When your heart breaks....

Ambika Shaligram
Saturday, 24 February 2018

We catch up with romance novelist Nikita Singh, who was in the city to promote her latest book, Letters to My Ex

Haven’t we all had friends, couples-so-much-in-love, who develop cold feet at the last moment and then call off the nuptials? This is also the story of Nidhi and Abhay; Nidhi calls off her engagement, leaving Abhay without a clue of what she is thinking. Unable to say things aloud, Nidhi starts writing letters to Abhay. But doesn’t post them. 

Nikita Singh’s Letters to My Ex allows her protagonists to think, ponder and come to terms with the baggage that is bogging them down. The New York-based author was in the city to promote her book, published by HarperCollins. 

We caught up with the author, who works as a social media manager for a solar manufacturing company. And, moonlights as a romance novelist. More about the book... 

You have said in the book that it was easier to get into Nidhi’s head. Is she like you?
Nidhi is not like me. We share some common traits though. I think, I am much closer to Laila and Mahi (heroines of Like a Love Song and Every time it rains). That apart, as human beings, as people in love, we share similar traits — being emotional, insecure, for instance. So when Nidhi is heartbroken, she writes down these feelings. Whereas someone else might talk and talk about it to friends or families. 

While writing the book, I tried to remember how it must have been to have had a heart break, especially after a long and intense relationship that Nidhi had. I never was in a long and intense relationship, but I have seen friends going through break ups. It takes a long time to recover from heartbreak and come back to surface. It’s stuff like that I wanted to focus on. Once I understood her character, it was easier to understand her mindset.

But this wasn’t something that you had planned on writing?
Initially, I didn’t think it would be a huge project. I started out knowing that it would have a structure — one letter per month. However, I wanted the book to have more flavour, so eventually, I added email exchanges between Nidhi and Abhay. 

I did it because I thought that it would add different angles to the story. It need not be just Nidhi sitting down and thinking about the past. It would give a different perspective when you get to hear Abhay’s voice finally. I wanted the reader to learn all sides to the story, join the dots and make up their mind about what the tale is about. 

How was it to write from Abhay’s perspective?
It wasn’t that hard. If you think about it, at least half of the books that we have read are written from a man’s point of view. So it’s not completely an alien prospect to write from a  man’s point of view.

The one factor that differentiates Nidhi and Abhay is that she is an artist and he is a businessman. But they haven’t realised it. So Abhay is not the kind of person who would sit down and write letters. I wanted to explore this side. His emails and chat exchanges were more crisp, and keeping to the fact. While hers were more dilly-dallying. But when Abhay opens up about love, you see a different side; his voice  evolves. 

But we rarely get to know what a guy feels about a heartbreak. In the sense, women tend to talk a lot about heartbreak.

Exactly. We know what has been going on in Nidhi’s head. But not what Abhay is thinking about it. So it was important for me to add a chapter on the wedding... where Abhay could see the present and the past. A complete picture. 

Can you tell us about the caste issue mentioned in the book? What did your non-Indian friends think about it when they read the drafts? 
The good thing about being an American is that they are open to all ideas. They understand that every culture is different. In New York, where I am living, everyone hails from some other part of the world. They are used to diversity. My friends, who I turned to for inputs, were interested and asked questions about caste. But they weren’t judgmental — ‘Oh my god! You still believe in this!’ 
The book didn’t get into a full-blown caste issue, because the parents didn’t have much of a voice in it. Also, Letters to My Ex focussed more on the two — if Nidhi and Abhay wanted to be together. 

Can we term it as coming-of-age story, where the two realise what they want? 
I would say that. I guess there were significant things that happened in their lives, their relationship. They have grown up, become mature and are finally able to make a decision about what they want. 

Will there be a ‘thereafter?’ 
Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe we could have ‘Letters to My Boyfriend’ and then ‘Letters to My Husband’ (laughs). I think I have wrapped it up in this book. But a story ends only when you decide to stop writing it. You can pick up the characters any time. 

Would you be writing a romance novel about Indians or Americans settled abroad? Your stories have been set in India so far. 
I do see that happening eventually. 

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