Aastha Atray is an award-winning author and journalist.
Shilpa Jain: You have spent 18 long years in this industry. Starting as a journalist with Asian Age and now as an assistant editor with Mid-day – could you highlight your key learnings during this period?
Aastha Atray: I think I have learnt that one should never give up. Experience and being on the field teaches one a lot, and you get better as days go by.
My key learning is to always be open minded. Never say no to anything in the early years and always be ready to learn and grow. It helps to be grounded and humble.
I still do very small things, like write listings for my newspaper, along with doing big interviews.
Also, don’t get too anxious or worried, just keep your head down and work. Worrying is the worst roadblock. Don’t look at the challenges, think of solutions. Ask yourself, “so what can we do now?”
SJ: How did you go about achieving your dreams to get into print media? For the benefit of our young women at AFH, did you need any specialist qualification?
AA: Nowadays I think you need a media degree. But in my days a good hold on the language was enough.
I worked as an intern, and then worked my way up. Once they knew I was hardworking and committed, the call kept rolling.
But even if you have a degree, what media houses look for is good English skills, and good writing skills. Read a lot, so you know structure, and keep up with the news.
Also, don’t make up your mind right away of what you want to do. Spend a few years writing and reporting about everything— and then choose a specialty.
SJ: You have donned various hats! Author, podcaster, singer – how do you manage to fit all this in? And what drives you?
AA: What drives me is that I can’t be stuck doing only one thing. I need to be expanding my horizons at all times.
For me, other than being a journalist, the feeling of love drives me.
I write romance novels, do a podcast on love and relationships, and sing love songs.
It all stems from my love for love and words.
I manage my time by just doing, and not thinking too much. If you get flustered, it won’t work out.
The aim is to do something that comes naturally to you, so it doesn’t feel like work.
SJ: You have won the prestigious “Laadli” award? What was it for?
AA: It was for a story on young, poor, Muslim girls in Nagpada who played basketball. They were breaking barriers and trying to rise above their circumstances. Their story really inspired me, and that showed in the writing, I guess. I am still in touch with a few of them, and they are very happy, ambitious young girls.
SJ: You were the first Indian author to write India’s second “Mills & Boon”. Some of our young women wouldn’t know the fan following Mills & Boon had during those times. Can you briefly take them through the glory of the M&B days and how did you end up publishing the book?
I think if you ask our moms and grandmothers, they must have surely read Mills & Boon. Especially by hiding them under brown paper coverings, as the covers were quite racy. They are typical romance books which take the reader to a different space. Harlequin, which is the parent company, is 100 years old so that shows how long standing they are.
When M&B came to India, they held a contest to find an Indian author. I wrote a short story and won!
I actually won the Laadli and the M&B contest in the same day.
SJ: Do you follow a particular genre of writing? Who is your inspiration?
AA: My mentor and inspiration is the one and only Haruki Murakami, the king of dysfunctional romances.
He is also very meticulous when it comes to writing and his life, and I wish I can emulate his discipline.
SJ: As our primary cause is aiming to make young women financially independent, why is being financially independent important to you?
AA: It is so important! That means you don’t need a man or parents to take you through life. You are complete on your own. It gives you a sense of freedom that’s hard to get otherwise.
In the pandemic, I have realised how important it is to have different ways of earning money, not just one job. So, I think we need to find avenues of doing what we love, which could also lead to making money.
SJ: Any message to the members of Aspire for Her? And any message for the Foundation in general?
AA: Just don’t be afraid of judgement and do what you want to do. Aspire for the sun and the stars and the whole universe.
Question: One person, fictional/real and dead/alive that you want to have dinner with
Haruki Murakami and/or John Mayer
Question: A book on your career field that you would recommend to or readers
New New Journalism (it’s a compilation of essays by the best journalists in the world)
Question: 3 things on your bucket list
1 million followers on Instagram
One year in New York
A best-selling book