Finding a new medium of expression
A parliamentarian, policymaker and gifted orator – Meenakshi Lekhi talks to Arif Mohammad in an exclusive interview and discusses her first book and journey of becoming a writer
First of all, heartiest congratulations on your first book. Could you please brief our readers on your journey as an author?
Thank you so much! The journey started about five-six years ago. We were out for lunch and one of my sisters-in-law, who works at a prominent publishing house, suggested I write a book as I have so many things to tell! Given my awry life, I rarely have the time to sit with a laptop. She urged and insisted that she will arrange for someone who will type the whole thing as I narrate.
To begin with, I started on the lines of a non-fictional narrative. But I realised that non-fiction books end up in libraries and become consulting books rather than a book you and I would enjoy reading leisurely. All of us would have read both genres while growing up, but the writers we usually retain are the ones with fictional narrations. Halfway through, we had to scrap everything and start from scratch.
You have been writing political blogs as well as legal articles for a long time. What inspired you to pen down 'The New Delhi Conspiracy'?
Two columns and a blog every month, to be precise (laughs). The idiosyncrasies of different writers in general is something that inspired me quite a lot. All of us would have read George Elliot during our school days, be it prose or poetry. But not many would have known that it was Mary Ann Evans who used the pen name of George Elliot. She would write under a male name as a woman writer would not be accepted, especially in the 19th-early-20th century British society. A writer, be it male or female, will need a source of expression; especially for a female writer, achhe din are here (laughs). People may criticise you for what you write but no one can do that to you for opting to write.
So far, how has the book been received by the audience and what are your expectations?
Since this is an intriguing story, I expected readers to understand that life in politics is not as simple as people perceive it to be. It has all kinds of complications and forces which are at work. The book has been received very well. In some time, people will also get to know the other side of the story.
How long did it take to complete the book?
If the entire process is taken into account – from conceptualisation to plotting, characterisation and reworking, it has taken a complete year. Post that, the publishing process took another seven months. It was originally a 700-page book but to meet the requisites of the publisher, we had to cut it down to 333 pages. In between, there were elections and I was caught up with electoral politics. Finally, things settled down and post the first session, we decided to launch the book.
Has there been a juncture when you seem to have lost the plot and had to re-group your narration?
This has happened many times. You come across new readings and then you have a new idea. You need to regroup your thoughts and the person working alongside may be irritated with you at times for all the scrapping you do, I'm really glad to have found a patient co-author in Krishna Kumar.
Was it a challenge to balance your political career while you focussed on this new publication?
Writing itself is a challenge and politics is consuming. There are situations when I had to address multiple issues simultaneously. There were also times when I was thinking of a plot and something else has been asked to be done even on holiday. That comes as a constraint but I'm glad for the mental support of my family and friends, especially my children. It gave me the strength to tackle the challenges and present my book to readers. As I mentioned before, the kind of person you work alongside also deserves the credit. There were instances when I would send voice notes to Krishna and ask for his help even if I'm in the middle of some work assigned to me by the government.
With such an overwhelming response, do you plan on writing more books, especially non-fiction?
Yes, definitely! Another conspiracy is already brewing in my mind. Somewhere, the plot is already ready. A bit more research needs to be conducted in the direction. The book will not be a sequence to this book but it will be on the lines of a conspiracy. Each book would be a standalone and each story will be different from the next. Now, I need to decide whom to work with as my assistant (Kumar) has now shifted base. For now, that stands as a challenge.
Which authors (from any period of literature) have inspired you – knowingly or otherwise?
There have been many. Since it's a conspiracy, I would regard drawing inspiration from Agatha Christie who narrated many a murder mystery with an added philosophical element. Ian Rankin would be another prominent author in this genre. I have also drawn inspiration from Leo Tolstoy, who touched upon the various nuances of life, and also Jane Austen. There were many such great writes and books like Oliver Twist and Gulliver's Travel would not just be a source of inspiration for me, but also for many others. Roald Dahl too! This may sound funny as most of his works are children's books but I love his work. You should never let the child in you die.
How supportive has your family been?
They have provided tremendous support and love. Saturday is our library day and all of us would pick up books. I was very worried when my kids were growing up and hoped they wouldn't turn out to be 'modern kids' who stop reading books and are dependent on the internet for almost everything. This kills the innovator in you! My family, including my in-laws, has been very passionate about reading good books.
The Meenakshi Lekhi we all know is the one ready to take a dig at the Opposition in the Parliament. Could you let our readers peep a bit more into your inner self?
That's a part of my job, isn't it (laughs). Someone needs to defend the stand of the Party. But you don't hold any grudge against anyone, it's just your job. Intellectually, academically or professionally if you feel things have gone wrong and need a correction, it has to be corrected. Letting you know about my persona, I'm a happy person who is biased towards books and coffee. At the same time, caricaturing someone suits the agenda of some who feel when you can't correct someone logically, you do it illogically. These biases and perceptions are created, but those who know me would know the fun side of me well. And not to forget, a little intrigue is always good (laughs).
Lastly, your message for our readers as well as for the new generation of writers.
My message to everyone is that the prime battle that needs to be won is within each of us and we need to fight it alone. Don't ever feel dejected by being rejected. These things are a part of our journey and an integral part of growing up. Difficulties and challenges, if perceived in the right way, make us better and stronger – leaving critics with no other option but to accept us. Nobody gets successful overnight – its a long queue of sustaining efforts.