Amrita Anand Nayak is the author of “Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts” and “Squeezing Lemons” novels. An IT professional, mother, and bibliophile, Amrita’s debut novel went on to become a national bestseller. Her recently released second book is being loved by readers from all over the country.
Read on as author Amrita Anand Nayak talks about her books, personal life, maintaining work-life balance, important lessons learnt with the first book, favourite authors and books, and much more.
Author Amrita Anand Nayak Interview
1. Let’s begin with a brief introduction of yours and an overview of your recent book- Squeezing Lemons.
Well, I am an IT Professional, a mother of two adorable kids, an author, a bibliophile, a tea-addict, a dreamer, a hard worker, a feminist, a Delhiite-turner-Punekar, an LGBT+ Ally and the list goes on.
But my favourite introduction is the one that Alexa gives when you ask, “Alexa, who is Amrita Anand” and she says, “Amrita Anand Nayak is the author of at least one book.” Feels good!
My first book was “Polka Dots, Ponytails and Purple Pouts” and the second one which got released last month is titled “Squeezing Lemons”. It is a story of two courageous siblings, who hail from a small village in West Bengal. Their survival instinct takes them to Kolkata and later, they move to Mumbai to pursue their dreams. They face the challenges of life with hope and aplomb and never give up.
The crux of the story is the old adage – “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, encouraging one to be optimistic and try harder in the face of the most adverse circumstances!
Squeezing lemons is the first step for making lemonade and that’s where the title comes from. This process also has practical relevance in the story. Our protagonist Ajoy who goes on to open a restaurant with an all deaf-and-mute staff, got his first job as a young boy in a local cafe in Kolkata, where his job was to squeeze lemons all day, for their famous lemonade. Dig in the book to know more.
2. From where did you get the idea behind the story of Squeezing Lemons? Do the characters come from real-life incidents or from your own imaginations?
In Squeezing Lemons, the personas and events are inspired by real-world human personalities and behaviour, but the characters are all imaginary.
The thought of our poverty-ridden brethren, especially the kids going to sleep on an empty stomach is something that I feel strongly about – it saddens me profoundly.
According to a study, 14% of India’s population is undernourished – that’s more than a hundred forty million people! Getting three-square meals a day is a constant struggle for them. Their plight, their penury, their helplessness is heart-rending! I have always been moved by it and so I just knew I had to write about this stratum of people and their struggles.
3. Please tell our readers about your debut book— Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts. When did you write it and what sort of reviews did you receive from the readers?
My debut novel Polka Dots, Pony Tails and Purple Pouts was written in 2010 and was released in 2011. It took me a year to find a publisher to publish my first book. While my proposal was liked by two of India’s leading publishers, they did not respond after I sent my manuscript. Thankfully, I found a genuine publisher like General Press after months of struggle.
I wrote that book when I had my first child. For the first time, my brain had some bandwidth to indulge in spinning a story. The diaper-changing, the feeding, the massaging, the burping, the soothing – all the new-baby-chores were there to distract me but somehow, I managed to remain focused.
The chores kept me busy but there was no work-stress for once in my life. I made use of my maternity leave to pen down my thoughts and ideas and once the process got initiated, there was no looking back. It was a true-blue chick-lit and it really resonated well with the youth.
Young girls would come up to me and tell me how much they identified with a Jasmine or a Leena. It was a fun read, a light fiction and it did brisk sales – online, as well as in brick-and-mortar stores. It found its way to airports and local book shops. In fact, it went on to become a national bestseller!
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4. You are making a comeback with a new book after almost 9 years. Any particular reason behind the long gap or was it just because of the lack of time?
Yes, it was a lack of time, rather a lack of quality time!
After my first book, I became more ambitious and wanted to write a truly heart-touching story, not just another light read. I had started working on the ‘Squeezing Lemons’ book way back in 2013, but then my work and motherhood took over and somewhere my writing took a backseat.
Soon after, I went to the UK and struggled to find time and solace to write. I worked in London for a while and also travelled across Europe with my family. My family grew and I was blessed with a daughter. I loved being a Mommy to two kids but it kept me super busy too and I constantly longed to sit back and write at stretch.
Had it been yet another chick-lit, it would have been much easier. I am natural when it comes to writing in that genre. But this was serious fiction. I needed to think deeply, feel that pain, that deprivation, and then transfer those feelings on paper. It needed a certain level of concentration and detachment from the hullabaloo of my life and I found that difficult to achieve and in between all this, time flew!
However, no regrets!
5. Three lessons that you learnt after publishing your first book. How did these help you to craft the second one?
1. On writing and manuscript submission
A few rounds of meticulous proofreading are a must. No one knows your book like you do. So, don’t leave it up to the good judgement of your editor. While previously I did one or two rushed rounds of proofreading, this time, I took my time and went through my manuscript multiple times before final submission.
2. On book publishing
One should NOT AT ALL lose heart if one gets rejections from publishers. Even authors like Amish Tripathi had to face rejection multiple times. All you need is that ONE publisher who believes in you. Keep trying, keep researching, keep networking, make use of all the means you can lay your hands on – including social media. Believe in yourself.
3. On book promotions
Writers finish the manuscript and feel a sense of fulfilment. So far so good. But that’s just half the battle. In fact, it’s probably the easy part. The more difficult part is finding a genuine publisher and the most difficult part is, promoting the book, trying to keep the momentum of sales. So, one has to be ready for these struggles and devote time and energy to them. This being my second time, I was mentally prepared for putting in the effort and knew that I have to start promoting from day one.
6. Would you mind sharing some of your favourite lines from the Squeezing Lemons book?
Oh, I would absolutely love to share! One of my favourite scenes from the book is when the siblings run away from their village and reach Kolkata, without a single penny in their pockets. Their only asset is their courage and their spirit of survival. Here it is:
“I can totally remember that tempting bunch of ripe, yellow bananas being sold by a balding vendor. As I forced myself to look away from them, I felt even hungrier and my mouth started to water. We had not eaten anything since the few rice morsels and a few biscuits we had had the previous day. Dada noticed my longing but chose to ignore it. He didn’t have an option. He had no money. Suddenly the vendor caught me looking at his bananas with those wishful eyes. I was embarrassed. I dropped my sight.
Next thing I knew, he came over and handed two bananas to me. Dada told him we had no money. But he asked us to just keep the bananas – for free. That moment was magical. Boy! I was exhilarated. For me, that kind street vendor was a God-sent spirit. We both devoured one banana each. They were a bit overripe, but huge. And they were so delicious that I was licking the inside of the peel even after my banana was finished. Funny, I still remember that taste. Kolkata, in that moment, felt like a dreamland and the kind banana-seller, an angel.
We drank water from a rusty public water-tap and felt good, having eaten something after a long time. The gurgling sounds my empty stomach had been making, were thankfully silenced now. I smiled as I noticed the sun rising behind Dada’s back. It was a beautiful sight. A new dawn in our lives had arrived and it brought new hopes along. I showed the wonderful sight to Dada and he too was mesmerized. The magnificent crimson sphere rose up from the horizon, illuminating the vista – its rays prancing and playing in the sky. This dawn symbolized a new beginning for us. Both of us were ready to face the unforeseen challenges of life, armed with nothing but hope and each other’s unflinching support.”– Squeezing Lemons, Amrita Anand Nayak
7. When did you think of writing something? And what was your first piece of writing?
During my school days, I was a regular contributor to the school magazine. In my teenage years, I would always participate or contribute in the Sunday columns and contests in the local newspapers. Seeing my name in the newspaper gave me a thrill! (It also brought along many proposals of pen-friendship! This was the 90s and I was living in Jammu).
But my first piece of writing which I was really proud of, was a paragraph titled ‘Whither Indian Democracy’. It was published in The Hindustan Times (it was again, a contest) and I got a book of Short Stories by Rupa Publications as a reward.
I was just a student at that time but had strong political views. Another piece of writing which I was proud of, was an elaborate essay on environmental issues. I wrote that for an essay competition by the National Museum of Natural history, Delhi. Students from all across Delhi had participated and I can still remember some of the thoughts I had expressed, as I had written with all my heart. I stood first and my prize was Rs. 500 and a trip to Bharatpur (Ghana) Bird Sanctuary. My school Principal loved that essay and couldn’t stop raving about it!
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8. Whom do you consider your icons when it comes to writing? Any favourite authors?
I have always loved reading Classics. Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant are my all-time favourites.
Among contemporary Indian writers, I like Arundhati Roy’s style. I also like Anurag Mathur’s satirical sense. I dig Amish’ mythologically themed books with a modern touch and I love Anuja Chauhan’s chick-lits too.
But if you ask the name my favourite author, it would be Jhumpa Lahiri. I fell in love with her writing after I read The Interpreter of Maladies.
9. You are a working IT professional, mother of two, and still managed to write two books. How do you manage the work-life balance?
It’s not been easy. But if you really love something, you end up making time for it, sooner or later. Once I heard someone say this, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman and behind every successful woman, there is a maid!”
Well, I am not taking anything away from my supportive family, but the fact is, I outsource my work as much as I can, so that I can find spare time to think and pen down my thoughts – at least over weekends.
Sometimes, I simply take a week’s leave from the office if I am on a writing spree and need some dedicated time to keep the flow. As they say, “where there is a will, there is a way”.
(Point to be noted – It’s not ‘wish’, it’s ‘will’!)
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10. A quick-fire round:
– Books that have influenced your life?
- Pride and Prejudice
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
- The Kite Runner
- The Interpreter of maladies
- The Book Thief
- All the light we cannot see
- Twelve Years a slave
the list is endless…
– What are your other passions in life?
I think all writers love reading, most of them are voracious readers and so am I! So, reading and writing are my only two passions in life! But I do love to sketch, sing and dance to unwind and relax.
– Where is your favourite place to write?
Café Coffee Day, any day!
– One song that you always hum?
Hotel California (I have a thing for songs that tell a story or have a sequence of events)…and the last line is my favourite ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’.
– Whose advice do you seek when in a dilemma?
Depends on the nature of my dilemma – My husband (who is my best buddy too), my Mom, my Sister, My friends and many a-times, it’s that know-it-all search engine called Google.
11. What’s next in the roadmap for author Amrita Anand Nayak?
Up next: A socio-political satire. I also want to write more chick-lits. They are enjoyable to write and fun to read. And no more decade-long break this time. Can’t afford it. 😊