Author Andaleeb Wajid wrote her way through two life-changing tragedies in 2021 when she lost her mother-in-law and her husband Mansoor to COVID-19, leaving her and her two sons Saboor and Azhaan grief-stricken and “untethered”. Like most deaths during that time, her family members were gone suddenly and without any proper goodbyes. Last year would have been the couple’s 25th anniversary. Wajid found herself unable to talk to anyone without breaking down, bereft without the two people with whom she shared everything first. Writing, you could say, saved her.
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“Writing was a lot like therapy,” she says, adding that at a time when everything was slipping away, it was the only place she could cling on to for a semblance of normalcy. “When you’re writing you’re creating your own world, you’re in control. The one thing I didn’t have in those months was control.”
She worried constantly about money and about life without Mansoor. Just months before he passed away, her husband had converted a large balcony in their house into a plush man cave, with wardrobes and an office space. Angry at him for going so soon, Wajid began writing there. Even as the writing schedules that she diligently made at the start of every year crumbled, her self-publishing journey, which she had embarked on in 2019, became even more urgent.
When she started self-publishing her books, fellow authors had expressed concern: “What’s wrong? Why are you self-publishing?” They wanted to know why Wajid, who has been an author with almost every big publishing house, had picked an option that many see only as a fallback for writers rejected by mainstream publishing.
Her own boss
Wajid’s logic was simple. She couldn’t wait the year or two it usually takes to go from manuscript to published novel. “When I’ve written something I want it to go out into the world immediately,” she told them. Plus, she wanted to see if she could actually make a living from the writerly life. Wajid, 45, has always been prolific: the last time I interviewed her in 2018, she had written 17 books in nine years. She was just embarking on her self-publishing journey. When she’s working on a book, her day starts with writing, one or two chapters daily. In self-publishing, she is her own boss, and a very “strict” one, she says.
Now she’s the author of 40 books, including many self-published multi-part series. Her top selling Kindle e-book, Accidentally Married, the first of a six-part series, has an 11 lakh-plus Kindle Edition Normalised Page Count (KENPC). The KENPC measures the number of pages customers read and calculates royalty accordingly.
Publishing house Westland acquired and just released Jasmine Villa, the lovingly detailed trilogy Wajid self-published a couple of years ago about three sisters who grew up in a ramshackle house with a garden awash with the scent of jasmine. Even if you don’t count that series, half of Wajid’s books are now self-published. She’s taking a rare break to promote Jasmine Villa and to recharge her writing batteries. “Sometimes, despite loving writing so much I feel like an automaton, jumping from one to the next,” she says.
YA to horror
Her books are the equivalent of comfort food — say aromatic white rice and yellow dal — but with a glob of your favourite pickle or a perfectly fried piece of fish. When I was ill recently I binge read Jasmine Villa, whose three female protagonists must navigate families and their own fears to follow their desires and dreams. “I want my readers to lose themselves in my story. I’m not thinking of the literary-ness of it,” Wajid says. “It’s well-written pulp fiction that makes you want to come back to it.” But as Wajid is finding out, readers of her series devour them faster than she can write them. She’s finally met her match in the Kindle reader.
She’s always dabbled in a variety of genres from young adult and horror to romance though, since our last meeting, she’s focused mainly on the last. “I don’t want to restrict myself to one particular genre. I get bored and then at some point I want to make the protagonists kill each other,” she says, laughing. “When I start feeling that way I know it’s time to switch genres.”
So, in addition to a young adult horror story she’s sent to Harper Collins, she’s just completed a young adult novel about a “determined and ambitious” hijab-wearing college student. “You don’t need me to say how people perceive Indian Muslim girls,” she says. “I feel like in another lifetime I could have been this girl. I want to tell them it’s important to be ambitious.”
Wajid decided not to make plans and schedules after 2021. She’s embracing life as it unfolds. She and her sons have added a treadmill to Mansoor’s man cave and they use the space together.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and the co-founder of India Love Project on Instagram.