Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 8/31/2021 9:47:31 AM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Poonam A. Chawla

Poonam A. Chawla was born and raised in Mumbai where she worked for five years as a copywriter before she moved to the United States. After pen pushing in the corporate arena for two decades, she quit her day job to focus on her writing. Deeply interested in women’s issues, she draws inspiration for her fiction from her extensive life experience, and a sound education in Psychology and Family Cultural Studies. She has recently come out with the book “The Slow Disappearing”. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, she talks about her latest book, her writing journey, her favourite books and authors, and much more. Read on!

Please tell us more about Poonam A. Chawla as a person.

I grew up with three rambunctious brothers and a very strict father. The predominance of men in my family was intimidating for me. I huddled in corners, trying to make myself small. My mother was the great love of my life and my chief cheerleader.
As a child I always felt a little bit out of my element – like a square peg in a round hole. My self-esteem rose as I began getting noticed as a writer. I was a copywriter for several years in a leading ad agency in Mumbai. When I left they gave me a letter that I still open like a present each time I am riddled with self-doubt. It lifts me up.
I love children and when I had my boys, I think I felt complete for the first time in my life. Music and travel come a close second.

Has writing always been a part of your life? Or did you chance upon it later on and then instantly fell in love with it?

Writing has always been a part of my life. My father was a researcher/writer. I admired his dedication. I didn’t chance upon writing really. I was a reader first. A very avid reader. And hence, a day dreamer. At some point it just seemed natural to go from reading to journaling and writing.
When I started job hunting, it was the first time I realized, whatever I did, writing would have to figure in it. I was not skilled at anything else. It is an extension of who I am.

Please tell us more about your book “The Slow Disappearing”.

“The Slow Disappearing” is, as its name suggests – about loss, abandonment and withdrawal. The word ‘Slow’ carries as much weight as ‘Disappearing’. Because even if loss happens at once, it is felt slowly, and deeply like an open wound.
The book straddles three countries and moves seamlessly between past and present. In the book, there is a mother in the throes of dementia, who fears the loss of words over the loss of life. The daughter is trapped in her new role as the reluctant caregiver. A rebel sister who unearths a secret and is forced to close the distance on her past. A there is a son, reeling from abandonment, who scrambles for a foothold. Loss of country, loss of relationships, and loss of memory is the theme in this book. The book is written from four points of view, each one a protagonist in his or her own right.

What inspired you to write this book? When did you start writing this book and how long did it take you to finish it?

I had just quit my job in order to take care of my mom-in-law. However, after so many years of full-time work I felt lonely, resentful and incredibly restless. It became a time for self-study. Soon I began journaling. One day, I wrote my observations, a sort of character sketch on her (just one paragraph) on my FB wall. I was surprised at the many responses I received. It inspired me to make it a story, and then a book. It took me about a year to write, I think. From 2016-2017.

What are the themes that you have discussed in this novel?

The book has many overlapping layers. Dementia is one theme, written from Ma Devki’s point of view. Caregiving for the elderly is another – from Anika’s point of view. Abuse, divorce and single-motherhood – from Malavika’s point of view. Being a child of divorced parents – from Samir’s point of view.

Can you tell us more about your writing process for this novel? How did you go about creating three-dimensional characters and mapping out an engaging plot for this novel?

I took a master class with Margaret Atwood recently. I was relieved to hear from her that my writing process was not haphazard, or simply wrong. There is, I’m afraid, very little method to my madness.
I do not have a blue print of the plot in my head or on paper when I write. A single word or image in a book that I’m reading, can launch a train of thought.
I might develop a character before I develop a plot. My characters are three-dimensional because people are three-dimensional and should be treated as such. For example, Devki was also a mother and a wife and a child before she had dementia. Some of that has to be addressed. Dementia was an affliction. Not her whole life.
I am a self-confessed voyeur (not in a creepy way). The brain records all the verbal and non-verbal actions of everyone I see and meet. At some point the characters take over and drive the plot.

What were some of the challenges while writing this book?

To rein in the characters and give them equal time. They tend to get away from me. To get into the skin of each character thoroughly and create a personality for each one complete with nervous tics, aphorisms etc. so that they are as recognizable and memorable as real-life people.

Can you recommend five books from any genre, for our readers to add to their reading lists, that you particularly cherish?

I read at least one book a week, so it’s hard. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, if you enjoy women’s fiction. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck has always been my favourite – for his effortless and moving prose and incredible story. “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry was extremely well-written. I recently read “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles – It is riveting. And more contemporary. “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent – was quite harrowing and disturbing. Read at your own risk.

What are you working on next? Any new literary projects that our readers should look out for?

I am working on another fiction. It is about misogyny and teen suicides. I think readers will be intrigued.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

To whom much is given, much is expected.

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