After spending over a decade in advertising, Ankita Verma Datta recently gave into her passion for writing and is out with her book Trust Me Not. Born in Delhi, Ankita has spent a major part of life in Mumbai where she completed her PG Diploma in Marketing Management from Xavier Institute of Management and PG Diploma in Advertising & Communications Management from Xavier Institute of Communications. Ankita’s first novel is a beautiful love triangle, superimposed on the three-way nexus between the construction industry, media and politicians. For the book, Ankita drew from her experiences as an advertising and media professional, especially her stint with handling political communication campaigns. Through it, she has shared interesting, and at times jarring, insights about the dynamics involved in the field. The book is replete with human emotions that add dimension to the situations the characters are delving in. Ankita runs a communication and marketing consultancy under the name MindSpace Communications and is the Director with Harbour & Hills Realtors Private Limited — a company in the business of procuring, renovating and reselling antique Portuguese Bungalows in Goa. She is also a Managing-Consultant / Director with Republic Chemical Industries Inc — a Philippines based chemicals and adhesives company’s India Branch Office. She is also involved in breeding Tibetan Mastiff dogs and has been running a kennel for ‘hobby breeding’ the exotic breed in Lonavala and is trained in Neuro-Linguistic Programming through workshops conducted by expert practitioners. Here’s what she says about her book.
- This is your first published work…what inspired you to write?
‘Trust Me Not’ is my debut novel and I am thankful to Jaico Publishing House for recognising the potential of my work. They suited very well to a debut author like me and provided all the professional hand-holding, right through the process of editing, publishing and marketing of the book. Although they did forewarn me that socio-political thriller is a challenging genre. The idea to write a book was not a pre-meditated or planned one. One day while watching a political debate I got this strange feeling that every issue has various angles. Some are obvious and some are not. But as a passive audience we tend to mentally digest whatever is thrown at us, whether it’s by conventional media or social media. We are somehow losing the capacity to think for ourselves. I wanted to share this idea with all and thought that it could be conveyed to a larger audience, through a book. And even then, when I first designed the concept for the book, it wasn’t in the political-thriller genre. All I wanted to do was a pass a message and do it while keeping the reader entertained. As I progressed, the subject turned more intense than what I had expected. Most people like to read about love, hope, beauty and goodness but it is the dark subjects which engage the reader and leave an impact and evoke them. As an author I knew I had to be as honest as possible. If my book is able to engage the reader while tackling an intense subject then I think it serves its purpose. So, in the end I was happy with the final product. I would like to add that ‘inspired to write’ sounds very heavy to me. I think I was ‘motivated’ to write.
- How would you describe your journey from an advertising professional to a published author?
Having spent more than a decade and a half in the field of advertising, handling a wide range of clients including political campaigns, I can easily say that it was a fun ride all the way. It was an industry that suited me fine, apart from the crazy hours, as it gave me a tremendous opportunity to observe and grow as a person. In any case I was always a ‘people watcher’. In fact, ‘Trust Me Not’ is more about the flaws in us humans and how it affects the way we think and react. I have now moved from advertising to the commercial side to handle the business of a large Asian chemicals company in India. Which is very demanding on my time and I have to juggle schedules to pursue my passion for writing. It also meant re-inventing myself and prioritising things. Surprisingly, it brought more structure to the way I treated my time. In being an author, I feel I have found my final calling. But I guess I will always have that marketing and advertising person in my mind. Because I am always thinking of my readers and how I can make my writing more appealing to them. And it covers everything, from the book’s core message or offer, its packaging and staying true to the genre, while identifying the reader’s mindset.
- What was the research required for the book-Trust Me Not and why the title?
‘Trust Me Not’ was mostly born out of deep instincts and keen observation of people and how they react to certain situations. So, these were the main factors driving it. However, I did need to get inside the working mechanisms of bureaucracy, corporates & politics and how they can come together to form a nexus with media and public relations to create a very believable picture, which might not necessarily be true. When the stakes are high enough, a lot of things can be manipulated to suit those who stand to benefit from it. Swaying the public opinion in any direction is possible through carefully orchestrated media events. In the current times of media over-exposure, both online and conventional we are constantly bombarded with information input. So, choosing the right from the wrong becomes tricky, when every argument seems convincing. You cannot trust anything passively, without analysing it yourself, in light of the real facts. Hence the title ‘Trust Me Not’ is not just restricted to the characters of the book, but to its overall message about current times.
- You would have traveled far and wide over the years, which are your top destinations?
When I travel, it’s about exploring the food, culture and history of the place. So, I prefer renting places instead of hotels whenever possible. I like to visit the local super-markets and eat street food. Having travelled to Canada, Australia, and Europe & South East Asia extensively, my favourite till date is a small fishing village called ‘Iseltwald’ by the Lake Brienz, in Jungfrau region of Switzerland. We stayed there at a family managed hotel and it left a mark on my heart. The serene peace and quietude of the place was deeply touching. And even though it was a while ago, I can close my eyes and relive the experience, whenever I wish to. Other than this Cambodia, Machu Picchu, Egypt and Japan are right now at the top of my ‘to-do’ list. I wish I could get a year-long break to simply travel like a gypsy.
- What’s the one experience that has had profound impact on you?
I am quite a human sponge actually. So, I am constantly absorbing a lot of what is happening around me. I get affected by every little thing, in all manners possible. If my regular attendant at the spa doesn’t smile enough I start fretting if something is bothering her. If I see a kid who is exceedingly happy to get something as basic as candy floss, then it makes my day. If I see someone asking for prayers for their ailing family member on social media, I actually pray for them. If a plant or tree in my garden dies I feel very sad and miss it for days. If I made an elaborate meal and it didn’t live up to my expectations then I am irritable. If any of my dogs is sick it breaks my heart. Very basic things impact me very deeply. And I really don’t know if this is good or bad, because I am so caught up in these little things that any one experience having a ‘profound effect’ to cause a life-changing impact is lost on me. I think I am stuck in a conundrum.
- How challenging was it to create a fine balance between adhering to the seriousness of the topic, yet making the reading light?
I always believed as a writer, that if the characters of the book are interesting then the book becomes interesting. Because interesting characters will be unpredictable, flawed and will eventually get into tough situations. Here, I am not trying to play down the importance of a good plot, because without that the story falls flat. But good characters will keep the journey of readers from one point to another, interesting. Also, as writers we are always tempted to show our might with words and many of us do occasionally fall for this temptation. But the true power of a narrative lies not within words but in the art of spinning them into a believable, living breathing story. Thus, one other thing that I adhered to was keeping the language flowing and describing the scenes as visually as possible, attempting to give the narrative a cinematic quality. So, it felt good when many of my readers wrote to me saying that reading ‘Trust Me Not’ was like watching a movie. Because that’s exactly what I had in mind.
- What is the message that you are conveying through your book?
The book has not just one protagonist but many who are all fighting their own battles from their own point of view. And three of them are very strong young women, Reeva Rai, Nandita Sahay and Shalini Ray. From being in love with the wrong man to being stuck in a dangerous political mess to being emotionally traumatised by a personal loss, all these women are facing very trying situations. They are all in deep and complex turmoil but they have one thing in common. They will hold their ground. And that’s what matters. Staying true to your beliefs in the face of endless treachery and even personal threats, will ultimately lead to decisions you will ‘not’ regret later. Sometimes these decisions are difficult. But if you have the conviction in yourself, then they are easier to live with. There are equally strong male characters in the book, mired either by their own stereotypical roles or dark machoism or judgement errors. But in the end, there is no fixed formula for whether good wins or the evil. It all depends upon how you react to situations and whether you have the right moral compass. I believe this would be the message through ‘Trust Me Not’, although I had promised myself right at the start that I will not make the book preachy. The message is thus conveyed through the actions of the characters and their subsequent situations.
- What are your future plans?
As of now, I do not have the luxury of being a full-time writer, so I intend to continue juggling my work schedules to create enough time-space to write. I am currently mid-way through my second book-project in the similar genre of socio-political thriller. As I am proceeding in this journey I am discovering myself more and more as a writer. Sometimes, I surprise myself. At this point, I can safely say that I would love to continue in this genre as I am totally comfortable with it. In future I see myself trying pure thrillers or mystery genres as well. But social issues will always be a part of the subject matter of my writing. This is just the beginning of a long journey for me both as a newly invented person and as an author. So future plans are primarily about writing and experiments related to it. All I can say is that I am far from perfect, both as a person and as a writer. I like to believe everyone has flaws. And that’s what makes them interesting.