As someone who has been writing ever since she was a little girl and has now, by age 46, written nine books, several short stories, columns for various publications, been on several panels and won awards, Kiran Manral still managed to get “rather chuffed about” being shortlisted for the Femina Woman Achievers Award for Literary Contribution in 2017 “because I was in stellar company”.
But it is precisely her woman-next-door candidness and approachable public persona that has attracted her 50,000 social-media followers and fans.
Writing has been both journey and destination for the Mumbai-based TedX speaker, who is also an outspoken votary for women’s rights, and champion for social causes such as protection of children from sexual abuse. And like good wine, she is only getting better with age – both in the nuances of her writing, and in the self-awareness of her opinions.
Having lost her father at age nine, Kiran was a latchkey kid “when the phrase wasn’t even coined”. With her mother working at the State Bank of India, it was an unsettled childhood for the single child, as they had to keep moving bank quarters every few years. Frequently making and leaving friends left Kiran a bit of a loner.
“As a teen, I went through a phase of complete introversion; it took me quite a while to come back to regular interaction with people,” she recalls.
A tomboy with a unisex name, Kiran was introduced to gender roles not from her mother but from society at large. She recalls a childhood incident at a railways station when her mother called out her name and reprimanded her for running ahead. An older lady next to them remarked about how naughty boys are, and her mother informed the lady that Kiran was a girl.
The lady then gave her mother an earful about letting a girl wear shorts and keeping her hair short. “It always stayed in my head about how a complete stranger felt completely entitled to tell my mother how to raise her daughter,” says Kiran, who is now mother to a teenage son.
Majoring in English literature and then moving to advertising and later journalism, Kiran worked across a spectrum of beats and professions. “I have a very low boredom threshold,” she explains. At 25, she married her college sweetheart, a stock-market professional. Several years later, they had a child, and Kiran gave up the corporate life in favour of motherhood.
She chronicled her mom life on a blog that was rated one of the top parenting blogs of the time, and soon realized that writing while “the brat” was at school was a good way to keep herself creatively fulfilled.
Though Kiran stopped writing fiction from college till her late 30s, it all suddenly erupted out of her in one go. She wrote her first novel before turning 40, and in less than six years, wrote several books across genres, from romance to humour and non-fiction.
Her accomplishments, however, never struck her until she met author Kiran Nagarkar at a lit fest. He asked her what kind of books she wrote. “I very apologetically replied I’d written some chicklit, humour and romance and he might not enjoy them. He very firmly and gently told me that he would love reading them, and that one should never think that way of any writing one does,” she says.
It was an eye-opening moment: “Now I embrace every genre I write with great pride.”
Writing, for Kiran, has been as much about learning as expressing: “I’ve learnt I can be stubborn about carving time out for myself to write much to the annoyance of my immediate family. I’ve learnt that I can live out the lives I write so intensely that coming back to my own life comes as a bit of a jolt. I’ve learnt that no matter how good the book you plan to write in your head, the book you actually do write will come nothing close to it. And finally, I’ve learnt that there is nothing else I would rather do than tell stories and read stories, and that I am blessed I am able to do so as part of my work.”
With each passing book, one suspects there are many layers yet to unfold in the 46-year-old’s process of self-discovery. From a mommy-turned-detective and a single mother’s search for love, to an older woman’s complex memories, and an intriguing story of a woman waking up in another body; from social-media posts that have gone from gentle day-to-day humour to outspoken criticism of political forces that threaten India’s secular character and freedom of dissent, Kiran appears to be peeling away her own inhibitions, social conditioning and limiting self-beliefs as she goes along.
But Kiran would brush away insinuations at deeper motives if you asked: “Heavens, I don’t think my life has any message except, be kind, be honest and do your work with dignity.” Wisdom dressed in simplicity. Just like Kiran herself.
Kiran’s latest novel Saving Maya is available on Bombaykala Books.