About the Author:
Vinita Dawra Nangia is Executive Editor, Author and Columnist with The Times of India. She is also the Director of Times Literature Festivals and Director Write India, a movement to identify and launch new writing talent, which she conceptualized, and which now is the world’s largest platform for crowd-sourced short story writing. Vinita specializes in societal trends and dialogues on relationships and life. Her popular Sunday column in The Times of India — O-zone — is an ongoing commentary on contemporary living.
Follow her on Twitter @VinitaNangia
1: What made you start writing, what made you take writing as a profession?
Writing has always been a means of the deepest expression of self for me. Many times, what cannot be said, can be written with great clarity and impact. Emotions don’t allow us to speak or hear each other patiently – the written word has the power to cut through the emotional clutter and make sense. My column reflects my innermost thoughts, emotions and response to people and life.
Writing for me started in childhood with a personal journal which my father insisted we write daily with honesty and fearlessly. He also ensured we read extensively and assimilate our readings by writing summaries of books we read.
Professionally, it seemed like a dream to be able to earn for something that had become a passion, an intrinsic part of my life by then – reading and writing! What could be a better choice?
2: What was the idea behind Times Literature Festival? Tell us about the journey that led you to heading the Times Literature Festivals?
The primary objective for The Times of India to launch literature festivals across cities is to create a signature branded property to celebrate the printed word and also build a relationship with writers, authors and people interested in books and reading. It has over time become a sharply focused reader engagement platform for us.
The Times Literature Festival is unique because it brings some of the country’s most celebrated authors to the readers in several cities. We reach out not just to the Tier 1 cities, but also, through our previews, to Tier 2 cities.
For me personally, my passion for reading and writing (including my weekly column “Ozone’ which has now been captured in four anthologies), has culminated in two wonderfully significant projects that celebrate and connect authors and readers in a mutually delightful manner – Write India and the Times Literature Festivals. I strive to create platforms that encourage more and more people to read and also to write, no matter whether they are good at it or not. I think writing is a great form of self-expression and a wonderful way to understand your own self and hence, the world and other people in it.
3: How do you balance between writing your weekly column, your responsibility as Executive Editor, Director of Write India and the Times Literature Festivals? How do you handle that work pressure?
When passion meets profession, work is a pleasure. My weekly column Ozone has become a way of life and thinking. I am thinking and living it all the time. Then every Friday it is just a matter of writing it.
As for the rest of the work, we have good teams working under my supervision for that. Yes, the pressure builds up immensely in the months from November to February because all our Literature Festivals are concentrated in these months. It isn’t easy because it is almost like organizing several weddings at the same time, but again it is all teamwork and gets done! Times of India has wonderful teams to handle different aspects and the work is seamless. At the end of the day my motto is – What needs to be done, has to be done, and done well! There is no option to that.
4: What do you think about the literary scene in India and how effectively do you think are literature festivals driving this culture?
The rate at which new authors and books are coming up amazes me. I do worry about the quality of literature that is being published in this almost factory style, but I am certain that only true literature will stand the test of time, as always. Having said that, I also find it heartening that so many people are engaged in reading and writing. This can only be good as reading opens up the mind and heart and writing is a great tool for thinking through and resolving issues, even as it helps improve your wellbeing by reducing stress levels and giving you a feeling of achievement.
Literature Festivals bring together readers with authors who have in earlier years been rather elusive and hardly ever heard except through their stories. They engage in discussions and encourage the art of reading and make people believe that they too can write.
5: What is the thinking/parameters that goes into forming sessions for the literature festival?
The books that have been published that year are the first consideration. Books that are relevant to the times and reflect the politics, the social milieu and the character of our era are an important consideration. Once we have a list of these, we engineer sessions keeping in mind topics and discussions that would not just attract and engage attendees, but also those that will have a positive impact and add to ongoing discussions in all spheres.
The attempt is to keep the discussions focused around books that have been written and to ensure that literature remains the central focus around which all discussions and workshops are organized.
6: What are the changes you have observed with literature around the world and India in specific?
Literature over the years has evolved immensely both in reach and content, keeping pace with the demands of the times and technological advances. Writing books is no longer the sole preserve of those who dedicate themselves to the profession of writing. A book today could be authored by anyone from any walk of life. You just have to be able to tell your story in an engaging manner and find the right medium to publish it. For, it is all about story-telling, whichever format you may choose… Literature examines many more subjects than it did in the past, and in a far bolder manner.
7:How do you derive your process to commence on research be it fascinating fests or wonderful books. I would be more than happy to know/understand.
The first step to starting any job is awareness – of what you are setting out to achieve and the present scenario in that context. We research the field thoroughly, understanding trends and figuring what readers are interested in hearing or observing and what authors have to offer that year. We make a conscious effort to engineer sessions in a manner that brings the festival attendees ever new and more interesting perspectives.
For my column, I keep my ears, mind and heart open at all times. I love observing people, hearing them, and thinking through issues – both perennial and those in contemporary contexts. Human relationships really interest me and the way we manage to jumble our threads of communication and ways of unravelling this muddle is fascinating to me. I like to examine and face the deeper questions that bother us all – and to make people face these too through my writings.
8: What are your thoughts about literature being a medium of Dissent?
In our authors and their writings, generations have sought and found that vital element of humanity and the striving of the soul for betterment, which defines culture and civilization.
The importance of radical thought and dissent cannot be over emphasized as a tool for valuing human expression and preserving just and fair social and political systems. A good democracy values its artist and writers, and allows them the freedom to express their views. Literature has great potential as a medium of dissent. Is it any wonder then that the pen has always been considered mightier than the sword?
9: Which are the authors or books that have influenced you the most in your life?
Too many to be able to draw a list that would do justice.
Of course, I grew up reading the classics, fascinated by the world that these books opened up to me. Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters influenced me a lot. Shakespeare was, and remains a God – how could he have been human?
Other writer whose work delighted and inspired me — Simone de Beauvoir, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, W B Yeats, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, J.D.Salinger, the Romantic poets… I loved reading them all.
In recent times, I adore Haruki Murakami’s writing. I also love reading the vast number of psychological thrillers and Bildungsroman/coming-of-age literature that has been a hallmark of all ages, including ours. The inner workings of the human mind and the mental and moral evolution of a protagonist hold me enthralled.
10: It would be great if you could propose some suggestions for increasing the reading culture in India
We are doing a lot to spread the culture of reading and writing in India through our Literature Festivals and through Write India. Engagements with authors, book readings and writing contests go a long way to keep people engaged in a literary fashion. The culture of Book Clubs which one finds in every city, every club, every locality – is a welcome one. Children must be encouraged to inculcate the habit of reading by introducing them to books of their interest.
11: If you have to write in any other genre, which one would you choose?
Fiction. There are so many stories within me, waiting to be told; so many scenarios waiting to unfold…
12: 5 Books that one must read in a lifetime?
- Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
Love in the time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Any good anthology of the world’s best short stories
- Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love
- Cairo Trilogy – Naguib Mahfouz
Most Important — At least the abridged versions, if not the originals, of all classics, fairy tales and mythological tales
13: Your favourite Genre? and the Author? also your favourite book out of all your books?
I am a very eclectic reader and don’t stick to any one genre all the time. I go through phases…. Romance, literary fiction, Psychological thrillers, Bildungsroman, mythological or historical fiction, picaresque – I read all!
14: A quote that always Motivates you?
This too shall pass
And my own personal one from my father who was a true bibliphile – “This is done. What next?”
15: Lastly- A message for all the readers?
Ensure you have a lifelong relationship with reading and writing. This is one passion that will always hold you in good stead right till the end of life. In this one relationship, it does not matter how many parallel loves you pursue – cultivate as many as you can!