A Writer with a Rational Eye Annie Zaidi

The years we spend growing up play a crucial role in building up the foundation of our thoughts, and our beliefs in the upcoming adulthood we are venturing into.

Born into a family that all supported the art and literature, who would have known that one day, she would herself become a writer and would receive the prestigious Tata Literature Live! Book of the Year Award – Fiction (2020), the author of the Book “Prelude to a Riot“, Annie Zaidi shares with us her journey as a writer with Storizen & we also discuss her latest release, City of Incident.

Evolution as a Writer:

Annie Zaidi
Annie Zaidi

Born & brought up in a tiny place with no access to cinemas or restaurants, Annie was not devoid of reading books. “Reading was the one thing that was not interrupted in my life. I grew up in a tiny place without access to restaurants or cinemas or even public transport. My mother ensured a steady supply of books. I wrote some essays and debate speeches in school but had no literary ambition. It was only in college that I realized that I was perhaps good with words and decided to train as a journalist, so I could continue writing in one form or another,” she says.

Be it a birthday or a long train journey, she received books as a gift that probably helped her in building up that reading habit.

“We were given books at birthdays, books for long train journeys, and books were privileged over new clothes or jewelry. Most of my reading was fiction but my mother did spend substantial amounts of her small savings on Reader’s Digest subscriptions and books about architecture or flowers, or the basics of medical science or the human body.”   

We believe that reading not only enhances our vocabulary but also helps us in becoming open-minded. Annie is glad to grow up reading a lot and how it has helped her in her life.

“Books were my principal entertainment, my window to the world, and my succor when I felt isolated and lonely. In retrospect, I am glad that, as a child and teenager, I didn’t have access to 24/7 TV programming, multiple channels, the Internet, or video games. That’s how I stayed invested in the text as a way of thinking, which was essential for my own formation as a thinker,” she elaborates further.

The Revelation of Feminism:

Annie Zaidi
Annie Zaidi

Unlike many, Annie had realized that she has a feminist inclination in her 20s. She also shares with us how she understood the true meaning of being a feminist as she grew up. “As a child, the only exposure I had to the word ‘feminist’ was that these women were objects of some ridicule. Whenever I expressed opinions about gender and women’s lives, the word ‘feminist’ would pop up, not always in a complementary fashion.”

What helped her in deeply understand being a feminist was reading a lot of non-fiction. “Reading the history of women’s movements, and meeting older women who proudly wore the feminist label, changed everything for me. Everything that is decent in this world, and most political movements that have led us towards a better, more equitable politics or made the world more livable, were linked to feminist struggle,” she says.  

Not only reading about such struggles but documenting them helped her in deciphering the true meaning of being a feminist. “The work of documenting these struggles, especially in India, has also fallen to feminists and Zubaan (publisher) has played a major role, as have other presses like Kali for Women, Women Unlimited, StreeSamya, and others in different Indian languages,” she elucidates further.

Taking on Women Empowerment:

As a journalist, Annie is vocal about women & their freedom. We wanted a glimpse of her thoughts about women’s empowerment in the country & its impact when she got vocal about it. She was quite not happy with the kind of progress in bringing up the change. “My views about the history of women and their dis/empowerment are constantly evolving as I read further.

But I do think that we are at a fragile moment in time. Women made great progress since the reform movements of the late nineteenth, and early twentieth century and since 1947, with so much investment in school and college education. But since I started writing, I’ve noticed that there hasn’t been enough of a progressive forward push.”

Touching upon the cases of domestic violence, dowry & safety of women, she also condemns the lawmakers for not enabling the women’s agency. Talking about it, she says, “Much of our society, and our law-makers, are unwilling to do something as simple and small as declaring that women have an absolute, inalienable right to decide who they want to have sex with, and whose children they want to bear.

How can any individual be said to be free, if she is not free to do what she wants with her own body? Similarly, there is a security discourse viz women, but there is no conversation around the fact that women must have secure jobs and the ways in which overall unemployment is worse for women.”

On her thoughts of empowering women, she backs literature. Humanity has lost its course with time and literature can bring it back on track provided it itself is in the right direction. Discussing this, she says, “Literature can help humanity, provided it is allowed to. This is also why cultural expression of any kind is so tightly monitored and controlled.

“For me, and for most artists, I think, the main challenge is financial. My family wasn’t wealthy and going to another city for higher education meant being very, very careful with what I could do, and what experiences I could risk. I couldn’t afford to be a full-time ‘creative writer’ and still can’t afford to be one.”

Annie Zaidi

The objectification or dehumanization of women comes from particular cultural narratives after all. Women have challenged these narratives by establishing their own counter-narratives. Or they have made a lot of noise complaining about their grief and anger at certain representations, and certain public conversations, and if they have not been able to shame everyone, they have at least made a few people nervous enough to tweak the kind of stories they tell.”        

The Inspiration Behind City of Incident:

Every writer derives some inspiration from the book he or she writes. For Annie, she derives her inspiration from the places she lives in. Answering the question of what inspired her to write the book, she says, “The city itself is an inspiration. I’ve lived in big cities over the last two decades and I find there is inspiration (romance as well as tragedy) lurking in every corner, every apartment.

City of Incident by Annie Zaidi Book Cover
City of Incident by Annie Zaidi Book Cover

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It is also obvious that our lives are extremely interconnected. I noticed how one person’s heartbreak, can be made suddenly visible in all its nerve-wracking, blood-and-bone intensity in our public spaces. I also see the ways in which people reach out to help, reach out for love, in hundreds of ways.”

“Read widely, and without fear. Read compulsively. Gift books. Read poetry aloud. Read as a way of experiencing life in all its fullness.”

Annie Zaidi

The Challenge:

Artists crave good critics ratings, great reviews, awards, etc. For Annie, the struggle & the challenge was financial. “For me, and for most artists, I think, the main challenge is financial. My family wasn’t wealthy and going to another city for higher education meant being very, very careful with what I could do, and what experiences I could risk. I couldn’t afford to be a full-time ‘creative writer’ and still can’t afford to be one.”

The one statement that hurt her the most is about something that is written from the heart of what the writer actually wants to convey through the written word. “The one thing that hurts most, of course, is that horrible gas-lightey sentence: ‘But people don’t want to read/see that.'”

She continues, “This is antithetical to art itself. Our job is not to deliver a product made to specifications. It is to offer them something that may delight, shame, surprise people, or make them reflect, empathize, or even, want to change.”

Final Words:

It was a pleasure discussing her journey as a writer & how her struggles helped her shape up as a strong individual, we asked her about any advice she would like to share with our readers.  “Read widely, and without fear. Read compulsively. Gift books. Read poetry aloud. Read as a way of experiencing life in all its fullness,” she says.

We thank her for her time and congratulate her once again for winning the award for her book Prelude to a Riot. We wish her all the best for her latest book and future projects & we are sure that they will appeal to readers not only across India but abroad as well!  

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Storizen Magazine April 2022 Cover - Annie Zaidi (1)

Read Storizen Magazine April 2022 issue featuring Annie Zaidi here.