Ratna Vira's new book talks about bullying and abuse in schools
It has been over two years since author Ratna Vira published her first novel, Daughter by Court Order. At the time, there was much noise about the book’s semi-autobiographical content, and how the disturbing equations between the characters, bore a striking resemblance to Vira’s own troubled relationship with her mother, veteran journalist Nalini Singh. Her relationship with her politician uncle Arun Shourie, also became a subject of great scrutiny. While the author never denied anything then, she hasn’t yet spoken about the family feud.
Forty-year-old Ratna Vira had a 18 year-long stint in corporate communications before she took to writing books. PIC/Ajay Gautam
But her stories, dominated by complex, tense relationships, speak for themselves. Vira’s second book, It’s Not About You (published by Pan Macmillan) releases next month and tells the story of bullying and abuse in schools. “Drama in families definitely interests me,” says the Gurgaon-based author over a phone call. “Bullying as an issue is important, whether it happens on the playfield or in families. Manipulation by abusive and extremely intelligent people can happen in any power equation, be it mother-daughter, as described in my first book, or at a school, as in my second one,” says the 40-year-old.
The writer maintains that she’s speaking about her fictional works, but one can’t ignore the matter-of-fact-way in which she talks about relationships. In an interview with The New York Times in September 2014, the author who had fought a legal battle for a portion of the family estate had maintained that she “couldn’t care less” about what her relatives thought of her first novel. “To me, this is clearly fiction, so whoever takes offence, we will deal with it,” she had said.
And, while it doesn’t seem like Vira has had a change of heart since, she says she’d like to know what her mother thinks about her writing. “I am laughing now,” she says. “Many people have said great things about the way I write. But, I am still waiting for her (Singh) to call,” says Vira. “My mother has an opinion on everything, be it high-profile murders or women’s elections. But, she hasn’t reacted to my books. Even my uncle (Shourie) has a lot to say about many things, but I haven’t heard from him.”
Her disappointment is palpable, especially when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had written to her (after her first book), congratulating her for taking up the cause of daughters, in her narrative.
But, Vira takes everything in her stride. “I am not holding my breath for them to call,” she says. “I sleep easy, and I am happy with my life and children. I hold up a mirror to hypocrisy and I write freely and fiercely,” says the mother-of-two.
It’s Not About You is a book that she says she worked on alongside her first. “The idea for it was set off by a short newspaper article I read. A young American had stepped across the racial divide to protect a fellow high school student and had ended up in coma for his troubles. I met the head of an Indian school soon afterwards, who told me about the rampant bullying he was dealing with at his institution. I began to wonder how these power equations would play out in a place like India.”
That’s when Vira began to write this story. The book touches on the life of a single mother, Sam-my, who has to single-handedly fight her son Aksh’s case, after he lands up in hospital following a bullying incident in school. “Single mothers who have careers are often made to feel guilty about their choices. I wanted to highlight the struggle within the protagonist, while giving readers a peep into the lives of teenagers,” she says.
Meanwhile, Vira also offers consultancy to corporate firms. Before dabbling into writing, the alumnus of London School of Economics had an 18-year-long career in corporate communications and HR, working for some of the country’s leading brands. She switched to writing books because she believed “she had a lot of stories to tell.”
Egging her on are her kids, Suhasini and Shauryya. “They are my best friends and my worst critics,” she says. That’s the relationship, Vira cherishes the most. Everything else, she says, doesn’t matter.