Anuja Chauhan on “An Atlas of Love”, the Rupa anthology she has edited

The intention of “An Atlas of Love”, a new anthology of romance published by Rupa, is fairly transparent. The key word is ‘atlas’, whose breadth and colour the anthology seeks to convey through its love stories.

The 16 stories in the volume are, as the editor Anuja Chauhan explains in her introduction, about “the giggly, giddy excitement of the first crush; the mature resurgence that marks the second go at love; gay love, which demands the heavy price of crippling soul searching and social ostracism; sadism masquerading as love; and the psychological aspect of obsessive self-love.”

Anuja has previously written three best-selling and much loved romance novels – “The Zoya Factor”, “Battle For Bittora”, “Those Pricey Thakur Girls” — and is now working on the sequel to the last of these. Two of her novels are also being made into films. She is drawn to romance for the “propulsive thrust” it gives her novels. “So whatever it is I write around, whether there’s an issue I have to highlight, or some thoughts that I have on something, I put them in the structure of a romance because it carries the whole thing in a very nice way.”

It is not her achievements with the romance novel alone, however, that qualify her for editing this anthology. Having worked in advertising also had something to do with it. “I think what qualified me to be an editor was that I have spent 17 years mentoring kids in ad agencies. To me it felt much more like that. It didn’t feel very writerly, it felt like I am the creative director, with kids coming into your room with their scripts,” Anuja says.

From a nationwide contest, Rupa selected about 150 entries. From these, Anuja finalised the 16 that have made it to the anthology. Most of the contributors are young writers with little or no publishing history.

As a writer, one’s communication with readers is one-way. The anthology presented Anuja with the opportunity to reverse the process. “I was very interested in seeing what kind of people would write in, and what they would have to say...It was a kind of an introduction with readers,” she says.

One of the challenges of editing an anthology which seeks to showcase diversity is to resist formula and tokenism. There could be a temptation, as Anuja says, to select “one gay story, one old people story, one time travel story” and so on. The anthology tries to resist this temptation. “In fact, several stories are similar. I thought just because I’ve put one cute love story doesn’t mean I can’t put another. Everything doesn’t have to be intense. What you try to do is avoid a formula. But I did feel that a lot of entries were catering to that,” she adds.

Last year, Penguin had brought out an anthology of love stories edited by Ravinder Singh, based on a similar contest. The crowd-sourced anthology, Anuja feels, is a healthy development, for it allows people to test their writing. “I feel it’s a good start, and hope it can be done every year.”