Finding a voice through writing

For Gurmehar Kaur, activism came through writing; her latest book explores youth and politics in India

Published: 19th June 2019 06:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th June 2019 10:09 AM   |  A+A-

By Express News Service

BENGALURU: Social activist Gurmehar Kaur is back with her second book titled The Young and the Restless. Her first book, Small Acts of Freedom, was a personal family history, while the second explores the role of youth in the Indian political scene. Kaur, 22, has studied English Literature at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi University, and is also the ambassador for Postcards for Peace, a non-profit charitable organization and has even co- founded Citizens for Public Leadership, a movement focused on advocating for progressive public policy in India. 

Excerpts from an interview:

What was your trigger for writing the book The Young And The Restless?

It was three months after the launch of Small Acts Of Freedom when I decided that I really wanted to write this book. When the Ramjas issue happened, I went ahead to look for people with similar stories so I could gather motivation and courage from them but there were hardly any in the parliament, and that’s where the idea of the book came from.

Have your books been inspired by books in regional languages?

Small Acts of Freedom has a full chapter on a story about Guru Gobind Singh ji. A lot of regional literature that I consumed early in life was religious by nature but more than that, it was also philosophical, so it has always had an impact of my writing. 

With the digitisation of books, have you moved to read books on screen or do you prefer the old-fashioned books?

I’m a fan of everything. I love holding a nice book and reading it and I also love reading books on my Kindle app when I’m travelling or it’s too tiring to sit up straight in bed and hold the book. So I lie down, tilt the screen and read.

I’m also a huge fan of audiobooks for when I can’t fall asleep because then I’ll just put the audiobook on a timer close my eyes and let my mind wander in a book as opposed to my own thoughts. I don’t think there is competition really between books and digital. I would always love to have a proper book but I also don’t mind digital platforms.

Do you go back to your old writings? How does it feel to re-read what you had written sometime back?

I do! What I consider significantly old are from back when I was 16 or 15 and those are cringe-inducing. But I don’t mind it. I absolutely love going through old journals or blogs to see how far I’ve come not just as a writer but as a person.

Have you always seen yourself as a writer? What has been your inspiration as a writer?

I have always been a writer. Activism for me came through writing. I remember reading Arundhati Roy and being in love with The God of Small Things so much that I wanted to grow up and be like her and that’s where my political awakening began at 14.

What is the process you undergo while writing?

I haven’t yet had the luxury of forming a proper schedule. I wrote both the books while I was still in college and managing a full academic schedule that included tests, assignments and exams. A lot of writing for me happened in college, during lectures (I don’t endorse it, please study in class don’t write), between 9 pm and 3 am, on flights and basically everywhere.

I wrote and researched for the book whenever I could. Weekends, when there were no classes, were when I scheduled all my interviews with the politicians and then weekdays, I would spend transcribing, reading and writing the book.

How difficult or easy is it to get published? Have you had to modify or change the content of any of your books for it to get published?

Everyone keeps talking about being published but no one talks about writing. I know so many aspiring writers who ask me the same question and when I ask them about their manuscript — it doesn’t exist on paper. The first step to publishing is writing your manuscript and that is extremely hard and requires the kind of discipline of an athlete.

Once you have your manuscript, half the battle is won. Today publishing has opened up to accommodate all kinds of writings and themes — example Penguin, who publishes me, published another young political writer Shivam Shankar. For the longest time, politcal writing was only considered the domain of older academics. So things are changing. I have been very fortunate that I get to write what I want to write and no one has ever stopped me.

Who’s your first reader? And who are your biggest critics?

My friends Navya and Urvi have always been my first readers of the book. I think I would be my biggest critic for sure, there is nothing anyone can tell me about my writing that I haven’t already told myself in much harsher words and it helps because from there, any review is only upwards.

Does marketing play an integral role in the success of books?

Of course, as marketing does with any product. There is a reason advertising and marketing is such a huge industry.

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