When we first interacted with author Sahana Ahmed, we were bowled over by her simplicity and humility. Always the one to carry herself with grace, there is an elegant charm about her that immediately draws one to her. Her beaming and affectionate smile only adds to her affable personality.
In her impressive career spanning decades, Sahana Ahmed has worked with many prestigious companies and esteemed universities as a trainer of English language, creative writing, and soft skills. This accomplished list includes many known names like the Reserve Bank of India, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Tata Consultancy Services, Juggernaut Books, SHEROES, Singapore Airlines, Atta Galatta, Utkal University, etc.
A graduate of the Institute of Hotel Management, Kolkata, Sahana holds a master’s degree in Tourism Management.
As a writer of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, her writings have been published in many prestigious publications like The Punch Magazine, The Policy Times, The Hindu, Juggernaut Books, The Pinch Journal, Open Road Review, etc. Her works have been published, not just in India but also, in many other countries including the US, the UK, Australia, Singapore, and Canada.
Sahana’s debut work of fiction, Combat Skirts narrates the story of a young army brat Saba, who is enrolled in a law college in Calcutta. Based on her early days as an army kid, the book draws inspiration from the real-life experiences of the author, her family, and her friends.
Quirky, witty, and written with characteristic elan, the book is a must-read for all chick-lit lovers. Set in the Calcutta of the 1990s, it makes one immediately nostalgic about a time and place that can only be relived through works of art.
We at bookGeeks got a lucky chance to interact with the talented author. Here is what she has to say about herself, her love for life, and her writing.
|Tell us something about yourself. What are your likes and dislikes? What activities do you like to pursue in your leisure time?
|I am a writer and unschooling mum. I studied to be a hotelier and spent many years in Learning and Development. I live in Gurgaon, at present, and I must specify that because I lead a peripatetic life.
I like good conversations, stories, traveling... My dislikes– dishonesty, double standards, pettiness. I used to have many hobbies, not anymore. I would like to go back to painting someday.
|Your debut novel, Combat Skirts narrates the story of a young army kid Saba. How much of the character and her story are shaped by your real life?
|Quite a lot of it. The setting is real. Many of the incidents are real too, although the timelines for Saba and me do not match. The book covers the year between Operation Shakti and Operation Vijay. I was already in college when Pokhran-II happened.
Apart from that, the only Law I had studied was what was needed for a career in hospitality. To get the vibes right, I interviewed lawyer-entrepreneur Neelanjana Bhattacharya. She’s an old hostel mate, and she also, very graciously, allowed me to include her mom-in-law, Hashu Bose, in the May Queen jury. Speaking of which, I had titleholders in the family, so it was an easy chapter to write. The juicy bits came from my friend Nitalie Ghoshal. I have a long list of people to thank.
|Has your professional experience as an English language and soft skills trainer influenced your writing? If yes, then how?
|Being a trainer gave me the opportunity to meet thousands of people, and that gave me a frame of reference for a wide variety of subjects. And I guess my training days are the reason why I don’t hate self-editing.
|How long did it take for you to write Combat Skirts? Did you ever experience writer’s block?
|Eight/nine months, roughly. Three of those were spent battling writer’s block. I was unsure what tone and voice to use, so I read up every craft essay I could find. That calmed my nerves.
|What does a regular day look like for you?
|I love being with my ten-year-old, we have profound discussions. Screen time has gone up considerably, but there’s also a lot of staring out the window.
|Are you a spontaneous writer or a disciplined one? Do you devote time to your writing every day?
|Very spontaneous. I am an intuitive writer, not very comfortable with routine. But I am a strict editor. “Kill your darlings” was coined for me.
|What is the one thing that you miss the most about your life as an army kid?
|Greetings and good manners. This may sound trivial, but I wish we used the golden words more often. I wish we said hello to people in elevators and smiled at strangers without feeling self-conscious. Also, I miss the greenery of military stations.
|How easy or difficult it was for you to transition into civilian life after your early years as an army kid?
|Not very hard. If there is one thing one learns as an army kid, it is adaptability.
|Your favorite memory as an author?
|The day I finished writing Combat Skirts. I have met many generous souls in my writing journey, and I am very grateful for every kindness I have received, but when I look back from my deathbed, my favorite moment would be when I typed THE END on my manuscript. It was magical.
|Who are your biggest critic and your greatest inspiration?
|I am my own worst critic, those around me are too nice. And my inspirations keep changing. All of us are flawed, and I can be cynical, so I look for redeeming qualities. I am very impressed with people who can function without compromising their values.
|Your favorite book and favorite author?
|Let me name the last book I read. The Hundred-year-old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared. By Jonas Jonasson, translated into English by Roy Bradbury.
|Any new projects that you are currently working on?
|I keep writing for literary magazines. I see a theme emerging there, even though I am not much of a planner. So, a collection of short pieces, perhaps.