What happens when two writers come together? Sparks are bound to fly.
We have a very special guest in our inaugural episode of “Spill The Ink” show with Aashisha Chakraborty.
About Aashisha Chakraborty
Aashisha is a PM-YUVA author and Write India winner whose debut novel – Mis(s)adventures of a Salesgirl by Rupa Publications is loosely based on her experiences as a sales manager. Her second book is a work of historical fiction with National Book Trust, tentatively titled ‘The 13-year-old Queen and her inherited destiny’. She has written for various Readomania anthologies and e-books by Women’s Web and InsideIIM. Her articles have appeared in The Hindu and she has a Star Wars fan fiction column on SilverLeaf Poetry. A winner of Kaafiya (the Delhi Poetry Festival), she showcases her short stories on Readomania Premium. A compulsive reader and an avid traveler, she is an MBA from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi and a computer engineer from Jamia Millia Islamia. She has also modeled for a German photographer and likes to blog on her online diary of sorts – ‘The Mind Bin’.
Reach out to her at www.aashisha.com.
Let’s not waste more time and dive in!
Tina Sequeira (TS): We have this perception that writers are not cool because we’re thought of as nerds. You have a funky style and like to experiment. Your writing is also the same. It’s got style and substance. What do you have to say to people who say that writers are not cool? Or reading is not cool?
Aashisha Chakrabory (AC): That’s an interesting perspective. I’m so glad you asked the question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question before.
When I was in school, this was a big deal. That, “Oh, she reads a book!” “Oh, they are nerds.” They’re different from the people who party, or maybe who are into sports.
So I used to be a rebel even then. But it was a subtle rebellion. Something that was not very on the face, not very obvious. I was on the side of the underdogs, the people who would do the things that nobody else would do.
So I don’t think writers are not cool. Because, what is writing all about? It’s about expression. And how you express yourself is completely up to you. There are some people who find value in expressing themselves pictographically. Some people sing, some people play their instruments, some people like body art, some people like to draw. So it’s completely good. It’s important to be democratic and to be very open about the fact that anybody can express in any way as possible.
One could be funky and yet be full of substance. So don’t judge a book by its cover. It totally depends on the person.
I call myself a nerd because I am a nerd—music nerd, book nerd, word nerd. I’m a nerd for all things because I’m passionate about anything that takes my fancy.
I’m a sucker for words. I enjoy reading, more so poetry. So if you put some poetry in front of me, I will go crazy.
I’m a nerd about fitness and yoga. So you may make what you will of it. And I couldn’t care less. This is what I mean to say.
But yes, that makes me a nerd. A dreamer. I think we are all dreamers in some sense or the other. Every day there are some thoughts which go on in my head. I want to do this. I want to do that. I want to build new worlds, be it in reality or on paper.
I want to travel to new places and discover new people and new cultures. I’ve been to about 30+ countries and I feel I want to do that. I want to travel the whole world and I wish I got a job that would allow me to do it. So that is one dream, I would say.
I want to write a hundred books. A hundred books which are not just there on Amazon or on Flipkart or in bookstores. I hope that people really enjoy reading them.
I also dream about having a climate-friendly world where we’re not closing ourselves or getting closer to destruction every now and then. That’s so important.
Not just me. I think everybody has certain dreams.
As for the navel gazer in my bio, that’s how I dream. I gaze into space and these things get inside my head and that’s really amazing.
TS: I’m midway into your book, “The Mis(s)adventures of a Sales Girl” and it’s so full of drama and exciting. The book’s a page turner. The interesting thing is I picked this book when I was feeling really low. I’m glad because the book was so easy, light, and entertaining. It’s been like a soothing balm. So my question to you is, how long did it take for you to write this book and so well?
AC: Thank you so much, first, for picking the book up and for finding it like a soothing balm. My job is done, as that’s what I intended it to be.
The idea struck me when I was working as a salesperson in the streets of Chennai. It’s partly inspired by my own experiences in the field.
Just post my MBA in my second year, we have these internships which we’re supposed to do, where we’re posted to different places. The firm where I was working as an intern moved me to Chennai. I worked not just as a salesperson, but as a sales manager per se.
There were a lot of things that I came across, a lot of factors which I hadn’t thought of. Because prior to that, I was working in an individual contributor role as a software developer. When you go down to the field, you realise that the ground reality is very different from what we’re taught in school.
The first thing that I saw when I got on the field was that the theories and all the formulas that we use in class, the things that we learn even in a business school, are very different from what we actually do on the job. And that difference, I think we all need to know about it. There’s no manual.
Going to a field and not knowing how to talk to prospective clients, or hygiene complications issues, language issues, not knowing the local language could be quite a bummer. The way people treat women sometimes because they’re not expecting them to be intellectual. Today, thankfully, we have women professionals, no doubt. We have so many women working in the corporate industry and in other industries as well, which is great. But how do we treat them? At what level do we have them? We still don’t have too many women on the board. We still have a dart of women in sales, which I observed.
So in my department, there were no women in sales. In my current department, there are no women in sales. So a complete lack of this representation of women, and I wanted to take it to the world, and I wanted to tell the story.
Initially, this probably would not have been my first book. But when I experienced all this, I thought that, okay, this book needs to be out. And that’s how I ideated it and thought about it and finally just wrote it.
The publishing journey was long. The writing had happened over a year, I would say. So the first thing I wrote was just scribbling—scribbling of notes—a diary thing. And then I researched a bit more about how these things happen in general—kept adding notes over a year.
I had the script ready by 2018, which I submitted to a couple of literary agents. Several of them expressed interest. But then the pandemic struck. So the book that was supposed to be out in 2020 happened in 2022. So I would say the publication journey took about four years. But the entire process, starting right from the writing part, I think it was about five years.
TS: The book looks awesome. It’s got a beautiful, colorful and nice cover. Now with this book, were you a pantster or a plotter? Or was it a bit of both?
AC: Yes. So partly I had my own experiences, some basic things which I wanted to talk about. But of course, the plot required all the drama that you’re talking about, the love triangles, and the whole idea of Vivian and I being some focal point of a historical secret. So all that was, of course, my doing. It was not something that actually happened.
So what was real was the daily sales challenges. So it’s like when you want to teach a kid. You want to feed spinach to a kid, and how do you do it? You add in some cheese and stuff and you make it palatable.
That’s how my story goes. There’s drama, yes, but it is multi-layered and nuanced. Anybody who gets the book should go through experiencing these layers and its meanings.
Some people who are not deep readers will just enjoy the book. Some people would also realise that, okay, this is also about the lack of facilities for women at the workplace and more.
TS: What is the one feedback that stayed with you?
AC: I received a couple of messages. Two such feedback I would mention here.
One feedback was that you should make.. Well, I’m not going to spill the beans because you’re going to read the book. But they wanted me to rework the chemistry between the two protagonists, basically. They said that, No, you should not keep them apart. We want them together in the sequel and stuff like that.
As for the second feedback, it was said that I should go all out. Don’t mince words. Don’t talk about only the sanitised stuff. Go all dirty. Talk dirty and talk about everything that goes wrong—everything that actually goes wrong.
So, these are some feedback which I want to take in my next book.
TS: That’s really helpful because you don’t just look for praise, you also look for such feedback where you can get better with your craft. Now, here’s a hypothetical question for now. Suppose this book goes to screen and God willing it does, who would you like to cast in the different roles?
AC: Interesting question. I really have to think about it.
I hope Deepika does Ena’s role. But you know what? Ena is short and Deepika is tall. So I’ll have to find a short actress. Ena is supposed to be short. For Ram, I would love for it to be Ranveer.
About Ena, she’s South Indian, too. Maybe someone from the Southern part.
But, I think it’s okay. And Ranveer-Deepika’s a good combo. Deepika, it’s just the height. Yeah. Or I will just change the construct in the movie. That’s fine. She doesn’t need to be short.
TS: You conduct Creative Writing workshops. Are they still on? Do you still take them?
AC: The MindBin workshop basically happened when the people around me said, “We want to come to your place and let’s write because it’s been a while since when I was a kid.” And there are younger kids in school and they wanted to learn from me. So I had mentored some.
I’ve done some personalised sessions for a couple of people and then I put it up on the website.
So yes, it’s still on, but I’m not doing it regularly now. Before that, I used to have this Tuesday, Thursday slot. Sometimes Saturday at 11 AM. But now the timings are flexible. So yes, it’s still on.
TS: You said earlier in this interview that everyone has different ways of expressing themselves. It can be through words—through speech, writing, painting, or cooking also as well. The way you express your love, yourself, your creativity. A slightly related next question which I want to ask you is regarding your writing workshops. Do you feel everyone can write and should write or can be taught how to write, or it’s something which is not for all?
AC: That’s an excellent question. Recently, I penned down an article for a publication about the fact that there are more readers than writers.
I would say that, yes, anyone can write. I would definitely say that. Anyone can pen down, anyone can write. And through these workshops, what we’re going to do is improve your own expression abilities, and take your communication to the next level. And communication need not be verbal. It is also written. The way we speak with each other, the way we get our message across, sometimes writing helps in doing that.
We have to understand is not everybody publishes. Not every writer gets a lot of readership, and that’s completely fine. I think what my aim with these workshops is there are people who have a lot of ideas and who have a lot of feelings and who are bursting to express them, just to channelise them in a certain way that they know what they want to do and they don’t feel confused. They don’t feel demotivated. They don’t feel that, “Oh, I’m not able to get anywhere. Or maybe I’m quite dumb.” So that is one focus area of the workshop.
And apart from that, I personally feel that anyone can write, and everybody has a unique style. And what we ideally should do is find a natural style what works for us. Find what is unique to us. Ernest Hemingway might have said something. Ayn Rand might have had a lot of philosophies. Saaki has his existential angst and stuff. I might not have that. It might not suit me because I’m not that person. I have my own set of experiences, my own set of baggage, my own set of learnings, and that’s how I write. My writing might not be like them, it will never be like them.
So it’s about knowing oneself. And that’s why I call it the MindBin, because you enter your own bin—you enter your own mind and try to seek things within.
So I personally believe a lot in discovering yourself through writing. So this is what I intend to do through these workshops. And what I personally do to myself while writing, I discover myself. I discover different characters in myself. I think every writer does. And that’s how they find their writing style. And once a writer discovers their writing style, it’s that time when the reader actually connects with them.
That’s how they find the frequency, the right frequency.
TC: Moving to another area of publishing, you’ve been into sales. So is selling your book a cakewalk or is it still tough?
AC: So I am a sales manager. I know the strategies; I know how to do it, but that doesn’t make the book selling process any easier. It does not give me more than 24 hours a day. It does not give me an inroad into the industry that is publishing.
I’m a new author, and when I’m reaching out to a readership which does not know me, I have to follow everything from scratch and do everything basically that a person, that a company or a startup would do.
In my case, both my careers have progressed parallelly. I joined my company, and it’s been about 4-5 years. My book took about 4-5 years too. Both are happening parallelly. So I’m learning both things.
But, cross-professional learning definitely helps. They’ve helped me since forever. Yes, it’s still no cakewalk. But it definitely helps because it gives me the right perspective. I know that there’s a certain readership that I should look out for.
And by the way, book sales are completely different from FMCG sales. But yes, the basics of sales work everywhere. The basics—patience, understanding, reaching out to, sharp shooting the right audience.
TS: What are the traits of a good writer?
AC: According to me, integrity is very important because what a writer puts out into the world is dissected—taken apart, read—digested by people. I believe authors should be responsible and write to the best of their conviction—to the best of their ability. I also believe they have to be unbiased. They cannot write biased things—opinions or prejudices.
I personally believe that writers are more open-minded than others. Because when they write, it makes you like that. It makes you open-minded.
You’re creating a better new world. You’re a creator. And someone who creates can’t afford to be narrow-minded. That’s not how it works.
TS: One book or short story that’s a must-read.
AC: Short stories? I would say Saki’s would be great. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant. I enjoyed those short stories. Anton Chekhov’s short stories also I would recommend.
But you said one, so I’m going to stick to one.
The one book which I would recommend would be The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s a total treat. It’s a romance, but it’s a science fiction romance, which is amazing. I loved it.
TS: My last question is, how was your experience being on the first episode of Spill The Ink show?
AC: Well, I’m spilling so many beans and I love the title of the show. Spill the Ink sounds really good. The show sounds super interesting. And the name sounds amazing.
TS: Thank you! When I was thinking of a name for show, I was randomly thinking, “What about Spill The Tea? But then I thought, Spill The Tea is too common. So let’s go with Spill The Ink. And it wasn’t that popular. So I thought, let me pick this name up before it gets popular. Haha!
AC: That’s pretty cool. And I’m very happy to talk about the little bit of fun, the little bit of masala, and the little bit of seriousness of being an author. It’s an invigorating show, in fact. And I’m very excited for you to read the book and I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying the book.
TS: Thanks, Ashisha, for a wonderful time and I wish you all the best for your journey as an author.
AC: Definitely. I’m so glad you reached out. Thank you, Tina. It was wonderful e-meeting you and talking to you.
*This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon 2023