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‘Writing gives me complete freedom’

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

‘Writing gives me complete freedom’

Deepti Naval with her memoir, in New Delhi on July 4.

Deepti Naval with her memoir, in New Delhi on July 4. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

In conversation with writer and actor Deepti Naval.

Deepti Naval, 70, has truly chased art in every phase of her life, from the time her mother taught her how to sketch in her early days in Amritsar to the time when she emoted in front of the camera, penned poems, explored photography, and the latest, her memoir. The fire in her as an artist keeps her going, exploring unknown paths—a true hiker.

With her memoir hitting the bookshelves this July, Naval takes her readers back to her childhood in Amritsar, where she spent the first 19 years of her life (she was born in 1952). In A Country Called Childhood, which she started writing 20 years ago, the actor describes how life was in the city in the late 1950s to the early 1970s, after which she flew to New York with her family. Published by Aleph Book Company, the book is divided into five sections and the narrative is enriched with many old photographs.

In this interview she talks about her book, her journey as a writer and why her wanderings matter to her. Excerpts:

Why did it take so long to release the memoir?
When I started to make notes 20 years ago, I knew that I had to write this book. I jotted down memories, and kept taking notes over the years. Six years ago, when my publisher came [into the picture], I knew I have a deadline and I have to finish this book. I took two breaks in between. I went on to do a film, Goldfish, with Kalki Koechlin; a tempting role for me to perform. And I did two web series: Criminal Justice: Behind Closed Doors and Pawan and Pooja. The last one year, however, I have completely focussed on the book.
With Sharmila Tagore at the launch of the book in New Delhi on July 5.
With Sharmila Tagore at the launch of the book in New Delhi on July 5. | Photo Credit: PTI
You have written poems and short stories in the past. And now a memoir. How have you enjoyed exploring the craft?
I love my life as a writer, as it gives me complete freedom. All I need is my laptop. I can be anywhere in the world; if I have my mind with me, I can be productive. If I want to paint, I need to have my canvas, my sketch tools, and paints. To act, I have to be in a film unit or a location. But when it comes to writing, I can disappear for months altogether, completely live in oblivion, and still be creative.
Growing up, what were the key influences on you as an artist?
It’s been a constant learning process for me with both Mama and Pitaji. My mum’s the one who first taught me how to sketch and draw. All the finer, delicate things in life, I imbibed from my mother. In fact, my whole sensibility, as a person, comes mostly from my mother. My father was dynamic, enterprising, and adventurous. I learnt how to take chances in life because of my father. The ability to take chances with whatever you have securely found and start all over again somewhere unknown—that element comes to me from my father.
As a child, which were your favourite books to read? And how did storytelling become a part of your childhood?
Bachpan mein... hum logo ko novels padhne nahi dete the. [In my childhood, we were not allowed to read novels.] I mean, the girls in my class would read Mills & Boon, but I never read those. In fact, I used to be intrigued by geography. I always had a fascination for lands that are beyond us—jo hamare daayre se bahar hai. Other continents, other countries. Also, I was not a history student in college, nor did I take it up in America, but I was always interested in it. I remember my mother would tell me stories about her life in Burma. So, listening to stories became my favourite pastime. 

““It’s a slice of life I have tried to recreate through my book. It is the way I have lived—from the time I was born till the time I left for the US. I have tried to recreate the Amritsar of my times.””Deepti Naval

And now, young folks will get a peek-through of the times gone by through your book. 
Certainly. It’s a slice of life I have tried to recreate through my book. It is the way I have lived—from the time I was born till the time I left for the US. I have tried to recreate the Amritsar of my times.
Have you talked about Amritsar’s food in the book?
I’m not a foodie. I just need food to get on with life and work. But I have mentioned some food which was there right around the house. At home, there was always emphasis on good health and eating right. It was only on Sundays that we had our parathas.
Which craft is closer to your heart: acting, writing, or painting? And how does it define you?
Writing is the closest. Also, whenever I do something at a point of time in my life, be it acting or writing, it’s the closest to my heart. Having said that, if you ask me, who am I, you will have to read my book. A role is not going to tell you who I am.
As an artist, how do you unwind?
Long walks and hiking. I like to walk on the beach when I’m in Mumbai. I love walking in the hills and going for little hikes wherever I go. My wanderings are truly unwinding, not in a leisurely kind of way. They also connect me to myself, the reason I value my wanderings so much. They are my little inner journeys. Sometimes it happens spontaneously, sometimes you have to plan.
You turned 70 this year. How do you still have that driving force in you?
Let me tell you, it has only just started [laughs]. I want to write more books, do more roles and paint. I feel alive and encouraged to work more.
Social media—thoughts and your experiences?
My taking to social media happened late. I joined to connect with people who know me only by my first few films like Chasme Buddoor, Saath Saath, Rang Birangi, Kissi Se Na Kehna. I’m different from what people think of me. I’ve gone through difficulties and have been a fighter and survivor. I have always had guts to do things my way and have proved it so. Through my social media page, I want to show the real me. Having said that, I know there are people who click on the like button without reading the posts. I don’t count on those.
How was it working with Kalki Koechlin in “Goldfish”? Also, what are the other projects you are working on?
Goldfish had a commercial screening at Cannes this year. It will be seen at a few other festivals too before it finds a theatre or an OTT release in India. I’m open to both. My rapport with Kalki has been beautiful, right from our third shot. We kept looking at each other from a distance before that [laughs]. Also, currently, I’m reading a couple of scripts and waiting for a substantial role. But there is no rush. Whenever someone entices me with a challenging role, I will jump to do it.
What’s your message for aspiring women who want to carve their own path?
Follow your dream. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.