I recently had the opportunity to interview young author Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary. Her debut novel LAIZA- The end is only the beginning came out last year. A student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali, Kudrat has an amazing aura that leaves you smitten.
Excerpts from the interview-
Me: So we all know Kudrat is a law student cum author from Chandigarh. But in your own words, who IS Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary?
Kudrat: Ah…who is Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary. Well, there are many facets to me. If I talk about myself professionally then I am a final year law student at Army Institute of Law, Mohali and also an alumni of King’s College, London. I look at myself as someone who wants to bring a change not just in my country but also in the world. I want to have a voice which stands out and can help people. Personally, I think I am a culmination of all my successes, my achievements and failures and also all the experiences I have in life. Just like this conversation…it is going to add on to who I am, say, one hour later. So, a personal Kudrat is always changing, always very dynamic and looking to learn more. In crux, that is who I am but I am very different personally and professionally.
Me: Why did you take up law?
Kudrat: As I said, I have always had this aim…Actually, I don’t have a very clear picture of what I want to do in the next 5 or 10 years, but I want to be a voice for people who cannot speak for themselves. I want to be somebody who is there to bring a change, not just nationally but also internationally. I may not be the person who brings in the transformation but I can certainly be a catalyst. One thing, one attribute, that I am very proud of is that I am very compassionate. I think I want to use that in my profession. So I always knew that I wanted to do law since this was the only field that could help me learn and put me in a position where I could help people, in the best possible way.
Me: And how did writing figure into all of this?
Kudrat: So, when I was in school, I had this massive stage fright. I knew I could do well on stage (I was very creative) but there was always this first hitch despite my inkling. So it used to really torment me a lot and I wanted to get out of it. I come from Sacred Heart (an all Girls’ school) and the class strength was huge. So when you are amongst so many people, it is important for you to be par excellence to stand out. I used to think, ‘I understand that I can be a good speaker but I am not a good speaker at the moment. So what is the thing I can do to stand out?’ That is where my entire dream of writing germinated. My teachers too used to like and support my writing.
I have two unfinished manuscripts. When I started writing, I always had a story but never had an ending. People do not understand the importance of endings. If your story doesn’t have an ending, it will never get closure. But this time when I started writing, it was for the first time that had a start, a middle and an ending. So after two unfinished manuscripts, I knew this was going to be my first complete work.
Me: And what about Laiza? What was the inspiration, how did you come to write about it?
Kudrat: I think this is the third time it is going on record (laughs), but I really want to be a voice that matters. One of the main reasons that I couldn’t finish my earlier manuscripts was that I didn’t think they were my best. They were not what I wanted to be known as a writer, they were love stories. I knew people would always see me in the shadow of my debut novel. I wanted to write about issues that nobody else talks about.
So Laiza is the story of a 19 year old female who is trafficked after the Nepal earthquake. How I took on to Nepal is also that you have a lot of books which are on Afghanistan, or Central Asia or a lot of other places. But nobody wants to write about Nepal or Haiti…all these countries which do not have a say in global scenario. So I thought maybe if I write about something that is happening in Nepal, maybe the world will notice. Maybe they will know that we are the ones providing them the largest market for human trafficking. Also the book talks about the changes that took place from 2015 onwards including the embargo, the Constitution of Nepal coming up etc.
All of this happened, so the entire background of the book is real. If you want to see the politics, the diplomatic relations…it is all real with a fictional story which I am sure must have happened to somebody. But for me, it is also fictional. But it is not only about Nepal. There are two other girls with Laiza. One is from Crimea, we all know what happened with Russia and then one of the girls is from Manipur who comes from the family who are members of the Peoples’ Liberation Army. So it basically talks about how disasters, whether man made or natural affect the general lives of people. I researched a lot and added to the story.
Me: So it basically is a reflection of how you view the world.
Kudrat: Yes. It is on how I view a lot of issues, be it feminism, sexual abuse, politics etc. I had a lot of apprehensions since authors my age are generally writing love stories and their base is generally India. But from what I heard last, Laiza is the only story which talks about issues way more serious than love. Of course, love has been mentioned in Laiza, but so have heartbreaks. Laiza is dating a political leader and when she gets into prostitution, she is not able to contact him because he is in Nepal. But when she does get through, she asks him “Do you still love me?” And all he answers is that you are my responsibility, nothing else. So this just goes on to show that when women are put into these situations, they also lose out on many relationships.
Me: So how difficult it is to continue writing?
Kudrat: I think I am a very free flowing sort of a person. But I do have 20 ideas going on in my head and I remember all of them but I can’t do them all. When I was young, it used to be difficult, but now it does not seem that difficult at all. When I was in school, I used to read only dictionaries or the thesaurus. So I wasn’t much of an avid reader. But studying the dictionary from top to bottom really helped me. I wrote a lot of SOPs for my friends and seniors and I used to tell them, “4 linein hi toh hai, write it yourself”. But I realise it was not that easy for them and I have a gift. It is tough, of course, but it also gives you the space to be yourself.
Me: But I suppose writing requires a bit of a discipline. Not a lot of people view writing as a “real job” and they say that anyone can write a story.
Kudrat: You wouldn’t believe, I went to watch a play and met somebody there. An old acquaintance saw me there and asked me what I was doing. So I told him that I am in the final year and then he asked me what I planned ahead. I told him that I just wrote a novel and he said, “wo toh theek hai but aage kya karna hai?”! I understand that he comes from a mindset that writing is not a real job but the way he went over it was something!
It is just amazing how our society is. So the book talks about sexual abuse which the society does not expect a 22 year old woman, unmarried to talk about. The first question that I get asked everywhere is that “how do you know so much?” And I am like, “you cannot ask me that question. I am 22! You cannot expect me to not know things.” It is funny if you are 18 and married, they expect you to know everything. But if you are unmarried and 22, they expect you to behave as if you don’t know anything.
I come from a very liberal background and we talk about such things very openly in my family. I don’t know how to raise an eyebrow but people come up with all sorts of stupid questions.
Me: Yeah. I read that you had to repudiate your contract with Penguin India. Was it because of the same reason?
Kudrat: Yes. Before printing, it goes for a review. It was at the final stage where a panel was reviewing it. And they were thinking, “India…we are not really sure”. They wanted me to delete certain scenes and change the story. Had I not been a lawyer, I would have probably done that. But I am a lawyer and I am not going to give up on my expression. It is not seditious, it is not against public policy, in fact, it is in favor of public policy. We have books like 50 Shades of Grey in the market which is an erotica. But just because I am 22, we cannot attach a taboo to it.
Me: So now the fun part of the interview. A rapid fire round.
Love Aaj Kal. Namaste London. English movies…I cannot think of one. Oh. The Holiday. I love that movie.
Ranveer Singh. I really like Ryan Gosling. I love Ryan Gosling.
I loved Freedom At Midnight. I think it is a great book.
Italian. I am a vegetarian and they give you great options!
I love Coldplay. And Ed Sheeran.
I can listen to anything. Depends upon my mood, really.
What are you listening to right now?
Castle on the Hill?
No, no, no. The other one. Shape of You.
What are you reading right now?
Today, I just started reading The Animal Farm. I have heard it is really nice.
Reading. Painting. I am into creating things a lot.
Three adjectives to describe yourself.
Creative, spontaneous and dynamic.
Three things on your bedside table.
My diary, a small accessories box and my charger.
Describe your experience here in three words.
Here! Enriching, great (I know it is a very subjective term but I say it with a lot of positivity) and growing. It is going to add to me. I got to meet somebody who is on the same frequency as I am which was very enriching.
– Mrinaal Datt
Read more about her here.