Q&A: Anindita Das, Author of 'What The Pandemic Learned From Me'

Anindita Das is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi, and she grew up in the green city of Guwahati. She is currently working as a Senior Creative Director at Wunderman Thompson Bangalore, and she has extensive experience working for leading advertising agencies of the country like Dentsu Impact, Cheil Worldwide and M&C Saatchi. In her career spanning over 12 years, she has launched and relaunched several iconic brands and partnered with some of the hottest businesses. She has recently come out with her book What The Pandemic Learned From Me, which is an easy mix of the author’s personal blunders and mind-boggling human behaviour in general, strung together by a series of hilarious open letters.

I chat with Anindita about her book What The Pandemic Learned From Me, what inspired her to write this book, book recommendations, and much more.

Hello, Anindita! Please tell us a bit about yourself!

Writing isn’t something new to me, and professionally I have been working as an advertising copywriter for more than a decade now. Chasing big ideas and everyday insights for brands is what my average day looks like. Despite that, I think there are many facets to being a writer and I am constantly discovering new things about myself.

On some days, I like to think that I am a simple and blunt person, something that has always landed me in a lot of trouble. But it has also enriched me with many stories to tell. On other days, I am this overthinking machine who finds everything too complicated. But on most days, I pass off as a human.

If you could only describe your book What The Pandemic Learned From Me: A hilarious antidote to the pain that Corona dealt us in five words, what would they be?

Irreverent. Honest. Infectious. Silly. Heartfelt.

Now tell us a little more about the book! What can readers expect?

The book has a few lifestyle viruses other than the infamous one we already know.

It has a little bit of all the funny and annoying things that we tried when we first began our lockdown lives – right from baking banana bread to growing our beards to finding a holiday home in Goa. Often not very successfully.

It has a secret escape to dealing with the goings-on of this new life, a secret that won’t be so obviously written in words but has to be discovered gradually.

I just wish people have some good time reading the book during these tough times. I hope they see a part of themselves echoed in my experiences, and anchor themselves to something hopeful, or just as pleasant distractions from everyday boiler-plate misery. And in doing so, they find some relief from the harsh realities that now surround us.

'What The Pandemic Learned From Me', published by Evincepub Publishing

What inspired you to write this book?

The lockdown experience was new for everyone, including me. Though I must say that I have so far been very lucky when compared to what many others have gone through, if at all such a thing can be compared. However, that doesn’t change or make what I have experienced less in intensity. My personal struggles of dealing with grief, isolation and devising new ways to keep myself distracted, made me decide on writing a book. I knew there were many others like me, waking up every morning, trying to get through the day, clutching at straws, and fighting for some semblance of sanity.

Having said that, I didn’t want my book to be a vacuous self-help book or anything trying to be overtly motivational; I am hardly able to help myself on most days. I wanted my book to narrate our collective experience with as much light-heartedness as possible and give away something worth remembering post the pandemic.

This book is part memoir and part musings, and you have used the epistolary format for sharing your personal experiences. Can you share your favourite anecdote (or anecdotes) from the book?

The book is written in an almost journal like format, but the letters aren’t addressed to people, they are written for things or for experiences that have impacted us. Besides letters, I have also used socially trending formats of listicles and new coinages making it very easy for readers to pick it up and put it down whenever they feel like.

I don’t really have a favourite anecdote in the book, but the closest to that would be the letter to ‘Work Life Balance’ or to ‘Social Media’. Both are very different in nature, somewhat personal and somewhat general. There are also the amusing misadventures of ‘Gardening’, ‘Savings’, and ‘Cooking’ for readers to enjoy.

What is the message that you want readers to take away from this book?

Despite the anger you feel, despite the fear you struggle with, despite the all-around uncertainty, you can still find something to laugh about. All you need to do is hold on to that. And while you are doing that it’s okay to be a little wonky in your attempts and a little askew in your perspectives.

With the current state of the world, what are you doing to cope with the changes we’ve had to make with our day-to-day? And what will be the new normal for you post-pandemic?

I think I have partly answered this question earlier. I now have new-found appreciation for the smaller things and routines in life. I am very much enjoying the slow pace on the days that I can afford to. I love waking up and not needing to get ready to rush to office; I can just walk into the other room, sit at my desk and be at office.

I am hoping that some semblance of our lockdown life will continue even post pandemic. Especially in our country, where most people have discovered work from home for the first time. I hope we continue to take out time for ourselves and pursue things that make us whole and happy, and stay close to the people we reconnected with. Rest, it will be business as usual.

What are you reading currently? Do you have any other book recommendations for readers who enjoyed What The Pandemic Learned From Me?

I recently read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. While the first two told unforgettable stories set in distant backdrops, Banerjee’s book was an almost poetic retelling of a popular mythology from the female perspective. All three books kept me equally fascinated.

I personally do not read too many humour books, but I have been told that readers of Bill Bryson, Hugh Prather and even our very own Mrs. Funnybones, Twinkle Khanna will enjoy What The Pandemic Learned From Me. So, if readers haven’t read their books already, they can read them.

The book ‘What The Pandemic Learned From Me’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.

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