation begins conventionally, pleasantries are exchanged and we drop into comfortable chairs facing each other. Lata’s husband, who is also in town for the marathon, walks by and we greet each other, more pleasantries are exchanged. After the informal chatter about sudden rains and the crowded city, we begin with the interview.
Is Incognito your first attempt at writing?
My attempts at writing go a long way back. I have always been passionate about writing. I blog mostly, and also occasionally write for newspapers but this is my first book.
So has writing been your bread and butter throughout?
No. I currently work as a facilitator at Human Impact Training and Consulting which deals with behavioural training. We prepare people to handle the many aspects of modern living like the corporate world for example. We also train them in stress and emotional management. Prior to this, I worked as a journalist with many publications for over a decade before shifting to behavioural training and developing a fancy for the human psyche.
Tell us a little about Incognito.
Incognito is a psychological thriller. It took me a year to finish writing this book. I’ve been told by many friends that this genre of writing is new and mostly unheard of. It is about the many unfulfilled emotions of Anjali, the protagonist, who is the nucleus of the lives of four different people. From a distance, she is witness to four bizarre crimes that rock her plain staid life. That is what Incognito is.
Was there any particularly strong emotion or inspiration behind this book?
Incognito, as you will know once you read it, is all about emotions. It conjures up a world of unfulfilled aspirations, ambitions, aspiring women and the emotional fabric of their world. But of course, there are men in this story too.
Now that you mentioned journalism, please allow this very generic question — how has your experience as a journalist helped you in writing your book? And what do you think about the current mainstream media?
With newspapers, I was always under a protocol. And what with the little freedom we had in feature writing, we were literally starved of bylines (getting a byline was an achievement in those days) But they have certainly had an impact on my writing. I do not need to stick to bylines or a conventional protocol, so the freedom factor has helped me in many ways.
There was a time when I was addicted to newspapers. Not a day went by without reading news. But the times have changed and along with it, so has news. They are too loud for me to start my day with. I personally wish the headlines were a little softer and more positive.
Since women seem to be an important part in this story, what is your take on the current state of women in India?
I think there are two types of women — the urban, corporate ladder climbing, ambitious woman and the rural, ambitious but often unlucky, restrained woman. In my observation, I have noticed how different the outcomes of their lives have often turned out to be. For instance, I think there are many sides of feminism that exist currently.
I often feel comfortable with my place in this world, with the side that has let women take their place in this world unlike the firebrand side of feminism, observed mostly with the urban woman who I have been more in contact with.
In today’s world, where the corporations have driven ambition to new scales, women who have climbed onto the top of the ladder have slowly acquired male characteristics. Which has led to new scales of personal conflict and emotional breakdowns.
But I feel the urban woman in India is much better off compared to the rest of the lot in the world. We are a lot more liberated than the rest, which is saying something.
Apart from writing and your fancy for the human psyche, what else captivates you?
I speak at various clubs and am also an occasional bharatanatyam dancer apart from the endless reading and the appetite I have for reading. I also run marathons with my husband and have finished three so far, all of which keep me occupied.
Bharatanatyam has South Indian roots, isn’t it? Am I right in assuming you are from the same geographical hemisphere as I am?
(Laughter). I was actually born in Pondicherry, grew up very briefly in Zambia and Delhi. My later education and work took me to Pune and then Bombay. Added to this was my stint with journalism. So I have many regional influences from Tamil Nadu to Delhi to Zambia and then of course, Bombay.
At the end of the interview, we shake hands and Lata poses for the shutterbugs with a copy of Incognito.
Prior to concluding the interview, we talk inevitably about Hyderabad and biryani. Lata exclaims that Hyderabad is really as big a city as seems from the flight. I remark that it is, indeed. Once the shutterbugs are done clicking, we shake hands and leave, she into her world of human observation and I into the rain and snarling traffic of the City.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Tea drinker, imaginary bass player, posterchor, left liberal world planner, star gazer.. and other significant things.