Writer Saaz Aggarwal launches her book ‘The Songbird on my Shoulder' at David Hall on Saturday

‘The Songbird on my Shoulder, Confessions of an Unrepentant Madam' is not a self-help book but can easily be offered as a motivational tome.

Writer Saaz Aggarwal is encouraged by that fact and says, “I feel mighty smug at the thought that people might take inspiration and guidance from what I've written,” she writes in an e- mail.

Her book will be launched tomorrow at David Hall, Fort Kochi.

“The songbird…' is a chain of anecdotes from her life, which deals frankly and sensitively with subjects as diverse as single parenting, being a stepmom, handling staff, kitty parties, the city of Mumbai and Pune, ageing parents, ‘Bombay Clichés' her art and travel etc. She sometimes uses poetry to express herself.

Her quirky sense of humour, frank style, an easy flowing prose make for light yet insightful reading. Here are excerpts from an email interview with The Hindu MetroPlus.

Why did you choose this format for the book, not a story but a host of anecdotes, images, impressions?

Well, it's the kind of thing artists do at a certain point in their career, put up a ‘retrospective' of their work. In this book, I picked out previously published work and then wrote a few more to fill important gaps.

Why did you choose to use poetry to write on certain subjects?

Over the years, my poems have appeared spontaneously, sparked off by a passing wisp of thought, and then flowed easily onto the page. I've had to work much harder on my prose.

Do you see this as a motivational self-help book, in a way? The narration on your father especially.

Well, I've always been a person who believed in self help. Perhaps all the years of rigorous spiritual discipline have inadvertently seeped into my writing and I must say I feel mighty smug at the thought that people might take inspiration and guidance from what I've written! Yes, my father was a wonderful role model and I hope that's come out in the book.

How would you position the book? Which reader are you addressing?

People who enjoy light entertainment with a subtle underlying moral base, I suppose!

Could you tell us more about Bombay Clichés, your interest in painting?

Some years ago, I decided to make myself two paintings of typical Mumbai scenes - couples on Marine Drive, fisherwomen in a commuter train (we call them 'locals' in Mumbai), that kind of thing - in a faux Madhubani style.

Mahendra Damle, then a lecturer at JJ School of Art in Mumbai, used to come and spend a few days with us in Pune every summer holidays and give my children an art workshop.

I had never painted before and he liked the idea, told me it would be a breeze, and got me started. I made my two paintings. It was June 2005. After he left, the ideas kept coming so I kept at it. Two weeks later I went along to Mumbai with my portfolio to show him what I'd done. He examined each one slowly and enocuraged me to go ahead.

It was his words that gave me the courage to go ahead and have my first exhibition at Kamalnayan Bajaj Gallery in Mumbai. Being a humour writer, coining the expression ‘Bombay Clichés' was not difficult!

You use the simulated voices of Bridget Jones, Bill Bryson, Dave Barry in your book

I'm a mimic - I do accents. And in my writing too, I can use other people's style with a little extra effort. These pieces are taken from a column I had for some time where I wrote pretending I was these people on a visit to Bombay.

The chapter on Mother Courage is particularly poignant? How hard or easy has parenting been?

Yes, there were many challenges. My children are in their early twenties so I've learnt to be detached - but it was all very intense at the time. I really do believe that parents should give their children full time and attention. I did.

You write frankly about your personal life. What drives you to be an open book?

Writers should write about what they know well. As a young single mother who needed a way to earn a living without leaving the house, it was my “last week me and my dog did this and that” columns that kept me afloat. People would seek me out to tell me they'd read something I'd written and loved it- that felt good. Eventually I guess it became a habit

Do you plan to write a regular novel? with a story, plot characters etc .Where will the songbird now park herself?

I'm primarily a non-fiction writer and don't see myself writing fiction - not in the next few years at least. Songbird is flying off to the Kala Ghoda festival in Mumbai next week and plans to sing in other cities over the next few weekends!

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