Very few stories written about women: Tahira Kashyap

Very few stories written about women, says writer-filmmaker Tahira Kashyap Khurrana

Tahira Kashyap Khurrana talks about her tell-all book, her teenage life filled with angst that followed her into her twirling twenties, her philosophy and more

Credit: Tahira Kashyap Khurrana.

Whatever she has to say, she lays it on the line. In her new book, The 12 Commandments for Being A Woman published by Juggernaut, Tahira Kashyap Khurrana reacquaints herself with her younger self in her thread-bare and witty signature style. 

The writer-filmmaker, who is married to actor Ayushmann Khurrana, has to her credit works including the novel I Promise and Ayushmann's biography Cracking the Code: My Journey in Bollywood, which she co-authored. 

In an interview with DH's Anupama Ramakrishnan, she talks about her tell-all book, her teenage life filled with angst that followed her into her twirling twenties, her philosophy, her triumph over anxiety and breast cancer. Most importantly, she reveals who her skinnier half is.

Q. The 12 Commandments for Being A Woman is your fourth book and your life in a capsule. How has the writing process been for you?

A. About the past three books -- when I think about it now, I cringe. I think ‘what did I write?’ but I think you evolve. These were different books written at a different space and time and at different ages. But I won’t disregard my earlier projects. I’m happy with what I’ve written. Because it's why I am here now. But I’ve definitely grown up. 

Q. You have painted a picture of almost every tiny detail of your life in the book, you do have a photographic memory…

A. I’ve been writing ever since I was five or six. I’ve been finding happiness, solace and everything in it. I was a single child, so this was my mode of expression. And my biggest confidante. As I grew up, these incidents (mentioned in the book) had a deep impact on the space and time I was. I’ve written about it in detail and that’s where you can say I’m a writer.

Q. The narrative is soaked in wit… Where does this wit come from? 

A. I am a goofball. Ever since school, I have been every group’s goofball and when you have a goofball having a lot of challenges in life, you take to humour in retrospect. My father has an amazing sense of humour, so I probably get it from him also.

Q. You talk about the anxieties you went through as an actor’s wife and how you came out of it. How tough was it to put it in a book?

A. Writing this book was from a very honest space, I’ve been pretty unfiltered. There was no pressure to refrain or restrain myself. That’s the beauty of the relationship that I share with my skinnier half. I always call him (Ayushmann) my skinny half because he’s really skinny. And I’m far away from it. There’s a lovely companionship that we share. We both have our opinions and expressions but we won’t impose it on the other person. 

Q. Did you give the first draft to Ayushmann (Khurrana) for feedback. Did he want you to delete anything?

AWhatever I write, I pass it to him. I need instant feedback, and he has his sense of opinion about stuff. There will be congruent areas when it comes to him and me, and our vision of things. While reading each chapter, his eyes would twinkle or he would smile, his bushy eyebrows would rise in amazement and shock. There were times when he would laugh, and times when he would say ‘are you sure you want to write about this? Can you just not write this?’ And I would say, ‘it’s for me to figure out whether I want to write it or not’. I’ve seen him really reading and enjoying. Those were the reactions I wanted. And no, I haven’t omitted anything. I let it go as it is.

Q. In 2018, you were diagnosed with breast cancer. You have been very vocal about your cancer journey. Has it changed your perspective of life?

A. The change in perspective happened two years before cancer happened. I’ve written in detail about how I was an anxious person and how there were facets of depression and that was annoying me more than anything else. That was a really very low life state. That was the time I came across this wonderful philosophy. Any philosophy that empowers you and makes you believe there is hope for you in the future is the philosophy to go to. Nichiren Buddhism did it for me. Slowly, my vision about myself started changing, so when cancer happened, by god’s grace and the universe’s protection, I was strong and safe. My perspective is if it’s a challenge and one get to be a better version of oneself, then it has come to give something rather than take something away. That’s the vision I had, and I embraced it. 

Q. In between your treatment, you were also giving talks…

AI thought ‘let me make it a mission from a joyous point of view’ so that I can share the pain and suffering and really talk about early breast cancer detection, about removing the stigma and not feeling ashamed. That’s the purpose I had. Women should really value their lives and they are the protagonist of their lives. Have space to accommodate a lot of people but a woman should be the hero of her life.

Q. How did your kids take your cancer phase?

A. When it happened, they were very young – six and four. But they could figure out. My hair was not there, so their perception of beauty also transformed. I really worked on that and I really wanted them to just not have a stereotype of feeling beautiful or being happy. I really tried to change that about them. I don’t know exactly what they must have felt… perhaps (I'll know) only when they grow old enough to put the feelings into words. 

Q. Why not a cancer memoir? What is the motivation behind The 12 Commandments…?

A. I did not want to write a cancer memoir. Even in this book, only in two pages have I written about that. I feel that there is so much to me beyond cancer which is equally engaging. You can be funny, witty, you have different stages of life and different problems associated with it. My problem was that there are very few stories written about women, very few stories seen on cinema about them. Whatever is written and heard becomes a replica of each other and you get into the stereotype. So, either you have women who are sad and tragic or you have revolutionaries. You could be them, but you could be more. You could be funny, witty and crazy. We do have those stories and I always wanted to write from that perspective. 

Q. Have you found your true calling yet and are you in a happy space now?

A. Writing has been my true calling. Somehow there was a delusional ruthlessness and my own conspiracy theories that I could not see that writing was what gave me the maximum joy. But that’s what I am going to do for the rest of my life because it is something that I have a deep connection with. An extended part of that will also be seen with words coming into life and into vision, which is filmmaking. And yes, I’m in a happy space now!