KATHMANDU, Oct 29: Annie Zaidi is an Indian author of five books, one of which is a love story, another a sociological dissection of Indian girls, one on her experiences as a reporter, one a collection of poems, and one a broad overview of the state of Gujarat.
If that does not overwhelm you, here is more: she is an accomplished playwright, and a journalist who, on her first assignment for Frontline, went to Chambal to write about dacoits.
“I’ve always been fascinated by dacoits,” she said in a lighter vein, in conversation with Somesh Verma at the recently held Ncell Nepal Literature Festival, “They ride horses! My favorite movie growing up was Sholay!” And despite dedicating a whole chapter in her book Known Turf to what makes a bandit (it’s a combination of geography, politics, culture, economy, she finds), she does not look down on conventionally “unintelligent” genres like chick-lit. “I have enjoyed Bridget Jones, and I’m sure there are many enjoyable chick-lit books out there,” she says with a twinkle.
On being asked which her favourite genre is, she instead lists out the qualities of each. “Reportage has immediate effects,” she says, “but most often it has limited word length which is not enough to depict all sides of the story. Fiction is a good way to develop a story, it is a good way to change people’s ideas. I call it slow seduction of the mind. But a play reaches its audiences live, which is very satisfying to the creator.” Poetry, for her, is the most personal form of expression. “If I could choose to write only genre my whole life, I would write fiction, but I write poems in secret because I don’t care if anyone ever reads them!”
But she admits that there’s always an overlap when she writes: her social consciousness seeps into her personal expressions, and her reports may have a narrative style to them.
And of course, at the heart of it all, is how being a woman colors her experiences. “Some girls of my generation are brought up to believe that they are equal to men. But gender works in more subtle ways,” she says. “If a woman writes something controversial, even in gender-neutral subjects like politics, for instance, she might get uncalled-for comments like ‘You deserve to be raped.’ Men also face backlash, but not of the sexual kind.”
And that brought up the subject of glamour in writing. “It’s nothing new,” says Annie. “Ernest Hemingway apparently posed in boxing gloves to promote his book, and Virginia Woolf went shopping. But today, a female writer who is glamorous may not be taken seriously as a writer. So as a woman, you are always careful.”
However, she is wary of the trend of celebrities and writers being available online and reachable for fans. “I don’t mind finding out what my favorite writer looks like, but several times I have found that getting too close to them changes how I feel about their books. If I read a book after I know the writer, I start thinking more about what I know about the writer than about the book itself. And though the book may be great, I may not like it very much. So I’d rather not get too personal with them.”