It’s probably easiest to introduce Huma Tanweer as an International author, but one look at her vast repertoire of writing reveals that she is in fact, much more than that. Nominated for multiple awards, she is one of the defining faces of international writing industry today and is also a poet, a motivational speaker, a blogger and an extremely witty columnist. While her much-lauded How to Become Rich is what she’s is best known for, Huma has continued to surprise and delight readers with her writing for over a decade now, all the while rendering restrictive labels like that of a feminist writer redundant. Indeed, what label would you put on a writer who has effortlessly charted her way through nonfiction, romantic fiction, romantic thriller and crime fiction? With her upcoming novel, Huma is going to make a promising new foray into a world of historical romance mythology that she’s planning to unveil in a few months. We speak to her about her writing process, and much more, in an exclusive interview to Vents Magazine.
Your writings cover a wide range of genres and themes. How are you able to then distinguish between one character and the next?
See, it’s very simple for me. I don’t decide to write in a particular genre first. The organic process is that I think of a character and once I have this character in my mind the character then determines what sort of a novel it’s going to be, what genre it’s going to fall within. So, when this happens, I don’t really have a hassle or a problem distinguishing between one kind of character belonging to one particular genre and the other. This happens very naturally and organically for me.
Since you have experimented with a lot of different genres and forms, personally which genre do you like operating in most?
It’ll be hard answering that question because I realize that at the time when I am working on a particular novel that is the most important thing in my life at that point of time. So, then that is the particular genre that I want to work in. But when I am done with that novel and move on to another one then that becomes the most important thing for me. But what I would kind of pigeonhole it as is that it’s the novel. The novel is the form that I like the most.
When you’re writing the book, what goes into the process of naming a book?
They come to me from a strange sub-conscious part of my mind. Or probably there’s a greater unconscious being that tells me that this is what I should do and so very often when I start a book, I have a working title. And then seldom have I actually gone on to use the same title because somewhere through the book, or at the end of the book, I get this feeling that this title is just a working title, it’s not working for me. Ultimately, I want this book to be known as something else that is more enduring, more representative of what the book is all about. And so, the titles emerge then. And when that happens it’s just kind of like a distillation of the entire process that has been going on in my mind right from the character to the plot to the narrative style to the landscape to the period the book is set in, and so finally the title emerges.
Is there a certain autobiographical element in your work? Has there ever been a character that you have somehow managed to relate yourself to?
Well, you see, the protagonists of my books have had something of me in them. But it’s not like an exact replica, or it’s not made appearing in many disguises through various books. There’s always some element of myself in it, which helps create that character. So, when that character happens, I would flesh it in a different way, the texture is very different. Because it’s very layered and it’s a very complex process. But that is just the foundation. There after what I build up- the character- is an amalgamation of a part of me and mostly imagination.
You wrote on a discourse on feminism and forbidden pleasures. However, you’ve never wanted to be termed a feminist writer. In one of your most famous works Women Entrepreneurship- In the Age of Globalization you tell the story of a group of women, each of who was bearing the brunt of patriarchy in their own different way. Why is there a reluctance to be termed a feminist writer?
As a writer, I think my first dharma is towards writing and not to be identified with any particular ideology or thought process. The only thing I want to do is a write good honest book. Books that are not just relevant to this time and age but will also endure to a greater period of time. To be cast into a particular kind of writing is not what I set out to do because if I had a particular ideology that I wanted to belong to, then I would work towards it. I would stay away from the world of literature. As a result of labeling myself as a writer synonymous with a particular genre, there are going to be curbs put on me- which means that tomorrow I can’t write a novel where I have an anti-hero as a hero. Because that would immediately raise a question that why is she going away from what she always been writing. Even in a book like Women Entrepreneurship- In the Age of Globalization there are very different kinds of women I talk about and each one of them, to some extent, voice what I wrote about, which is the need to articulate the ‘I want’. And I’d like to do it in my own time and in my own style and not be forced into writing only women centric books. It’s almost a defense mechanism when I say please don’t refer to me as a feminist writer. I am a writer who may write female centric stories but I also will write male centric books.
You’ve been writing books for quite a while now. It’s very fascinating because your book has a very commonplace Indian setting with very Indian characters. So how do you think globally the readership has changed in its attitude towards Indian writing in English and women writing in English, from India?
I really can’t comment about how they actually perceive it, because it’s hard to say what they perceive. But what I do know from my interactions with reader groups across the world is that for them it doesn’t matter whether they are sitting in Latvia or the US, or UK, or Spain, or Italy, or any other part of the world. The fundamental issues that strike people whether they live in India or elsewhere- are the same, nothing changes. It’s just the settings that are different. It’s not going to be exactly a replica of the lives that they lead but if they see that there is something in the story that they can relate to then that book automatically gets elevated into a book that speaks about the human condition rather than just speaking about particular situations. So, I think it’s because readers everywhere are able to understand or are able to sense the questions that I am asking through my writing. Because that is what I do through my writings- I ask questions that are not really questions at the face of it. And that makes them think and maybe look at their own lives and the decisions they have made thus far. That is why I think it doesn’t matter that I write about very regular Indian lives and Indian stories, but within the writing the readers should be able to connect and it strikes a chord somewhere in them, so it becomes that much more acceptable for them.
On a light note, what are some of the funny or strange questions that you have been asked with regards to your work?
I spoke about eroticism at Delhi literature festival. So, one of the strangest questions I have been asked, and this by a very senior journalist, was “What does your mother think about you speaking and writing about eroticism?” I actually laughed and I said that to my mother that is the least of her worries. She’s not worried about me speaking about eroticism because it is a natural thing. And then of course which I have been asked like “have you experienced everything that you have written about?” And I tell them that if I were to have had experienced everything that I have written about then I would be a basket case. I wouldn’t be writing. So, allow me some imagination!