Twinkle Khanna On Going Back To School And Writing Her Fourth Book

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Nayare Ali

Defying stereotypes, the author, superstar wife and mother of two relocated to London to pursue her Master’s degree. talking about her fourth book to HELLO! she confesses to worrying about lunch friends, reflects on motherhood and moles, and unveils why she sees a practical approach as key to a successful marriage.

She still possesses those glamorous movie star looks, debunking the myth that age is a limiting factor. Having recently turned 50, Twinkle Khanna exudes an inner radiance and effortlessly engages in philosophical discussions as if chatting about the latest recipes. “I’m forcing myself to take a sabbatical, which is going very badly because I don’t like my brain to be empty of characters and conversations,” she reveals.

During a whirlwind day trip to Bengaluru, where she launched her latest book — Welcome to Paradise — at a local store and even attended a special evening by the FICCI FLO ladies, Twinkle had an action-packed day in the city. Dressed in trousers, jacket and sneakers — the perfect attire for a day filled with travel and work — the author exhibits no hint of fatigue as she elegantly takes a seat with HELLO! for a conversation.

In conversation with Twinkle Khanna

HELLO!: Moving to London with your daughter Nitara for your master’s degree, all while establishing a home in a new country, undoubtedly must have been an intense experience. Can you share some of those early moments in your journey?

Twinkle Khanna: “Looking back, I see them as hurdles to cross. Since my body cannot physically overcome them, I rely on my mental strength to navigate through them. During the pandemic, I decided to do two creative writing courses from Oxford University online. Each session was for three months, with 10 hours a week. After six months, I felt like I learnt so much and was fully immersed into the world of writing. It felt valuable to me, even though it was online. It also signalled to me that I was ready for the academic world.

I applied to five universities and got rejected by one, which was disheartening. They were the first to respond and when I received their feedback, I was taken aback, thinking I might not get accepted anywhere. I was perplexed because I had a substantial body of work.

Strangely, my son Aarav and I had applied to the same college since we were both studying liberal arts. When we found out we were accepted to the same university, we were horrified at the thought of being on campus together. We made a pact that we will pretend not to know each other and hang out with our respective friends. Luckily, he got his first choice and opted for that university.”

H!: You’ve talked about how difficult it is to make new friends in your 50s, and you had to do it in another country. Who is the first friend you made there and how did this connection happen?

TK: “I knew a few people, but I didn’t know them that well. It meant, however, that I could leave my old habits behind. I decided to be a bit brazen about forming new friendships. Despite going on stage and behaving like Sadhguru, I am an introvert and it takes time for me to make friends. After a while, I feel drained being surrounded by people. I want to go off on my own, sit and read a book, or do something by myself. I take all the energy I absorb from public spaces to my solitary corner and mull over it.

I had a year to finish my course, so it was very hectic. I would start writing at 4.30 or 5am and then go to university. The volume of course submissions was high, and I didn’t have time to feel lonely because I had so much work to do. I felt exactly the way I did when I went to boarding school. It was very similar. Once again, I was in a new world with so much work, leaving no time to fret. When I’m figuring out new things, I focus my energy on them.”

H!: Did people recognise you?

TK: “I don’t think anyone in my class did. It was good because there weren’t any other Indians there, except for one girl with a Kashmiri background from Chicago. Like everyone else, I had to create a bio, stand up and introduce myself. I had to come up with a joke about my name, a literary one. Fortunately, Jhumpa Lahiri wrote The Interpreter of Maladies and there’s a character named Twinkle. That became the perfect joke. I was worried about who I would walk with in the corridors and who I would have lunch with. When the professor assigned three of us a presentation, we decided to have lunch together. We quickly became friends, and from then on, I never ate lunch alone again. I made a lot of new and good friends.”

H!: A month after finishing your master’s, you announced your fourth book, Welcome to Paradise. Unlike your light and frothy books, this one carries a sensitive tone with underlying sadness and pain. What was your mindset while writing these stories?

TK: “I didn’t write it all at once. ‘Jelly Sweets’, the final story in the book, was the first one I began. I started writing it seven or eight years ago. I had narrated the story to Sarita Tanwar, who was my editor at that time, and she kept urging me to write this story. I told her it was percolating in my brain and would take some time. I didn’t intentionally set out to write a book centred on grief, loss, love or mortality. I never pre-determine the themes when I begin; it’s only when I finish the story and look at it that I realise there was a theme. Maybe it’s the stage of life I find myself in. At 50, many people I know have already passed away. My aunts, grandparents and even my father are gone. Friends are losing their parents, and that stage of life has subtly woven itself into the pages of my writing.”

H!: You had mentioned recently that many of these characters are inspired by real-life people. How personal was this experience?

TK:“‘Jelly Sweets’ was based on my great-grandmother’s life which was narrated to me by her daughter, my beloved grandmother Bitty Kapadia. I recall going with my grandmother to her brother’s house when I was around nine years old. On the terrace, there were aluminium trays with pink and green jelly settings. This image stayed with me and inspired the writing of ‘Jelly Sweets’.

My great-grandmother got married in the 1920s, but tragically lost her firstborn, a son. She went mad with grief and was sent back to her parents. A widowed neighbour fell in love with her, and they married, eventually having a dozen kids. He treated her tenderly. Both of them had their share of losses. He did not like her to do any work, while she liked to cook. The moment she heard his car, she’d quickly wash her hands, settle on the swing, read a magazine and pretend she had been doing nothing else. It’s a beautiful story of loss, pain and redemption at the end. Mostly, in real life, there is no such thing as a perfect love story. It only exists when it’s short-lived, and those involved in it pass away soon after falling in love. In real life, someone is always leaving the bathroom seat up.”

H!: Speaking of perfect love stories, what makes your marriage so strong?

TK: “In our marriage, we both hear each other out, nod and go and do exactly as we please. He [actor Akshay Kumar] was clear from the beginning that he was not going to interfere in my life. When you get married people look at it as an emotional journey, but I look at it as a practical one. Your partner should help you grow, and when you marry, make sure they won’t hold back your growth. That’s the key ingredient.”

This story is an excerpt of an interview from the February 2024 issue of HELLO! India. Get your copies here to read the full story.