‘Animal Farm’ Comes Close to Describing India Today: Anuja Chauhan

I think the best conversations have started when people ask this question of each other: So, what are you reading right now?

Books play a major role in shaping who we are and what we stand for. They open new worlds for us, if we are lucky, and also berate us where we are needed to.

What are also pressing are these questions:

  • What do I read next?
  • How do I pick the next read?
  • What is my favourite author reading?
  • What books do they like?

Keeping this in mind, here is a brand-new feature that answers these questions.

We start with the witty, romantic and sometimes profound writer-on-the-block Anuja Chauhan, author of The Zoya Factor, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Battle for Bittora and more.

Q: What books are currently on your night stand?

Anuja Chauhan: I'm reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and enjoying it thoroughly. Also, I'm re-reading The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - partly because of a spiritual semi-crisis and partly because of the state of affairs in the US. I've just finished Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto and The Calcuttta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh, which were nice - but they’ve both written books I liked better. Oh, and The Girl in Blue by PG Wodehouse (always such a treat to find a PGW you haven't read!).

Chauhan during a book-reading session. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/ anujachauhan)

Q: What was the last good book that you read?

AC: I LOVED The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. I picked it up randomly because I was amused by the gloating gargoyle on the cover - and was hooked from page one. Bartimaeus is epic.

Q: What genres do you love reading and which are the ones that you avoid?

AC:

I love romantic comedy and vast gothic family sagas. Also funny, quirky fantasy novels. I avoid depressing books and books with too much sex - especially sexual abuse - and violence. Like I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because everybody was reading it - but skipped the sequels and it was all too grisly and deviant-ish for me. I used to love horror once - I was a huge Stephen King fan - but I find that as I get older, I can’t handle it any more.

A book cover of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Q: If you had to give every Indian a book to read at this time, which one would it be and why?

AC: I'd give every young person Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It tells a very entertaining (but sobering) tale of what happens if we succumb to the charisma of dictators, racial discrimination, hyper-patriotism and xenophobia.

Q: Which books according to you explain the current situation in India most appropriately?

AC: Animal Farm comes close. Also, this play I acted in when I was a child - Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja by Bharatendu Harishchandra.

Q: What books people would be surprised to find on your shelf?

AC: I've no idea what would surprise people. I can only tell you what's on the shelf!

Q: Which is one of your favourite books that most people haven’t heard of?

AC: I love The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch. She writes yummy, sweeping gothic novels about dysfunctional families who fight over huge houses in the middle of howling moors and this one is (according to me) the best one she's done. I'm always surprised that she isn't more famous than she is.

Chauhan’s upcoming book Baaz. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/ anujachauhan)

Q: What do you read when you are working on your books? What kind of reading do you avoid while writing?

AC: I only read things that help in the research of the book I'm writing. Like for my newest book, Baaz, I read a lot of non-fiction on India's military history. Otherwise I get distracted. I either start despairing (they're so good, I'll never measure up, why bother to write at all?) or I start to unknowingly plagiarise. So I have reading phases and writing phases and they don't overlap.

Q: How do you organise your books?

AC: I 'organise' them in huge, old-school, distressed-painted book shelves according to size. Which is very shallow of me, but at least I don't stack them according to colour.

Q: You are organising a literary party. Which 5 living authors would you invite and why?

AC:

JK Rowling, Arundhati Roy, Neil Gaiman, Meg Cabot, Margaret Atwood. And I’d call Chetan Bhagat too, as a wild card entry. I feel all these people would have lots to say to each other. It would be a fab, sparks-flying, unpretentious party - and by the morning, we’d have fixed everything that’s wrong with the planet and figured out a HEA for everyone.

Q: Whom would you want to write your life story?

AC: Me!

Q: What books are going to be read next?

AC: I'm going to read Bring up the Bodies (the sequel to Wolf Hall) and I'm waiting, licking my chops, for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy.

(Vivek Tejuja is a bibliophile who breathes, eats and lives books.)

Join The Quint on WhatsApp. Type “JOIN” and send to 9910181818.