Author Sonia Bahl on her latest book, A Year Of Wednesdays, a story about two strangers who meet on a flight
Long flights are not the most exciting of journeys. However, sometimes, things that we don't fancy much end up giving us memories for life. Screenwriter and author Sonia Bahl's second book, A Year of Wednesdays, tells one such story. Two strangers meet on a flight and what unfolds between them becomes an unforgettable and significant part of their lives.
Every chapter in the book reveals a new aspect of this meeting that happens during the flight from New Delhi to New York. Sonia weaves a touching tale of human relationship, while keeping the playfulness between the two passengers intact. The two characters come from distinctly different backgrounds, while one of them is an investment banker, the other is a mother of two and works in an environmental organisation. Their interactions, banter and disagreements form the core of this lyrical narrative.
In an email interaction, the author answers questions about her book, writing rituals and how her background in advertising has nurtured her passion to novels.
Is this an autobiographical account?
It’s a work of fiction but fiction comes from somewhere. It’s natural to draw comparisons between the lives of writers and what they write. The lines do blur. Because isn’t all storytelling the sum of all we feel, believe, and experience—little pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope. When you turn the kaleidoscope, the pieces form an entirely new picture, but there remain pieces of you buried in there somewhere. I think it was Ann Patchett who said: None of it happened and all of it is true.
There is constant comparison between two different lifestyles. Why did you want to focus so much on it? Was it because you wanted people to introspect or feel apologetic for their choices?
Ouch. That would make me unbearably judgy and puritanical, wouldn’t it? The last thing I’d want is for someone to feel apologetic for who they are. On the contrary, the point was to show contrasting people, lives, dreams, aspirations, and link it to one simple truth. The magic of authentic connection—how it helps us come together despite the swirl and confusion of differences. It’s really that simple.
Why did you want your characters to recollect moments from their flight?
It felt like the perfect continuation of the journey and means to unfold the story. The ups and downs, the quotidian, and the arcs—an affirmation that sometimes one chance meeting can be more powerful than a hundred daily meetings.
It reads like it is written for the screen, will it be adapted soon?
As we’ve heard the White House Press Secretary say in countless shows: I can neither confirm nor deny that.
As someone who has worked for long in advertising, how challenging was it to adapt long-form writing?
It’s not length or time that’s daunting. Of course, the lessons from copywriting are gold: brevity, seduction, simple pros, big ideas, and avoiding boredom at all costs. But, I also write screenplays—long form, different format, rules, voice, beats, and even software! What struck me with novel writing was the illicit luxury of being able to say everything…including what the character is thinking. The way I see it, one’s just telling stories—be it a brand story or a cinematic one. It better be worth telling, it better have the power to transcend formats and touch people.
What are your writing rituals?
Nothing extraordinary. In fact, I’m a crashing bore: disciplined Virgoan and a mundane worker bee. I have a "stick-to-it" chip embedded in me. I love the idea of coffee but my stomach doesn’t, so I stick to water with a slice of lime. My family is immune to the fact that my laptop is surgically sutured to my person and I’m lost in the confines of my study. The only person who seems to object is Ari Gold, our needy golden retriever. At regular intervals, he comes in and places a demanding paw on my knee, which is my cue to drop everything and stare deeply into his soulful eyes.
Who are your favourite authors and have any of them influenced your writing?
My reading tastes suffer from multiple personality disorder. It can be Jhumpa Lahiri one day and John Greene the next. Nick Hornby after Kamila Shamsie. Gillian Flynn and Fitzgerald on the same day. Pico Iyer followed by Helen Fielding. Shel Silverstein, anytime. There are too many to love and get lost in. I am in awe of them. But, honestly, I don’t think my writing is influenced by any of them—certainly not in a way that I am aware of.
You have lived in different cities and countries, how does this impact your writing?
Moving around, living in different parts of the world gives you a unique superpower: distillation. You’re inundated with a cornucopia of experiences, things, places, but keep only some. Unconsciously becoming a curator of what matters most. Eventually, you carry moments instead of souvenirs. Places and things fade, meaningful encounters and people find a home inside you. Connections become religion. How can that not impact the stories we tell?
Are you working on something now - films or a new novel?
I’m working on two film projects. Please don’t tell my editor, she thinks I ought to be working on my next book.
Rs 199 on Amazon. Published by Fingerprint! Publishing