Books

Anuja Chauhan on her latest book The House That BJ Built

Author Anuja Chauhan during an interview with The Hindu on her latest book The House That BJ Built Photo : R. Ravindran  

Anuja Chauhan says she moved to Bangalore for the weather. The writer wakes up at 7 a.m. everyday, and first sees off her 14-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter to school. Then she argues with her husband, television producer Niret Alva, over who will walk the dogs — some days she wins, other days she gets a little exercise out of it. “In addition to the two dogs, we also have two cats, some guinea pigs, toads, and many birds that nest under every lamp shade in our verandah. So I potter around the garden for a while, catching up with the wildlife,” says Anuja. By 10 a.m., she snuggles into bed with a laptop and begins to write. 

For the next six hours, she’s literally the laid-back writer. In fact, she says, her hair stylist recommended that she cut her hair short, so that it doesn’t get knotted, since she spends the majority of her work day lying on her back. Sounds like quite the ideal life, doesn’t it? 

Anuja’s life, however, wasn’t always quite so serene. 

“I spent my 20s in a haze of pregnancies, and writing and shooting ads, and writing and shooting,” says Anuja, looking stressed at the mere thought of it. Way back in 1993, Anuja joined JWT as a corporate trainee and went on to create some of the most catchy advertising campaigns that took this country by storm. She worked with many big brands such as Pepsi (‘Yeh dil maange more’, ‘Nothing official about it’ and ‘Oye bubbly’), Mountain Dew (‘Darr ke aage jeet hai’), Kurkure (‘Tedha hai par mera hai’), Lays (‘Be a little dillogical’) and Kit Kat (‘Kit Kat break banta hai’). By 2003, at the age of 33, the executive creative director had also become one of the youngest vice-presidents at the firm, and had many accolades to her name. 

What changed? “When I was about 35, I realised that everybody hated me,” says Anuja. “I was a horrible person — ambitious, competitive, insecure, frantic. I was handling all these big accounts and heading a big team, and realised they all hated working with me, which was awful because I fondly assumed we were one happy family. That was quite a nasty lesson to learn.” 

Anuja gave up her team, built a new one from scratch, did a lot of introspection and learnt a lot of life lessons. Then, she decided to write. 

“My first two books — The Zoya Factor and Battle for Bittora — I wrote while I was still working full time. It was so exciting — I was walking around looking all flushed and excited that people thought I was having an affair,” laughs Anuja. Writing page after page of fiction, when she was trained to stop after one page in advertising, was, she says, so liberating. She wrote while at work, in hotel rooms, on flights, during ad shoots and at home. “In a way, I was like a convict digging a tunnel out of jail with a tin spoon,” laughs Anuja.

In 2010, she quit advertising to become a full-time writer, and in January 2013, published her third book, Those Pricey Thakur Girls. “I think being a writer is a good career choice for a woman. And that’s what I told my kids, that if I write and make enough money, I won’t need to go to work. I can just write in bed and I won’t have to travel for shoots,” grins Anuja. Her three children too, were absolutely thrilled. Because though they have fond memories of having their hair ruffled by celebrities such as Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Kajol and Dhoni, having her fly around the country four times a month, for three days a week, was decidedly hard on them. 

Now, she says, life is good. “I am actually friends with people, I no longer look at them as just rivals and competitors,” laughs Anuja, and laugh she often does, casually finding humour in many mundane situations. Her books too, laced with humour and Hinglish, and featuring quirky and well-etched characters, have won her many fans and awards. In fact, she is hailed as the country’s best chicklit writer, though she detests the word “chick” and says, “What is a chick? It is such a small-time thing. It is not even like you are saying falcon lit or eagle lit. Chick lit just sounds so sad.”

In Chennai, to promote her fourth and latest book, The House That BJ Built, as part of The Hindu Lit for Life Book Talk, powered by Westland, Anuja discussed her works and signed copies for excited students at MOP Vaishnav College in the morning, and for the public at Amethyst in the evening. Despite the fact that all three of her previous books have been adapted for the big screen and TV, Anuja says that after all her ambitions in advertising, she no longer writes for a particular audience. “If I write a book, you’ll read it in two nights, but I have to spend 16 months with that damn thing. So I write what fascinates me,” says the best-selling author. 

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 4:30:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/interview-of-best-selling-author-anuja-chauhan/article10334720.ece

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