By Shweta Bhandral
Radiant smile, quick wit and her one-liners on everything from politics to Bollywood – these are what one remembers after meeting Naomi Datta, author of How to Be a Likeable Bigot – A Handy Guide for the Savvy Survivor, a humorous take on life in India today. But being a satirist is a second career for Naomi, who was a broadcast journalist until a few years ago.
Born and raised in the beautiful Khasi hills in Shillong, Meghalaya, Naomi came to Mumbai in 1999 to pursue mass communication from Sophia College. She always wanted to be a TV host. “I come from a small city, and it is a big deal there to have someone anchor on a national news channel,” she says. And so she worked hard to land an opportunity at one of the best TV shows of that time, The Amul India Show on TV18. Soon, she was producing and hosting her own show.
As Naomi lived her dream, broadcast news took a strange turn, with anchors shouting from the studios, and the focus shifting away from reporters on the ground. Disillusioned, she quit television to move towards the entertainment world, and worked as a creative director and writer for shows on MTV, Star World and Netflix.
Humour comes naturally to Naomi, which is why her writing is also full of satire that makes you smile. She didn’t plan her first book, as she tells us: “I was in-between jobs and a bit disgruntled with Indian TV. I started writing a short story as a gift for my best friend. The story kept developing, and in four months, I had a novel, a satire called The 6 PM Slot. I got signed up by Penguin Random House.”
The book was appreciated but Naomi was not ready to be a full-time writer yet. For eight years, she continued to write satirical pieces, columns and even worked on projects with production houses as social-media strategist or creative director.
“Over the years, I was active on Twitter, and an online voice and persona developed – snarky, irreverent, sharp and yet not offensive. I realised that people enjoyed my commentary through Twitter or my columns. We also live in weird times – there is polarisation, intolerance and general toxicity. I thought this was the best time for my brand of satire and humour. It holds up a mirror to you but makes you laugh at the same time. We don’t do much satire in India – people often don’t get it. I feel I do it well, and there is an audience for it. Therefore, the book.”
Naomi’s second book How to Be a Likeable Bigot came out in December 2019 to very positive reviews. It is a collection of satirical essays on everything from corporate brown-nosing to mummy politics to armchair bigotry. Her publisher wants her to start work on the third one quickly.
So, what is the 42-year-old writing next? “I am currently locked down at home like everyone else! I want to write twisted, funny short stories about a post-Corona world. Human behaviour fascinates me endlessly. My friends are always worried they will end up in my books, and they will and have. And because my default setting is satire, it is mostly not flattering,” she says.
“I have a few ideas – when I finish washing, cleaning and cooking, I will write.”
First published in eShe’s May 2020 issue
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