I met Kirthi Jayakumar for the first time in January 2016, that is about a year back. She was going to be the host for the book launch of my debut novel, Birds of Prey, in Chennai. She informed me, on our first phone conversation, that she is a part of a march that day and that she would rush there after hosting the event. That was when I realized how lucky I was to have a famous celebrity host my event.
Kirthi dons many hats—writer, activist, artist—and she carries them all with flair. Every phone or email or personal conversation with her leaves me inspired and hopeful for the future. Whenever I pick up a book written by my friends, my antennae goes up and I tend to judge the book more harshly. That was my mentality when I picked up ‘The Doodler of Dimashq’.
When I opened the first page and saw an introduction to Arcs, my most favourite doodle form, I was hooked. From there, the pages turned themselves and I finished the book in a single day with tears staining the last few pages of the book. You can read the review of the book by clicking on this link. The book also finds mention as one of the Top Ten Indian Reads of 2017 in an article in Writersmelon. You can read the article here.
It is no wonder that I wanted Kirthi to be the ‘Author of the Month’ for January 2017 on my new blog. Here are her lovely answers to a few questions that I bombarded her with.
1) What would be one thing you wish you could undo in your writing career?
Nothing at all! I know it sounds a little cocky to say that I have no regrets, but I learned recently from a very bitter but important lesson that there is only one-way traffic in time. If you’re carrying regret, you’re carrying baggage that can’t go back and will impinge and overstay into your future, so might as well carry the lesson rather than the baggage, because it’s lighter and can make for great cabin baggage instead of clunky check-in luggage that will make you waste time at the conveyor belt forever, while life goes on outside 🙂
2) ‘Writing as a profession’ or ‘writing as a passion’? What would your advice and why?
Personally, writing is both, for me. My advice is to define your choices by labels that work for you. I do know a lot of people who have hangups about adding the profession tag to something they love, and some others who refuse to look at something too passionately lest they get carried away. I think it’s your secret recipe that makes all the difference – and once you find your own, you can happily make sure others refer to you with just that.
3) Who is your writing mentor? How did this person influence you?
Does an invisible one count? If it does, it’s the voice in my head. I have at times heard the voice pipe up and say, “Kirthi, really? That’s the rubbish you want people to associate your writing with?” and then that’s helped me rework what I’m putting down on paper.
4) What is the worst thing that you were asked as a writer?
“You’re a woman and you don’t write chic-lit? Why? Who will read serious stuff written by a woman?”
5) Describe your writing routine.
I just write from the heart – and sometimes I don’t think of what I write because it comes out as a slur. I only cut back / reroute when the voice in the head pipes up and guffaws at me – that happens when I involve thinking in what I write. So, once I write the piece, I save it in a document / note / drafts depending on whether it is in my laptop / notes app on the phone / email inbox, and then mostly, revisit it after a good amount of time to see what I’ve written.
6) What is one thing that any newbie writer must do?
Trust yourself and your work. Half the time, when you’re new, you allow your fears to take over. Bad idea. Trust yourself and be the first investor in your piece of work – invest your own interest, and watch the others take interest.
7) If you could name only one favourite author and one favourite book, what would that be?
Susan Abulhawa, and her book Mornings in Jenin. I can revisit it any number of times and my heart will bleed as much, my eyes will brim over as much.
8) What is a genre that you can never see yourself write?
Sci-Fi! I can’t understand physics to save my life. 🙁
9) What is one thing that you would like to change in the literary/publishing community?
I don’t know if it is about changing anything because I do see a lot of members of the community doing it already, but I reckon a good thing would be to have established members encourage / support new ones on the block.
10) Name one lesser-known writer that you would hugely recommend.
Ameen Merchant. His book, The Silent Raga, is a must-read.
Know More About Kirthi Jayakumar
Kirthi Jayakumar is an activist, artist, entrepreneur and writer from Chennai, India. She founded and runs the Red Elephant Foundation, a civilian peacebuilding initiative that works for gender equality through storytelling, advocacy and digital interventions. She also founded and runs fynePRINT, a feminist e-publishing imprint. She is a member of the Youth Working Group for Gender Equality under the UNIANYD.
Kirthi is an author, and released her debut novel in 2017, titled The Doodler of Dimashq. Her second book, The Dove’s Lament, made it to the final shortlist for the Muse India Young Writers’ Literary Award.
Kirthi coded an app for survivors of gender-based violence called Saahas, which works as a web and mobile app. She taught herself to code and created a web app, a mobile app and a Facebook ChatBot to support survivors of gender-based violence across 196 countries, and to assist bystander intervention.
In 2016, Kirthi was invited to Michelle Obama’s United State of Women Summit at the White House in Washington DC, as a nominated changemaker. In 2017, she was one of the youth activists invited to attend President Obama’s Town Hall at New Delhi.
Kirthi has spoken at TEDx Chennai, addressing Peace Education as a means to end Bullying. She has also spoken at FICCI FLO, as one of the youngest speakers to address the members. Kirthi has also had the distinction of addressing the UNV Partnerships Forum on her work as an epoch-making online volunteer with the United Nations.
Kirthi is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women NGO, from President Barack Obama. She is the two-time recipient of the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (2012, 2013). She received the 2016 Orange Flower Award from Women’s Web, the 2016 World Pulse Impact Leader Award and the 2017 Empowerment Leader Award from the Dais Foundation. Her work has been published in The Guardian and the TIME Magazine. She was recognized by EuropeAid on the “200 Women in the World of Development Wall of Fame in 2016.” She received the Digital Women Award for Social Impact in 2017, from SheThePeople, the Person of the Year (Social Entrepreneur) 2017 from The Brew Magazine. Kirthi is a recipient of the Yuva Samman from MOP Vaishnav College, in January 2018.
Besides her professional engagements, Kirthi is a Zen Doodler, and runs a HerStory project called Femcyclopaedia. Her works have been commissioned by corporate establishments, non-profits and art collectors world over. She wrote and acted in Frankly Speaking, a play that takes off from where Anne Frank’s Diary ended, and also wrote and acted in two other plays, named HerStory and Dolls.