Kiran Manra latest book, Saving Maya, revolves around the story of a single parent. she has eight books to her credit but this perhaps is the most heartwarming of them all. A former journalist and popular blogger, she became one of the top 10 Indian moms to follow on social media. Today, Kiran is a well-known writer whose works traverse numerous genres. In this interview with Guardian 20, she chats about her latest novel, parenting, social issues like sexual harassment and more.
Q. Saving Maya is your seventh book. How did you come to write a story about a single mother?
A. It is my eighth actually if you count True Love Stories, which are a series of 20 love stories I did for Juggernaut, which could be a book by itself if clubbed together.
I’ve always wondered why we tend to stop at the “happily ever after” in romance novels. The point at which one ends a story is always the point at which one has a romance or a tragedy in one’s hands. Romance and love are part and parcel of the entire package that includes heartbreak, disillusionment, infidelity and divorce that is a real issue that we see all around us. What most romances tend to do is to promote the concept that the one “big” love story in one’s life is perhaps the only love story worth talking about. But love happens over and over again, we humans by nature are not monogamous. There is heartbreak, divorce, and then perhaps love again. I felt that we need to read stories where they say, its okay, heartbreak and divorce are devastating but there is always the glimmer of the possibility of love again on the horizon.
I’ve been raised by my mother, my father passed away when I was barely nine. I’ve seen her through her struggle to get back on her feet, to raise me on a very limited income, the challenge to learn skills when she was 42 in a field that was completely alien to her, banking, given she’d been given a job on compassionate grounds. And though of course, she never did get remarried, I often wondered when I grew up about how unfair it was that she never even considered a second marriage. I’ve also been witness to dear friends having marriages break up and needing to renegotiate their lives, and all the comforts they took for granted. I thought we need to speak about how it really is - physically, emotionally, financially, mentally, when dealing with life after a divorce, especially in India where more than an individual, you marry a family.
Q. Have you captured any personal experiences in this book?
A. Mine? No alas. No divorce, no dishy mysterious neighbour. Except for the six-year kid and his speech cadences which I have happily snitched from my offspring from when he was that age. Of course, the struggle with weight issues is something I can happily lay claim to, although I haven’t been as diligent as Maya is in managing to knock it all off. Also, the uncertainty of getting back into the job force after a gap. I did step out of the formal workforce when my son was young and came back quite some years later and there is this feeling of needing to relearn things, that does make one slightly disconcerted.
Q. Many single men and women in India are choosing to adopt in India. How do you see this trend?
A. I think it is absolutely wonderful if they have adequate support for child care. It is an act of courage to raise a child, and doing it on one’s own is truly inspiring. I’ve been raised by my mom, and I have seen the struggle she faced first hand. Adopting is something I heartily recommend and I have dear friends who have adopted baby girls, who are growing up into strong young women and it delights me every single time I look at them. It takes an immense amount of commitment and dedication to raising a child on one’s own and I do hope this is a trend that really catches on.
Q. How easy or tough is it to bring up kids today as a single parent?
A. I was raised by my mom after my dad died when I was nine, so I know exactly how tough it when I was young, to manage everything home, work, child care and it is definitely is tougher now than it was earlier. A great support system is a must, and thankfully in India, we do get domestic staff to do the daily chores so that is taken care of, and we can call up family and friends to step in when needed or lend a hand. As one who has grown up with a single parent, I can say it makes one stronger, more independent and does compel one to grow up faster and be more responsible for oneself.
Q. What is your take on the #MeToo movement? Do you think we’ll see more people speak out in India?
A. #MeToo honestly is something whose time has come. It needed to happen. For far too long sexual aggression and sexual harassment against women had been swept under the carpet and even normally because of our refusal to talk about it, for various reasons. Well, I hope more people will speak out too in India. It is starting, it will definitely gain momentum. On the flip, I hope #MeToo goes beyond the social media hashtag and enters day to day life, where girls and women realise there is no reason they need to tolerate and brush off daily sexism and harassment, either on the streets, in public places or in workspaces, or even homes. That the movement empowers women to speak out, on Facebook, Twitter, or to amplify other voices speaking out is just an indication that this generation is quite done with “tolerating” and letting it go.
Q. Sexual harassment and assault seem to be a common occurrence in India today. What should we do to curb this?
A. It is a long process, we need to begin by re-examining the toxic masculinity we seem to be endorsing with the macho culture our pop culture propagates as well as begin gender sensitisation initiatives in schools and colleges. It will take time. But I have hope for the next generation, I hope they will be the ones to stand up and stop all that has been perpetuated in the name of bro-culture and machismo.
Q. Would you like to see one of your books made into a film?
A. I would love to. But of course, that’s for the filmmakers to decide if any of my books is worth making into a movie. In truth, I think The Face at the Window would make a lovely movie, it is such a visual book, I can even see Mrs McNally at her desk as I’m typing this. Then Saving Maya is a fabulously fun urban setting and would be a great rom-com. I do hope that they get made into movies because they’re really lovely stories if you allow me the indulgence of saying so myself.