The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by the French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust, is said to reveal a person’s true nature through a series of probing (i.e., nosy) questions. In the hot seat today: Supriya Kelkar, author of the MG historical novel, AHIMSA (Tu Books).
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Well, normally I would have said curling up on a rainy day with a great book or binge watching a show. But since I have young kids who don’t sleep a lot, I’m going with sleeping in.
What is your greatest fear? The lighter answer to this is circles. As a child, I had this recurring nightmare that I was stuck underwater with an octopus, and I would see the suction cups on its arms and be terrified. Ever since then, any time I see something with clusters of holes or circles, like the inside of a honeycomb or a wasp’s nest, I get the shivers and cannot look at it. I recently found out this is called trypophobia, and there may be an evolutionary reason behind it. Regardless, I discovered that it’s not a good idea to tell your friends about this fear, because I’ve been getting horrific texts of lotus flowers and coral! I have a more serious answer, though. Given all the hate and bias crimes that have been happening, I have been really scared that someone will want to hurt my family based on how we look.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Insecurity. I wish I could have more confidence in myself, but it’s hard to not feel a bit of imposter syndrome before your book comes out.
What is the trait you most deplore in others? A lack of empathy.
Which living person do you most admire? Barack Obama. I admire his compassion and grace as well as how he has been able to evolve on an issue. He isn’t afraid to admit he was wrong in the past.
What is your greatest extravagance? Does ice cream count? I guess my greatest extravagance would be German wooden toys. I think I may enjoy playing with them more than my kids sometimes.
What is your current state of mind? Stressed and excited! I have a lot of nervous energy these days as I work on other manuscripts and count down the days to Ahimsa’s release.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Being able to walk in high heels. I have really wide feet and have been known to wear tennis shoes under long Indian clothes at wedding receptions. You’ve got to be able to dance, right?
On what occasion do you lie? When I am sneaking in junk food in the pantry and my kids ask what it is. I tell them it’s really spicy grown-up food they can’t eat. And they just accept that and walk away and I feel a little guilty as I eat my “spicy” chocolate.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I used “look” a lot in earlier drafts of my novels. Coming from a screenwriting background, where you aren’t supposed to direct the actor in a script, I was used to never describing a character’s actions to show their emotional state. Instead, I would often write “Off [insert character’s name],” to show that we would be seeing the actor’s response. When first writing Ahimsa, I ended up defaulting to saying that a character looked at another character, or looked down, or looked away. Luckily, over the course of many drafts and my editor’s keen eye, I was able to fix this issue.
Besides writing, which talent would you most like to have? The ability to act. As someone who has spent much of her life totally obsessed with Bollywood, there were definitely moments in my childhood when I wanted to be a Bollywood actress.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? That Ahimsa is coming out this fall! I wrote the first draft in 2003. I would revisit it every year with a new draft, throwing out characters, adding subplots, but I never thought it would one day be good enough to be published. I wrote other books in the past decade and must have queried those books hundreds of times. The fact that the very first book I wrote will be in bookstores fourteen years after embarking on this journey is really shocking to me.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I am all about doing things quickly and showing up on time to things, so I think it would be fitting that I come back as a sloth to get a taste of what it’s like to slow things down and stop and smell the roses. (Or whatever it is sloths like to smell!)
What is your most treasured possession? The old black and white pictures of my parents as kids in India. I love looking at my relatives decades earlier and seeing what life was like for everyone in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Watching a loved one suffer with a serious illness.
What do you most value in your friends? Honesty and a sense of humor.
Who are your favorite writers? From my early childhood, Holly Keller and James Stevenson. I used to read their picture books, like Geraldine’s Blanket, Lizzie’s Invitation, We Can’t Sleep and Could Be Worse, and I love hearing my kids read them now. I also loved Louise Fitzhugh, Roald Dahl, Ann M. Martin, and of course, more recently, J.K. Rowling. Some of my favorite screenwriters are Charlie Kaufman, Aaron Sorkin, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Abhijat Joshi, and Rajkumar Hirani.
Who is your hero of fiction? Hermione Granger. She is brave and intelligent, and she’s my hair twin.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? I wouldn’t say I identify with her, because I don’t think I would be as brave, but I am in awe of the Rani of Jhansi, a queen mentioned in Ahimsa, who led or participated in (historians don’t totally agree on her level of involvement) a rebellion against the British at a time when women were not thought of as equals.
What is your motto? I like the Dumbledore quote from one of the Harry Potter movies: “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
Born and raised in the Midwest, SUPRIYA KELKAR Learned Hindi as a child by watching three Bollywood films a week. Now she works in the film industry as a Bollywood screenwriter. She has credits on one Hollywood film and several Hindi films. AHIMSA, inspired by her great-grandmother’s role in the Indian freedom movement, is her debut middle grade novel. Find Supriya on her website, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.