Writer siblings take inspiration from each other to pen books
Writer siblings Amrita and Aniruddha Mahale say they take inspiration from each other's journeys to pen a good story
Expectedly, the one thing common between author-siblings Amrita and Aniruddha Mahale is their surname. We would have liked to say that they both write as well. But even they'd admit that their writings are what set them apart. "People also tell us we look like twins, which flatters me a lot," jokes 34-year-old Amrita, elder of the two. But Aniruddha interrupts, "No, I am not too fond of that idea." He won't tell us why, but in between our photo-shoot, Amrita shares how her brother is the charming one in the family. Unlike her, he's never had to try too hard to look good in front of the camera. Aniruddha, who is used to shining words of praise from his 6,000-odd followers on Instagram, doesn't deny that.
We meet the duo at a Bandra diner, ironically on Valentine's Day, where they are mistaken to be a couple by the staff. Amrita who has studied aerospace engineering, recently released her novel Milk Teeth (Context, Westland), a stellar debut that is both rich in narrative and characters and rooted in Bombay of the yore, as it is set in Matunga of the 1990s. Aniruddha, a gay activist, who already has two published works to his name — one, which he says, is very much forgettable — is currently writing his third book with HarperCollins India. "It's a queer man's guide to survival," he says.
Incidentally, queer relationships are also at the heart of Amrita's novel. One of her protagonists, Karthik, is a closet gay, and as strange as it may sound, the character was inspired not just by her brother, but also herself. Aniruddha came out to her in 2009 — on an ISD call — when Amrita was working with Google in San Francisco, but he told his parents only in 2015, following Amrita's advice. "I wanted to let them know in 2012, because I thought I was ready then. But, Amrita asked me to wait for a few more years," the 30-year-old says.
"That's the worst advice I have given anyone in my life," Amrita confesses. "I was very nervous about what it would mean for my brother to be a gay man in India. My brain was conjuring up these worst-case scenarios. We are talking about India 10 years ago. There was no representation then. Even in the movies, the characters you saw were all one-dimensional. I also did not know how our parents would react."
Karthik's character became a starting point for Amrita to make sense of her own anxieties. "I started writing this character before my brother came out to my parents. He was the answer to what I would have done, had I been in Aniruddha's place. I have always been this risk-averse, cautious and self-conscious person. I knew if I was Aniruddha, I wouldn't have come out. I poured all my characteristics into Karthik's." Here, Aniruddha interjects, "If I were writing the book, Karthik would have come out. I am a bigger risk-taker, because I don't think about repercussions, the way my sister does."
Their writing journeys is a case in point. Until he was 20, Aniruddha wanted to become an architect. Amrita's "loose wishes of becoming a novelist crystallised into a clear desire" when she read Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, as a 13-year-old. Yet, it was Aniruddha, who first took the leap. "Three years into my architectural degree, I realised I wasn't cut out for it. I decided to become a writer, because I thought that's an easier thing to do. It wasn't really the case. Having said that, the struggles of being a writer are a lot more comforting than being an architect," says Aniruddha. He wrote his first book, Ten Years. Two Lives. One Café, when he was 21 (Paper Clip Books).
"It was a terrible book," he says. "I was so young and foolish I didn't think it through. I didn't realise it's something that is going to stick with me for the rest of my life." His sister thinks otherwise. "What was amazing was his willingness to put his work out there. That's something I admire." His second book, Love Therapy, was with Juggernaut.
"Aniruddha paved the way for me, to some extent. I think it was because of his decisions [about his life] that my parents were not surprised when I wanted to take a break from my own job to write," she says. The nudge to pursue her dreams came in 2014, when she won a writing competition for a short story, on which her new novel was loosely based.
Amrita invested the next four years, and nearly five drafts, before the book saw the light of day. "She is a more nuanced writer. She likes to simmer over her work, take her time and ideate over it," he says. "I wouldn't have made my book so layered. I feel I lack intellectual depth." Amrita defends, "Yes, I think he needs to be more rigorous with his writing. But his work is powerful, funny and sharp. There are many ways in which you can capture the mood of the time, and his writing does it effectively."
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