Interview with Neha Mehrotra – Author of How much is too Much: Divorce in India

Interview with Neha Mehrotra – Author of How much is too Much: Divorce in India

About the Author:

A first-time author, Neha Mehrotra started as an Interior Designer and has 7 years of media-sales experience with several big names in the industry. She realised that her true calling was creative arts. So one fine day she left her successful corporate career to follow her dreams and became an Event Stylist and Wedding Planner and pursuing her dreams past over a decade. 

Daughter of an Army Officer & entrepreneurial mother, she loves to travel, explore new places and try different cuisines. A strong supporter of Women Rights she decided to support the cause through her personal experience on a sensitive issue of divorce – still taboo in India. 

Neha belongs to Lucknow and currently resides in Delhi. 

Interview:

1: Tell us about the idea behind the book?

This book is a self-help guide to understand what to do when you feel stuck in a bad marriage or a relationship. This takes you on a personal journey highlighting the mistakes made due to the inability to gauge that I could decide differently and how I subsequently feared the consequences of initiating a separation/divorce once I realised that this wont bring me happiness ahead. The purpose of this book is to let women feel comforted by the thought that just incase they have similar situations but fear uncertainty, this was how my journey panned out. While it was painful and depressing initially, I did overcome it and it is possible to find happiness by everyone again. I would like all those women who feel hopelessness, despair and no reason to go on – to find solace  in the thought of re-starting their lives. The focus of the book is to highlight the social stigmas in our society, families influence & personal dilemmas and how it often becomes deterrent for seeking a step towards finding the lives we all deserve. Marital failure is a sheer regressive taboo and should not be given more importance than required. This book highly advocates the fact that a separation or a divorce is not a woman’s identity – it is just a mistake & life needs to continue.

2: How much time it took in the process of writing?

It took me around 3 years to finish this book due to varied reasons. I started writing in 2016 but it was rather slow . It wasn’t easy as there were lots of moments where I had to revisit and go back to relive the painful times. Most memories that were buried deep, had to be remembered and articulated rightly. Often I felt anger and deep pangs of pain which came from all that I had to revive in my head. Had to separate my own personal issues and be non-judgemental while explaining what was the purpose of this book with complete clarity. The story was largely mine but several other relationships were observed, so I could get a wider perspective on what a woman goes through in depth. I also was working full time, so was mostly traveling and there were large gaps in between often, where I lost perspective when I wanted to re-start.

I decided to finish the book asap and touch some relevant topics, so even if I could save one life, it would serve its purpose. By stating my own experience, I am hoping to ease it out for those who fear the unexpected. I don’t advocate divorces, I advocate choices that women can make and should.

Also Read: Interview with V K Mehta and Mahek Sharma – Author of In Search of Home

3: What did the process of writing this book taught you?

I came to realise that despite varied reasons, the primary dilemma in most women’s head and subsequent societal stigma were largely similar. It was not a great feeling to realise that, having experienced it first-hand. But the satisfaction I feel now, knowing I survived it all and perhaps many others would also find their grounds via my book, is amazing to say the least.

Also I was amazed to realise that marriage was supposed to just be a segment of one’s life but how impactful it really was in India. We stress so much on the history & geography of the world all throughout first 20 years of one’s life when the topic of how to deal in a marriage/relationship or how to choose a partner isn’t what is actively discussed ever. Why dont parents ever teach their kids how to differentiate between a regular issue and an abuse? Why is mental and emotional health not important in India for healing and coping? For the longest time, I felt my decision to leave and heal was highly delayed due to the societal complications and had I not found the courage ultimately, I perhaps would not have survived this.

Writing this book freed my soul from all inhibitions that I suffered from. All the shame and fear of what will people around me think – vanished! It taught me that if I believed that I was right and that there is societal injustice prevalent then I need to voice it.

4: What inspired you to write this book ?

The inspiration was always my own life. When the issues started, I never fully believed that I would one day be free and happy. Few times I was convinced that I wont survive this. My pace was slow and also my perspective was all over the place with so much inside my head.  In 2018, I heard about demise of a woman known to me, due to domestic violence & emotional trauma. She apparently committed suicide by jumping off her residence rooftop. Highly successful & independent, financially very well-off, extremely beautiful & a super strong woman – but she found jumping off a 4-storied building easier than taking a step towards separation or a divorce. Something about it shook me to reality that while I escaped a disastrous end, many might not. Sleepless night followed and while I had re-married by then, I ended up having emotional outbursts several times. That is when I realised that something within me wanted to do something for women in marital distress and seriously!! We women get to the edge and lose that belief that we can overcome bad marriages. We lose that hope that even if, things are not working out in our marriages/relationships, it is not the end of life. Often we don’t know who to turn to for advice and for consolation that it would all be fine no matter how bad is the situation. We just need to look at this differently and find that courage to change our life’s course.

5: 5 books one must read in lifetime? 

Have read many different genres, so will pick a mixed selection:

  1. Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir – for a true story beyond belief of courage & strength of human spirit
  2. Enid Blyton series – for the imaginary world of magic, fairies and wonder it instills in you. A little bit of belief in miracles is important for adults too.
  3. Only Love is Real by Dr. Brian Weiss – for the igniting the hope that the concept of soulmates is real.
  4. Princess by Jean Sasson – for reminding us that there exists another world where women have had it much harder.
  5. Love Story by Erich Segal – for being a novel which instills old-school – ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’.

6: A book that had an impact on you, which helped you in writing this one?

Not directly but Stolen Lives and Princess helped in many ways. I was in awe that there existed such women who encountered such traumatic personal journeys and yet they found the courage to go on beautifully. When I read these books I was in college but even today, I can connect with the anguish, despair, helplessness and finally the triumph of these women. To realise that these are real-life women and not fictional characters further inspired me in several ways.

7: Why this genre? If you have to write in some other genre what that would be?

There are different kinds of authors. Some imagine and construct a beautiful fiction in their minds, some get inspired from others lives and pen it down. I decided to bring forth what I felt was grave in-justice in the societal mindset towards moving away from a marital mistake and re-attempting at living life again. I realised that had I not worried about backlash, isolation and the fear of family shame I would have saved many precious years of my life rather than the 5 years I languished. Perhaps would have not even married in the first place as I knew it was a mistake earlier too. This genre is what most don’t want to talk about, which is why it is feared and hushed around. When a marriage is so important in our society that it becomes the be all & the all for a woman, then why not talk about it so our children learn from this better at-least? I had a lot to help others out with, so I chose this genre through my own experiences.

If I had to write about another genre, I would like to talk about human mind and the different ways it functions. Another genre which interests me is biographies of some unsung heros. There are countless real-life people who have overcome personal issues and battles & reached crazy heights of success. For me they are extremely inspirational.

8: Your favourite part from the book?

I love this book entirely as it is my own life re-visited. But if I had to choose just one then it would have to be the end (last chapter). I always believe that an end is always a beginning too. It is a semblance of hope, motivation and courage. In lot many ways it is the essence of the whole narrative and resonates with the idea that one can overcome not matter the situation! Also I recall that when I was writing this chapter, it made me happiest as I felt that like in life, this was also the end of re-visiting the pain of past but it won’t have to be done again. I love the fact that I finally knew that there was no answer to ‘How Much is Too Much?’  but knowing that itself bought me so much satisfaction. In a lot many ways, it bought me the closure I never got.

9: A quote, para from the book that inspires you?

Page 42 – ‘We separated. Just as easily  as we once came together as if it was always meant to end just like this.’

Somehow with these two sentences the past, present and future can be expected without a doubt. I feel this was that nucleus which mirrored my journey and carries the essence of the book. There is lot more to read in between lines here. While it states a firm end, it reminds one of a story that once was, the pain that followed and the tinge of freedom that hints ahead.

10: Tell us about your future plans? Planning a new book?

Haven’t planned ahead yet but do want to explore the complications which is faced between a couple. There are so many shades of grey that need to be understood and talked about which stems from centuries of conditioning for either sexes apart from the genetic compounding which at most times doesn’t help. Basically, I want to write about the difference between a man and woman as individuals and then as ones who want to co-exist in an harmonious relationship. As of now in my head, this seems like an oxymoron for majority. 🙂

11: What is literary success for you?

I am no Shakespeare with perfect language or knowledge of literature. This is my debut book that too with a very heavy topic that has several sensitive shades and tones. I know fully well I might not touch every heart but yet I aspire for my readers to feel the connect. To understand my reasons, pain, anguish and feel happy when my life changes for the better. I am the character here that they need to feel for and in turn get the message of self-love and respect. If I can get a handful of women to feel they got the courage to alter their lives post reading my book – THAT would be literary success for me.

12: A message for all the readers .

Look around you!

‘During this lockdown, domestic abuse in India has doubled.’- Outlook  (7th April 2020).

There is a reason for this! Stifling, suffocating relationships where couples hid behind mundane everyday routines & professional commitments suddenly vanished. Having long lost the love and respect for each other, they now find it difficult to live under the same roof and co-exist. This is a blatant proof that there are many families like yours and mine, who might appear happy on surface but internally the women are suffering miserably. They think they are being brave by enduring abuse but someday they would crumble. Their entire lives would pass by and they would never know what they could have opted for instead.

Marriage or a relationship is not only a celebration of a strong passion, love and desire that you first feel for each other. That is just the initial & less-lasting part. It is more of the understanding of the differences you share, the habits you dislike and all the reasons which you eventually realise and know you would not ideally want in your partners. It is about the emotions you then have to contribute keeping in mind that let the reason be both your happiness rather than just your own. I have always advocated that the strength of a relationship isn’t how you love each other but more of how you fight & makeup.

Both men and women should get into a commitment with an absolute clear understanding that equality in all aspects will be maintained at all times and both parties are entitled to mental, physical and emotional happiness. If not, end it gracefully rather than make it torturous and dragging the corpse. Mistakes happen but then either sort it out or move on – there is NO middle ground without repercussions and a possible vicious cycle.

Leave a Reply