Ankita Verma Datta in an exclusive talk with Thousand Miles, is an Econ Grad from Mumbai University and is trained in professional advertising communication and marketing at the Xavier Institute of Management/Communication. She has spent a decade time in the corporate world of the advertising industry, handling a wide variety of clients from all parts of the country and worldwide from finance, insurance, education, food industry and also government sector and political campaigns, before starting her own communications consultancy in 2003.
Apart from her career in marketing and advertising, she has intriguing interests in various other fields, including curating antique Portugal houses in Goa and ‘hobby-breeding’ the exotic dog breed of Tibetan Mastiffs. Being an ardent nature and animal lover, she spends her time in the city triangles of Mumbai, Lonavala and Goa. Trust Me Not is her debut fiction novel in which she delves into socio-political scenarios of Modern India.
Thousand Miles: What is the inspiration behind writing your debut novel ‘Trust Me Not’?
Ankita Verma Datta: The idea for ‘Trust Me Not’ germinated out of deep introspection and keen observation of the political and social situations surrounding us in current times. The way the common man and his choices get manipulated by the corporates and even political parties in conjunction with media is kind of disturbing. Because manipulated choice is as good as ‘no choice’. In this age of conventional media overdose and social media surge we are becoming passive consumers of information, without any analysis or questions asked, to the extent that we have stopped thinking for ourselves. And this is the cause for the extreme polarisation of thoughts and belief systems we are witnessing in today’s society. I thought that bringing this out in the open and tackling it an intense yet interesting manner would pass on the message effectively. And that what motivated me to write.
At the onset, I simply wanted to share what I felt and believed about the whole situations. But as I proceeded with the story it ventured into the darker areas. The story delves into how the key characters of the book fall prey to such large-scale manipulation. Trust Me Not is about the nexus between the corporate world, politics and media and how they can create a falsified picture for us to see and believe, if we let them do it. Thus, the title of the books is not merely restricted to its characters but the whole premise of ‘seeing is believing.’ Because it might not be so.
Thousand Miles: Do you think ‘The Inner Call’ of a person is the real call that one should follow and chase his dream?
Ankita Verma Datta: Finding your ‘inner call’ is a very intuitive process and it is all about giving your dreams a chance.The problem begins when we start to believe in the ‘impossibility’ of something without even beginning to try. But every dream that decides to chase will ask you for something in return. Your priority to begin with. And then, your time, patience and perseverance. So, if you decide to chase a dream then you have to go all the way, right till the finishing line, and not give up the instance you are faced with an obstacle.
Having said that, I must add that blindly chasing something which is unrealistic would leave you disheartened. The trick is to ground your dreams on the fertile soil of planning, quantifiable objectives and unwavering patience. Eventually, your intuition will tell you which turn to take. Listen to it and it will never let you down. Remember, your dreams are yours alone. So, choose them carefully and don’t let go.
Thousand Miles: How does it feel to see the copies of your novel in the famous bookstores and stands in the country?
Ankita Verma Datta: Oh ! That’s always the best feeling in the world. Around three years ago when I had first started writing I had no inkling about the world of publishing and I had no mentors. But every time I went around browsing in a book-store I would wonder if there is a chance that I would see a book with my name on it, at the shelves. So, it’s like a dream come true. I have been fortunate that I did not face any rejection and that the first publisher I approached, Jaico Publishing House, accepted my manuscript for publishing. And now, I can’t believe I am receiving such kind and lovely reviews from my readers and that I am already half way through with my next book.
Thousand Miles: You as an author managed to intricately weave the characters Of Reeva and Kunal with the political background in the story plot. Does your book represent the present scenario of the country?
Ankita Verma Datta: Reeva and Kunaal, although being fictional characters, are definitely belong to the current times and are based on the real-life situations of the corporate and media world. Their handling a political campaign together is what brings in the third angle of corruption. Trust Me Not, as a book, definitely deals with current scenario of the country. And as characters, they are faced with difficult choices between what is black, white or grey. In the present-day scenario, a political campaign is not as simple as asking for votes. Carefully orchestrated media campaigns are executed to sway public opinions. Cambridge Analytica is a case in example. When the stakes are high enough, the power-mongers will go to any extent to manipulate a common man whether it is to sell their breakfast cereal or take away his vote.
Thousand Miles: Any cherished moment from your work or family you want to share with us.
Ankita Verma Datta: For me, every moment is a cherished moment. I am intensely passionate about everything I like or dislike but I do a very good job of keeping it concealed. Only because I am worried I will scare off people easily. But my friends and family are always special to me. My dogs come as close second, as I love all my time spent with them. But yes, one special day I cherish is from almost two years ago. I was in Canada for a family vacation when I received a call from Jaico that they wanted to take my manuscript further to print. That was one of the happiest moment of my life as it was much awaited yet totally unexpected.
Thousand Miles: Your debut novel undoubtedly indicates your keen observant mind. How do you see and observe things? Can you talk us through?
Ankita Verma Datta: Every author has that special gift of being able to see things differently and perceive things that others can’t. The ability to weave these observations about people and life into a story through interesting happenings is what sets apart writers. I have always been a ‘people watcher’, and I can sit and watch people, talking, reacting, looking hopeful or bored, showing peculiar idiosyncrasies or attitudes. I like to think of them and the story of their life. It’s always an ongoing process for me.
Whether in my office or attending a function or any other event, even shopping or while at a coffee shop, I am watching people. I find it fascinating to see people react in the manner they do. In fact, a particular news-anchor character in ‘Trust Me Not’ is an amalgamation of few media personalities I observed during panel debates on TV. For obvious reasons, I am not going to name them.
Thousand Miles: Your advice to the novice upcoming authors in India. What are the things they should keep in mind?
Ankita Verma Datta: Many people have often made queries to me about the process of writing and getting published. Even before they have finished writing or even started with their manuscripts. My advice to all of them is to read as much as possible, that too across genres. Secondly, observe everything around you. If one is considering to write, then language-skill is a given. But what is important is to connect with your reader emotionally. A mere show of word-power won’t do the trick. Lastly, they need to master the art of patience, build sustained stamina to write for long periods and have the willingness to embark on a lonely journey through the life of the characters. I am yet not in a position to be giving out advice to upcoming authors, that’s best left alone for the established authors. But I can definitely share what works for me.
I think using one’s instincts as a tool is very important. And also knowing your characters well, including their likes and dislikes and what irks them what makes them cry or laugh. Once you know your characters they will tell what to do with them as the story progresses. For me, writing is a rather sub-conscious process, to the extent that sometimes I have unknowingly created a background for a scene almost four chapters back. Secondly, staying true to the story is important, depending on the genre you are writing in. Good research too plays a very important role if the story demands a specialised background. These few aspects, if taken care of, should produce good writing.
Thousand Miles: Your favourite novel from your childhood days?
Ankita Verma Datta: Even as a kid I was a voracious reader and would read anything that I could lay my hands on. Both in English and even Hindi. I would sit in the first-floor balcony of our house in Delhi and wait for the Neighbourhood library to open for evening business. And I would be the first to arrive, as the shutter went up. I would read from Archie comics to Sidney Sheldon when I was nine-years-old and get scolded for it. But it was the English translation of Shri Rabindranath Tagore’s book, namely ‘The Wreck” (‘Naukadubi’ in Bangla) that left an impression on my young twelve-year-old mind. Somehow, the sadly beautiful story about destiny and the tragedies that befall its characters had touched me deeply. I think I should go back and read it once again.
Thousand Miles: Which famous person living or dead you like to meet and why?
Ankita Verma Datta: Ah! That’s an interesting question. In living persons, I would love to meet Mr. Paulo Coelho as I am a huge fan of him and his writings. I am not sure if I want to meet to any of the dead people, so I guess I will go with a fictional character. I would have loved to meet Sherlock Holmes, if he was ever to come alive. He is fascinating as a character, a little eccentric and immensely analytical with a mind that can process with a blink of an eye. I know that the credit goes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so by this logic, I think I would want to meet him too.
Thousand Miles: Your thoughts on being featured in the ‘Society and Culture’ issue of our Magazine.
Ankita Verma Datta: Well, it’s always a matter of honour when a member or faculty from the literary world seeks my views as an author and wishes to share them further. My journey has only just begun and I am still in the process of discovering myself as an author. These opportunities to express myself definitely help aid that process. Moreover, my book Trust Me Not, is about today’s social fabric and hence a natural fit for the ‘Society & Culture’ issue. So, I am thankful for being part of it and I hope that my words are able to reach out to a larger audience through this platform.