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 wanted to be a writer ever since I was a kid studying in Loreto, Lucknow. Having said that, 2008 onwards I started writing some very serious stuff for newspapers 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 realized that I had it in me to write something which would touch the hearts of young aspirants for the civil services who don’t realize their potential and end up becoming pedestrian run-of-the-mill people.
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 evocative of somebody from a small town facing the dilemma of being smaller than the big people in that town; having come to Delhi and been 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.
At 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. 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. Typically, when people write a book, they have a structure in mind. I have a hazy idea but my format is never known.
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. 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, 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 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 which is majorly for a younger age group, or so I thought. Always, there is a certain amount of reservation inside you. 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.