National School of Journalism (NSoJ) Bureau, Bangalore: As the clock struck two, she walked through the door to the table where I was seated and pulled out a chair.
It is palpable, almost visible. The anxiety, the infectious energy and the affable smile.
“This is my first interview ever”, she exclaimed, emptying a glass of water. The 23-year-old, Bengaluru-based writer, Khushnaz Lala is a typical youngster, full of exuberance and energy, baring her emotions without restraint and yet maintaining the maturity that forms an integral part of any writer’s work.
But she “did not intend to become a writer. It (writing a book) happened mostly by accident. There were assignments that I had to do in college, and I was given the freedom to express myself in any way. I chose picture books because I like the idea of a short text with an illustration.”
Khushnaz added: “When you are given word limits for an assignment, you tend to go on when you really do not need to. But because I was given the freedom to choose a style I was comfortable with, I settled for very short and to-the-point text with picture to support it.”
There were a host of topics Khushnaz spoke about with adequate zeal, but every-time she brought forth a set of situations which the present-day youth can easily identify with. She does not want to be the usual run-of-the-mill writer catering to an audience; instead, she wishes to “find the true voice through her writings.”
Explaining her early bouts with writing, she said, “I have always been interested in writing but I resisted it because of the traditional-school format of it. (However), it is something that I always tend to go back to. Right now, I am inspired a lot by (Northern Irish artist, illustrator, and writer) Oliver Jeffers.”
A casual visit to her twitter handle, and you can perhaps safely hazard a guess by just having a look at the illustrative work that ‘writers’, to use Basharat Peer’s words, ‘are not jukeboxes.’ She writes, not to appease anyone but to express herself. She never “thought of it (children’s writing) like that. These were assignments that I had done for myself and it was only after analyzing them that I realized that I had written it for my younger self.”
“I don’t really like separating adulthood and childhood but I suppose that is the way people think. I don’t necessarily categorise people based on their age,” she added in an introspective tone. That said, she agrees that she does have a bit of the “Peter Pan syndrome. Growing up is a little scary for me. People tend to get jaded as they grow up but constantly looking back at the younger days is what draws me towards a form that is more closely associated to children’s writing.”
But having found her ‘niche’ world of literary expression, is she open to trying her hands at different genres, like novel writing?
“I do not have the attention span for that”, pat comes the reply.
“I do not see that happening. I find it hard to stick to a topic. What’s fun about picture books is that even though there is an arc connecting everything, it is still changing with each page. You get to explore a different character and create your own universe around it. Isn’t that fun?” she adds with a smile.
A writer who exercises her freedom to create with ‘measured care’, Khushnaz expects her readers to “look at her work any way they choose to look at it. I would like to think that I have left space for people to get whatever they want out of it.”
By her own admission, she isn’t particularly disciplined and procrastinates a lot before starting her work. And unlike a number of authors, who follow their own little rituals before grueling sessions of writing and brainstorming, Khushnaz believes in getting right to it.
“It is hard to be comfortable with the voice you have. I was lucky enough to have a principal who let me find that (voice) and use it in spaces where it is not (conventionally) used. It is wonderful to be inspired by people, but you don’t need to write like them”, she signed off.
Khushnaz’s writing resembles the carefree drawing of a child, free of judgment and social prejudices. To her, writing is not about pages but about the freedom to express. She talks about football and critical thinking in the same breath as her writing. Her combination of girl next door and breakaway writer is, therefore, irresistible.
With her first book ‘Dear Left Sock and Other Letters’ all set to hit the bookstores later this month, Khushnaz Lala is the Indian writer you will soon hear about.