Andaleeb Wajid is back at her mother’s house, this time for a month. It is Ramzan―the month of fasting. She logs in from her refuge―the desk in her peppermint green room. A romance writer, love is her business. In 2021, she spent six months in her room writing happy endings, even as she dealt with the other side of the four-letter word she has based her career on―loss.
“Everything kind of changed,” says Wajid, who is currently promoting her trilogy, Jasmine Villa. “My mother-in-law and I got admitted together [with Covid-19], and my husband the next day. I recovered. My mother-in-law and husband did not. They both passed away.”
Robbed of her ever-after―a promise in her books―Wajid continued to script it for others. Five days after her husband passed, she went back to her novel Loving You Twice. “The only stable thing was that moment when I would sit down to write,’’ she says. “I just felt that whatever happens in the world, the one thing that would be with me is my writing. That is still a place where I have a certain amount of control over things.”
When she was not plotting perfect scenarios, she tweeted her way through her pain. Her story became symbolic of the grief that engulfed everyone. Wajid wrote poignantly about her pain, offering a window to her devastation. “I sometimes think about how my husband would react,’’ she says. “He was this joking sort of person. He would be like, ‘Look at me. I made you famous’. He could flip it like that.”
Wajid swings between horror and romance, and from being published to choosing to self-publish. She writes for young adults. Jasmine Villa―which centres on the three Hasan sisters: Tehzeeb, Ana, and Athiya―was self-published till it was bought by Westland. “Self-publishing opens the doors,’’ she says. “I am in control of everything. The sky’s the limit. A publisher will publish one book of mine at a time, at the most. And I write fast. I needed to find a way to get these books to the readers without having to wait for years to get a publisher to pick them up.’’ In 14 years, Wajid has written 60 books, more than 20 of which were self-published.
Jasmine Villa was immensely successful when she first self-published it. Each book in the series deals with the love story of a sister. Jasmine Villa is the house they grew up in. One Way To Love kicks off the series with the love story of the eldest sister Tehzeeb. Life―and complications―begin after her marriage to Ayub Ahmed. The ever-after is not as happy as anticipated. Then there is the love story of Ana and Luqman in the second part of the series―Loving You Twice. And the third book revolves around the youngest and the most feisty Hasan―Athiya. Wajid’s characters are Muslim, and they belong to conservative families. Tehzeeb’s in-laws do not want her to work. Athiya is uncomfortable with telling her father that she did modelling.
Wajid’s love is not lust-free. “The reader does expect sex,’’ she says. Even though she first shied away from intimacy, she has now embraced it. Her women are not prudes―there is a fair amount of kissing and more. Nor are her men chaste. “I have read hot and steamy romances, and I thought I could never write like this,’’ she says. “In my earlier books, I imply intimacy. I have two sons. What if they were to read the books, I thought. Or my aunts.’’
Her boys, she soon realised, did not read. Certainly not what she wrote. Only one aunt is an avid reader. “I was scared about changing the perception that people had of me,” she says. “When I self-published, my books reached a smaller section of people, and they were quite taken aback. Especially by the intimate scenes; some of them were quite complex. But I said, ‘Look, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.’ I am enjoying it. I found that writing about intimacy is very empowering. What’s not to like?’’
Wajid’s Jasmine Villa series is as comforting as chocolate. And perhaps, as sweet. It is the core of ordinariness―of love as a lived experience and not as a fantasy with an orchestra playing in the background―that makes her books engaging. There is marriage, there are in-laws, there are expectations leading to complications―and the comfort that it will all end well.
She married when she was 20 and wrote because she felt out-of-sync with her peers. “They all had jobs, and I didn’t,” she says. “But I had a child. It was not easy. The desire to write was always there. So when I started, I felt I should write about people I knew. I never set out to normalise Muslim values. Writing about Muslim people is very incidental for me. I am writing [about them] because it is easier and involves less research.” Wajid says that the representation of Muslims in popular culture is very stereotypical. “I have hardly come across stories about girls like me. They are either burkha-clad, or there will be someone who will want to take off the hijab. Where are the people like me? When I step out of the house, I wear my hijab. It is not life changing. It is not oppressing me.’’
Her stories reflect her world. And in a way stem from her own love story that grew out of a marriage of over two decades. It is the loss of this love that she is learning to live with. She now writes in her husband’s office. She lost her father when she was 12, and watched her mother unravel. “My mother was in her early 30s,” she says. “I had seen that experience, I used to think that was not going to be me. I am not like that. I am much more sorted and practical. But I was extremely shocked to realise that, underneath all that, the enormity of never seeing him again struck hard.”