Twinkle Khanna Claims she did not Succumb to the Pressure of being Hilarious in her New BookExplore Twinkle Khanna's latest novel, 'Welcome to Paradise,' as she shares insights on her unique writing process, blending humor with serious themes, and pursuing an MA in fiction writing. Discover a world of wit, emotion, and literary craftsmanship.
on Dec 08, 2023
The actor discusses her fourth book, Welcome to Paradise, returning to college in her late 40s, and her continuing love of the craft of writing.
Twinkle Khanna has a daily morning practice of writing. She begins as early as 4.30 or 5 a.m. if she has a deadline to meet, or as soon as her daughter leaves for school if no deadlines are approaching. It will last till 11 a.m. This cycle may even continue over vacations if she has a deadline, like she recently did. "Because I know my most productive hours, I've learned to guard them." I'm worthless after noon.
"It's difficult for me to find words to say at 3 p.m.," Khanna admits. We met her 30 minutes after noon on a weekday at her sea-facing office in Juhu, and while we disagreed with her remark, we laughed along with her.
Khanna, who relocated to London with her daughter Nitara last year to pursue an MA in fiction writing at Goldsmiths, University of London, is back in Mumbai to celebrate the release of her fourth novel, Welcome to Paradise. After a five-year hiatus, the book contains five short stories stretched across 200 odd pages, dealing with serious issues such as death, loss, and betrayal.
It is perhaps a minor deviation from Khanna's writing style, which is renowned to be "very funny."
During the chat, we find that the 49-year-old best-selling novelist made a premeditated attempt. "What really felt important to me with this book was that I didn't give in to the pressures I'd been feeling for years — of being Mrs Funnybone, of putting a joke on every page."
"I wrote this book authentically, with the stories I chose to tell, and in the way I chose to tell them, which may not have always been the case," she adds, adding that she had faced this pressure many times over the years, most notably during her most recent book, Pyjamas Are Forgiving (2018). "I felt the pressure that they expect this from me, they need this from me and so I did (cave in) and those are my regrets," she said. During this time, Khanna made a conscious decision to do away with it.
She claims that the pressure was internal, as was the shedding, and that "my column has a different voice than my book, and that's how it will be for now." She adds that the stories can be amusing, but only if they serve a purpose.
This is not to say that Welcomes to Paradise is boring. Some portions will make you grin or laugh silently, as humour is always present in the midst of sadness. "The wit will always be there." However, it may not be clear. "It may be dark humour because I look at life in that way, so that seeps into the stories," she said, adding, "I can't really write about serious things absolutely seriously because I get bored."
But is it difficult to blend laughter with dark subjects? "No," she says flatly, adding that the tricky aspect for her is the framework and shape of these stories. "I had decided to write the story in the book, The Man From The Garage, in first person," she explains, sharing a fascinating behind-the-scenes moment from the development of this book. And that was from Huma's perspective, but I recognised it wasn't enough. As a result, the story is told from two perspectives: Huma's and Sara's. In the beginning, one chapter follows another, thus we move from one point of view to another.
However, when the mother and daughter get closer, their viewpoints begin to overlap on the same page, with separate paragraphs. So there's also this sort of behind-the-scenes craft going on, which gives the impression that they're far apart, but then they get closer emotionally and on the page as well. So scaffolding of that type was vital to me."
When it comes to the book, Khanna is unable to pinpoint a specific year when she began working on it.
Jelly Sweets, the book's final story and based on her own great-grandmother's life, was something she had been thinking about for a long time. "I had notes for it about eight years ago when I was a DNA columnist." Sarita Tanwar, my then-editor, looked at it and said it was lovely and heartfelt, and she asked why I wasn't finishing it. I told her it was brewing in my head and would take some time. "It was strangely the last story I finished in this collection," she adds, adding that she began the narrative Welcome to Paradise before the pandemic and the others during her time at university.
“I wasn’t working exclusively on the book in the last five years. I set up Tweak, which took two years. Then I did my master’s, which kind of worked in conjunction with the book,” she says.Writing Jelly Sweets, which discusses the anguish of losing a child, was partially a method for Khanna to immortalise her history and legacy. "When you're young, you're always looking ahead and running." When you're my age, you take your time walking about and taking in the sights. Then, in your 70s and 80s, you sit on a bench and glance behind you. I'm strolling and looking around, but I'm also approaching that bench stage in life. I had the distinct impression that I was the last one to recall this story. As a result, it was critical for me to (write it) in the form of fiction.
While it is not her story, "my great-grandmother did lose her son, later marry her neighbour, and then have many children in her glorious life after that," she says, adding that the beauty of the story was that "there is so much sorrow in the world, but there is also joy, and that kind of counterbalances the amount of grief we have."
Before saying our goodbyes, we inquired about Khanna's school life, only to discover that she had been considering pursuing an MA for quite some time and, like most people, was nervous about having someone to have lunch with.
"Years ago, when I took my son to a school-college counsellor to discuss his future studies, I told the counsellor that I wanted to return to university." So perhaps the concept was always there. During the pandemic, I took two Oxford courses. "By the end, I felt like I'd learned so much more about the structure of storytelling and the craft," she says, adding that she was so thrilled to be engaged in this community of authors and peers that she opted to continue her master's degree. She made pals during a group assignment in the third week of university when she needed someone to have lunch with.
They now have a group called 'Scribes in the City' and are still eager to annotate each other's work. And, while it wasn't easy given that she had already moved five apartments, she considers herself fortunate to have the support of her family, particularly her 21-year-old son Aarav, who offered to babysit her daughter when she needed it. Khanna recently finished her MA with a dissertation on non-linear narrative architecture, and Alice Monroe's works were recently nominated for the renowned Pat Kavanagh Prize. "Being in a field of art that has no fixed formula, this validation from an academic institution is very gratifying, (sort of saying) that yes, you are on the right path," she said.