I met Twinkle Khanna a few years ago in Mumbai at a literary festival. Told I’d be in conversation with her on stage, I was, to tell the truth, wary. We’d been teamed together because we were both, to use a favourite phrase in desi newspeak, ‘lady columnists’, and we both wrote funny. Her first book, Mrs Funnybones, based on her wildly popular column, had just been published, and had promptly leapt to pole position on bestseller lists everywhere. I’d read and relished her bold, sassy columns, but knowing she was Bollywood royalty, I was also bracing myself for some serious attitude. But she disarmed me. She was chatty, bouncy, alert, curious, fun and entirely unaffected. Within minutes of meeting, we were chatting about kids, manicures, husbands, blow-drys, weight issues, countries and oh yes, writing. So, when I was asked to read the opening chapters of her first novel, Pyjamas Are Forgiving (Juggernaut; out in September), and interview her, I was all too willing.
Pyjamas Are Forgiving is set in an austere Ayurvedic health spa, where the female protagonist, a 40-something divorcee, goes to find a cure for her insomnia, and promptly bumps into her smug ex and his skinny, silly wife. But there is nothing austere about the book—it has all the hallmarks of Twinkle’s writing: wit, sass, self-deprecation and large-heartedness. It is also an interesting meditation on what it means to be a professionally successful middle-aged woman, unhitched and childless, in a society that defines women purely as mothers and wives. In short, it’s a treat.
Moni Mohsin: Actor, film producer, interior designer, you already had an enviably diverse and full CV when you picked up your pen. How did you come to writing?
Twinkle Khanna: I loved reading as a child, and even today, with three books under my belt and five years of writing columns, I still think of myself as a reader more than a writer. It was in boarding school that I first began writing morbid poems. My mum gave me a special file: it was made of black felt, and had an orange ribbon that held it together, and I hope I find it in an old carton somewhere. She claims my first poem was about mangoes, but I believe it was about maggots. I also wrote half a book in my early twenties, about a young girl who lives with her Ismaili grandmother—and then I didn’t write a single word for almost two decades. I always had a dream though, that when I was 60, my kids all grown up, I would move to Goa and I would write. It is mere fate that it happened in my forties.
MM: But writing, they say, is a jealous mistress. Given all your other creative ventures, how do you make time for it?
TK: I write every morning. I sit at my desk at seven, just after the children have left for school and I begin. By the time most people surface and just about begin their day, half my day’s work is done. I don’t have a problem with finding time to write my columns. But it is when I am finishing a book, those last few months, that I find that my ability to concentrate on anything else vanishes. At that point, I am at my desk for 10-12 hours a day. Everything and everyone including my children (and this remains a constant source of guilt) turn into white noise. This year, I had to stay back and finish writing while my family went ahead on our summer holiday. That was rather depressing. I am not remotely the quintessential superwoman who can keep all the balls up in the air; I am just a woman who is adept at picking up dropped ones swiftly.