Dakshita Das is the M.D, C.E.O of National Housing Bank. A 1986 batch Indian Railway Accounts Service officer, she has previously served as the Joint-Secretary in the Ministry of Road, Transport, and Highways and as Additional Secretary in the Department of Financial Services. She is an alumna of Lady Shri Ram College for Women.
‘Myself Meena, IAS’ by Dakshita Das is the story of Meena, a young, fun-loving girl from Bareilly, who finds her life in a state of disarray. On one hand, she is compelled to play the role of a dutiful daughter, living out the ambitions that her father had dreamt for her—being an IAS officer. On the other hand, she remains perpetually confused and bored. Worse, she falls out with her best friend, is unable to sustain long-term friendships, and falls in love but struggles to make choices.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a writer?
I believe I always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a young kid studying in Loreto, Lucknow. However, as it happens, one follows a structured profession in which one is busy doing what the rest of the world does. Having said that, 2008 onwards I started writing some very serious stuff for newspapers, mainly on public finance.
It was around 2011 when a young girl walked into my room and said that she was totally frustrated in being a bureaucrat. I looked at her and I said, hey! that could be any young girl’s story: she struggles for so many years, she takes the exam which is the mother of all exams and then she says, man, where is my eureka moment… it’s missing. I asked this girl what made her take the exam and she replied, ”It was my parents. They were very focused on my becoming a bureaucrat, but ma’am, it isn’t worth it.”, and that’s when the real writing bug took over.
I realized that I had it in me to write something which would touch the hearts of young girls, young bureaucrats, young aspirants for the civil services who really don’t realize their potential and end up becoming pedestrian run-of-the-mill people. My final words? I was lucky. I always wanted to be a writer and 25 years into bureaucracy I achieved my goal. I’m very happy about it now.
What inspired you to write ‘Myself Meena, IAS’?
A lot of us face several dilemmas in life. No dilemma is worse than the alienation you face when you come from a small town, carrying very typically small-town dreams and try to live them out in Delhi. That’s what made me feel that the title ‘Myself Meena’ is actually evocative of somebody from a small town facing the dilemma of being smaller than the big people in that town; coming to Delhi and being hit by the sheer range of emotions, people, color and the fact that single-minded focus is the mantra to make a professional success of your life. All of that became subtle themes.
Would you believe it? That time I was looking into HR issues at my workplace, anybody would come into my room and that person would be just one more incident in my book. The layers of emotions in human beings are amazing, and as I started writing more and more of Myself Meena, a lot of things came out, which was so very freaky and interesting and that’s how this became a book. Incidentally, the first person I gave it to read was my mother. She told me, “It’s a lovely book, but change the end”. The original end is totally different from what it is now. I took my mother’s advice, so a lot of readers tell me that the end is abrupt and that the end leaves space for ‘Myself Meena 2’. Well, these are questions to which there are no answers but that’s the way the book evolved.
What kind of research do you do, how long do you spend researching before beginning a book, and have you ever undertaken a literary pilgrimage?
It’s just human research. I’m a very gregarious person, I meet several people in the workplace and they become the base for my research. But yes, some bits have to be researched seriously, like while writing Myself Meena, I didn’t realize that there was a full industry for training young civil service aspirants and that’s when I went to those parts of Delhi: Mukherjee Nagar and the adjacent areas where I found that you have places like libraries where young children come, dump their bags and just study for all eternity.
The next book which I’ve written is about youngsters, so I had to change my social network and start looking more intensively at youngsters; their dreams, their aspirational goals, how they are just living, so I guess the world is my research arena. Typically, when people write a book, they have a structure in mind. I have a hazy idea but my format is never known. Again, in the second book; I completed it and gave it to a close friend to read for first proof, and he said, “Change the end.” Yet again, I have changed the end so I guess that’s the way it goes.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Writing is a serious business. When I write, I’m totally focused on what I’m thinking and tend to forget everything around me. Actually, you end up becoming the character. One minute you’re Meena facing your mother, another time you’re Meena facing Venkat, so that’s the way it goes. When you’re Pretty much, when you’re writing, It’s not really the writer’s schedule which is critical. What’s also interesting is that it takes you a long time to get the characters out of your system.
In a nutshell, I would say it’s about 8-9 months of writing, then another 2-3 months of editing, then finding your publisher, then walking the path with your editor, then maybe looking at it and having your mother tell you, “ Hey, change the end,” and doing that again. With the full-time job that I have, I would say that writing takes about 2-3 hours when you’re in the mood. I won’t say that I write with regularity because my routine doesn’t permit it, however, when I’m in it, I’m totally in it.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk, and have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym?
It is that I keep a diary. On the days that I’m not able to write, or I don’t have some plot in my mind, I keep in touch by using a pen and paper. I use a fountain pen, incidentally. Wherever I go, I seek out a jar of ink and I have yellow legal pads, and I must write, even if it’s 2 lines. And when I do so, I feel that the momentum builds up inside me, which propels me to turn to my laptop and start penning down the story that I have in my mind.
So far as writing under a pseudonym is concerned, of course, I’ve debated with that idea. Primarily, because I was writing fiction and fiction is majorly for a younger age group, or so I thought. Always, there is a certain amount of reservation inside you. Like hello, what if so-and-so reads it and what will so-and-so think about me, things like that. But eventually, you learn to discard a lot of these angularities and you say, there’s only one life, go ahead and be a Meena and do what you want. So I dropped the idea of writing under a pseudonym and wrote under my own name, Dakshita Das.