London-based author Ruchita Misra speaks to Kunzum Review about her new book Her One True Love, the complicated topic of her book and how the Indian diaspora abroad struggles to put its roots down.
Bhavneet: Your new book – Her One True Love – has just come out. It took you nearly five years to write that book. What were you doing in all that time?
Ruchita Misra (RM): A lot of people think I took a break from writing. But I wrote every single day during those five years and worked on this book. Writing is a very linear journey and sometimes it’s a very convoluted journey. I was struggling to make sure I was able to put on paper the story I had in mind. This took me five years to write. The first draft that I wrote was pre-pandemic actually and it was written entirely in the (London) Tube. Travelling to and fro work is one hour each both ways. When I had the draft, it just did not sit right. Over the next three-and-a-half years I rewrote the book maybe 8 to 10 times. One or two of those rewrites were complete rewrites. It was just one of those very difficult writing processes since I was writing about a complicated topic.
BSA: So, what is the complicated topic?
RM: The book is essentially about an extramarital affair. My take on this is that sometimes you can label it as an extramarital affair, but it’s actually that person meeting their true love, just at the wrong time. So, you could be in different relationships or married, but what do you do if you find that right person? I struggled with not typecasting it into something really bad and also not completely condoning it. I had to find that balance to show everybody’s perspective and how nothing is black or white, but everything is shades of grey. All these things are complicated. Although the book finally is a very simply written book, but the thought process behind it is very complicated and needed multiple rewrites. And since I enjoy writing humour, I also wanted to keep the book light because I wanted it to be a good mix of something light, something serious.
The book discusses some very different and heavy topics like abusive marriage, cheating, parent laws, miscarriage etc, but all these are discussed in a light way. That was tricky for me. That’s when I realised that writing is not a linear process. That was a very big learning for me.
BSA: What kind of preparation did you do to write this book in terms of notes?
RM: I had written notes for this book and the notes themselves were 60 pages long. There were character arcs and each character had 7 to 8 pages. In all, it was like a 100-page preparatory document for a 300-page book. That took a lot of time and energy.
BSA: You work for Napster as the global head business development and partnerships and write love stories. How do the two of them match?
RM: They don’t, which is what I love about it. I’m a very different person at work and I’m a very different person that you see here. But there are a couple of things that are very similar and that is something that’s very useful for anybody who is doing business to understand as well. Everybody’s more engaged in a story. So, if I tell you a story, you’ll be more engaged rather than if I tell you some abstract concept. And similarly, at work, even when I’m selling music, if I’m able to put it in a story then that’s an easier conversation to have. So, this skill set is very applicable there and the business mindset actually comes very handy when I’m done with my writing process, and I’m marketing the book. My ability to be articulate in both writing and business helps a lot. Though the two seem very separate, it actually works very well for me.
BSA: When did you move to London?
RM: I moved to London in 2009 because I got married and my husband was living in London. Sometimes I look back and I think ‘how did I do it?’ and ‘why did I do it?’ I had a very good job and it was very fast track management. I was very good academically. I did my engineering; there I was rank one all throughout. Then I did my MBA from IIFT, Delhi. I had a very good job and now, sometimes I wonder where I got that strength to suddenly leave my job, pack up my life in two-three suitcases and then move across the world to go to a country where I knew just one person. That is when I moved there and now it’s been 14 years now of staying in London, so London is second home for me.
BSA: In your books your characters remember India and they’re living in London…
RM: In this book, the main character is called Ekadashi, after my mother, whose mom wanted to call her Ekadashi, but ended up naming her Rachna. That name – Ekadashi – stayed with me. It’s almost an honor to my mum that the main character is called Ekadashi. Ekadashi is a little bit like me, in the sense that she is married with a child – I have two children.
You know when you pluck a plant out of somewhere and then you plant it elsewhere, it changes. For the diaspora it’s always a struggle to put our roots down. And that’s the same thing that happens with Ekadashi. She’s been in London for seven years, but it’s not home. How do you make a place home? What do you do? Sometimes you can really struggle with making a new place home. When I went to London, I too faced such struggles and sometimes still struggle with some things even though I’ve been living in London for a long time now. When you come back home to India you are different because you have lived outside for so long. Your mentality is different, you speak differently, my kids speak with a British accent, they don’t understand the accent that their grandparents speak in. And if I wear very simple clothes, a lot of people look at me and say, “Arre, yeh London se aayi hai? Has she really come from London”?
The expectation is that I’ll be some glamorous hot babe from London, which I’m not. And then when I’m there, obviously I’m not British. So, I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle. We first generation people don’t belong there and since we are gone for too long from here, we don’t belong here either. We’re stuck somewhere in the middle and struggling to find our identities. I identify with that a lot and a lot of other people also identify with this and that I have shown that in this book. What really helps is if you find somebody in that new place and makes you feel like you belong, then that place starts becoming better.
BSA: How did the idea of writing this novel come about?
RM: This happened at the launch of my previous book in Lucknow. There was a gentleman in the audience who asked, “All your books are about young people finding romance. You think older people don’t deserve romance?” And sitting there in the middle of my launch, I was thinking, ‘he has a point’. That’s how this book came about.
So, in this book, there are two stories. One is the girl’s story, and the other is the mum’s story and she is in her 60s and it delves into whether she is able to complete her love story or not. While writing the book I realized that as I’m getting older age is nothing. You might find the right person in your 40s or your 50s or your 60s… at any point in time, and you should be open to it and if you do, you’re lucky. That’s the other thing that played in my head a lot. It’s young people as well as older people finding love.
BSA: Are there any plans to write anything other than love stories only?
RM: I need to write something that engages me for the 2-3 years that I spend on it. And since only love stories engage me, I only write love stories. I once wrote a murder mystery, and in that every page had one murder happening in every chapter. But that was before Game of Thrones. When I sent it to the publishers, they were like, “This is too much. What’s wrong with you? What have you done in this book?” Nobody was ready to see that side of me. I’ve written RomComs, which is essentially my way of talking. Even if I’m looking quietly at something, there is a very different narrative going on in my head when I’m talking to myself and it’s really funny. I find myself very funny, so if you see me randomly laughing, it’s because I’ve told myself some joke. My next book is tentatively called The Girl and The Ghost. It goes into the supernatural almost, but it’s also a love story. And then after that, I’m thinking of going back to RomComs. So, love is always constant.
BSA: You have just come out with a new book, there’s another book you’re working on. How many books do you see yourself writing?
RM: I am a nicer person if I write, I’m a better professional, a better mum. I’m just happier if I’m writing. I get cranky if I am not writing for a long time. But when I start writing it feels better. With so many things going on in my life, the thing is how do I not do it? I cannot not do it. If I knew how to not do it, I would probably stop doing it. But I can’t do it. And then once the character takes shape in my head, then there’s fireworks in my head. Every scene that I write is a very visual exercise for me. I see myself growing as an author every time I write a book. I think my books are getting more and more layered with time, and I believe my best book is probably still a few books away.
BSA: How did your first book come about?
RM: I wrote my first book as a 25-year-old. I was newly married at that time, had just given up a great job in India, Lehman had crashed, and the markets had collapsed in London. For the first time in my life, I was jobless because earlier I was only preoccupied with getting medals. I was geeky that way and my roommates used to say ‘she’ll be studying when we sleep, and she’ll be studying when we wake up’. When I went to London for the first time, newly married, and jobless, I was spiralling into depression wondering about what is happening.
It took me 5 months to find a job. I was lucky that way. Five months is not a very long time. During those five months, to save myself from spiraling downwards, I thought that in every month that I didn’t find a job, I would try something new. The first month, I started painting. My grandfather was an artist and I thought maybe I would have inherited something from him in my genes, but clearly that wasn’t it. The second month, I started writing a book and I would laugh to myself, write a little bit, then laugh a little bit. It was a RomCom. It was about this girl who’s 25 and doesn’t have a boyfriend. And her mother wants to get her married, so she puts an ad in the newspaper and people call and she has a diary full of legible bachelors, but when she meets the boys she finds them horrible.
Then I got a job. And in London, since you have a good work-life balance, one fine day, I had the full book and then I did what every self-respecting woman of the 21st century does: I typed into Google and said, ‘Full manuscript ready, what to do’ Google said ‘send to publisher’. I was like, ‘OK. Let’s send it to a publisher’. I remember I was about to board a flight back to London from India when I sent it. By the time my plane landed, the publishers had sent their draft contract. People talk about struggles about getting their first book published, but there was no struggle there. That book was on the bestseller list for 11 months and I wondered how it was there. My brother would say, “Don’t ask anybody. There’s some computer problem somewhere. If you’ll ask, they’ll find it and it’ll go off the list. Sit quietly and enjoy”.
BSA: From your very first book to your fifth book, what kind of a difference are you seeing in your writing?
RM: For my first book, I remember there were lots of very good reviews. And then there was this really bad review online and then that was the first time, like everything everybody said about that book meant so much. And then there was somebody who called me a poor man’s Helen Fielding. Or somebody trashed the book. And I would sit and look at it and cry actual tears.
Now I think my books are more layered. There’s a word in Hindi called ‘thehrav’ or ‘calmess’. There is more of that. I think there are more life lessons in my books now. Earlier it used to be more irreverent, frothy and I think that reflects my life’s journey also. As I’ve become older, as I have dealt with things on my own while living abroad, having children, managing house work with children, I’ve mellowed down, I’ve become more serious and that reflects in my books.
Pick up Ruchita Misra’s Her One True Love from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.