Sinclair: You used to be a lawyer. Now you’re a writer. How did you get to where you are now?
Avantika: That transition wasn’t the easiest of my life, to be honest. I quit Law after working too many corporate cases that I disagreed with on basic moral issues. I mean I love the law still, in its potential and because humans created these rules with the aspiration to become better than we are. Corporate Law, to my mind, is based fictions, and it made me feel sick about myself to be enforcing it.
Once I quit, writing — which is all I ever really wanted to do but faced a lot of family pressure to not pursue — seemed to be a natural direction.
I began by sending my short fiction everywhere. I enrolled into the Iowa’s Writers Workshop, which was the best decision I’ve made ever. After much rejection, a short of mine was published in The Asia Literary Review. That gave me a second wind.
After graduating from Iowa, I came back to Delhi. I began by freelancing feature non-fiction stories for small newspapers, and sending my CV everywhere. Most reactions I got were like: why leave law and become a journalist? It was an annoying question but I answered it at every interview. Many editors wouldn’t read my work but would ask me to come back when I was more established.
The nicest rejection I got was the late Me Vinod Mehta. He told me to just keep at it, and I did. I got hired as a rewrite desk for a gossipy supplement of a top newspaper— I used my time there to write some stories that mattered to me for the online section. Then I shifted newspapers to Hindustan Times; it was looking for a legal reporter. I wasn’t dying to go back into law, but those were the circumstances before me. I jumped on the chance, and worked my ass off in that position.
Never shy, I always pitched other non-law related stories as well. Plenty of them were published, including data studies into Delhi’s rape courts, interviews with Erika Lust and a survey of how women watch porn. I also vied for books to review to keep up with my fiction writing in some sort of a way.
See, I wasn’t part of any writer’s circles here, and I’m not a big networker, so my only option was to work my ass off. And this paid off. I was promoted to Special Features within a year.
The Ladies Compartment came about because I wanted to expand my writerly wings further than law and crime (which is what I covered mostly, and still do like to cover frankly.) I wanted to create an unabashed, and funny place for women on the Internet. I remember when I was a kid, my mom would always tell me not to dress like that or be like that because society wouldn’t approve. My reply was always: by the time I’m grown society will be me and others my age, and we approve. The Ladies Compartment (TLC) is an offshoot of that idea.
Indian women have always been fierce, but now as my generation is closer to taking the reigns, it’s obvious that we are more open minded, more accepting: that’s the essence of TLC.
Sinclair: You’re in the process of writing your book. Can you tell us a little about it?
Avantika: I am always in the process of writing and then abandoning a book. Discipline isn’t my strong suit. I’m working on a collection of short stories, and a non-fiction that tracks young murder convicts (our law has recently changed to try them as adults for certain crimes). Non-fiction takes a lot of time. It took me six months just to get one of the protagonists to allow me to visit him in jail. It’ll be a while before that books sees the musty corner of some bookshelf. But it is very rewarding; strange and anti-hero characters are my favourite in any genre.
Sinclair: What is inclusive feminism, and what does it personally mean to you?
Avantika: I described TLC as inclusive feminism because to me it means everyone is welcome here, and TLC is hellbent on being an ally to any person who has got the short end of the patriarchy. I deliberately didn’t use intersectional, a term I see a lot of people use, because that means something else and has been kind of co-opted by the internet.
“The Ladies Compartment is hellbent on being an ally to any person who has got the short end of the patriarchy.”- Avantika Mehta
Sinclair: How do you source the artwork displayed on your Instagram account?
Avantika: I’m just always watching out for art or words that move me. The second I see something, I use Planoly to keep it in my bank. Sometimes what I love, my followers adore equally; sometimes the art doesn’t get the attention I think it deserves. The Insta account is also linked to my website, where many lovely, lovely writers and artists have contributed. It’s worth checking out. Since I manage the website, edit, and run social media while trying to keep my head afloat with freelance gigs at other newspapers, I only use Insta as a social media platform or I’d be losing it over the 100s of platforms that exist out there.
Sinclair: What can we do to be better allies for womxn?
Avantika: I think the best thing anyone can do to be an ally to women is to speak up— when you see that unfair promotion, when you hear sh*t talk about women, to recognise the harmful effects the so-far male-centric world causes women, both young and old. It’d also help if you did all these things without expecting us to fall in love with you or sleep with you out of sheer gratefulness. LOL.
Sinclair: What is something we often get wrong when talking about woman’s bodies?
Avantika: I mean, how much time do we have? 🙂 I would be more worried about what most men get wrong about women’s rights and minds. Frankly, I don’t think men and women are as different as we make them out to be. It’s just going to take a lot of time before we can shed the toxicity spread by millenia of treating women like they’re secondary objects.
“I wanted to create an unabashed, and funny place for women on the Internet.” – Avantika Mehta
Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?
Avantika: Last night, I switched off my phone, picked up a book I love but don’t really need to read right now, lit some lavender essence oil in my room. Took my meds on time. Hung with my ailing grandma and listened to her stories of childhood. This is all self-care.
Sinclair: What’s one of your favorite pieces of writing that you’ve written? What makes it meaningful for you?
From The Ladies Compartment:
- This is a three part series that I did for which I had to teach myself data journalism.
- No one eats non-veg here, Ahmedabad’s food lovers on the city’s aversion to meat
I mean there’s tons more I liked writing but I love these pieces.
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Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?
Avantika: Oddly enough, the women and girls who follow TLC bring me great joy. They’re all so talented, so free with their love. There have been times I’ve been too depressed to do much else, and I get an encouraging message or a few, and it goes a long way in helping me go on and do more.
Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?
Avantika: Lol. How much time do we really have for this question? It’s a book in itself. 🙂
Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?
Avantika: I think that time is now actually. I’m constantly riddled with self-doubt— should I have stayed a lawyer; am I a good enough writer to meet my standards. I am also battling clinical depression (but staying strong for the most part.) I have yet to figure out a business model for TLC that aligns with its values of honesty and inclusivity. For example: I’ve turned down sponsored posts by designers and editors of books because I want to retain my follower’s trust. Plus, I suck at business management. But these feelings are cyclical, I tell myself. Nothing that taking care of myself and working wherever I can won’t eventually quiet down.
Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?
Avantika: I don’t think there are anything like unshakable rules… but if there’s one or two, I’d say: be honest about you who are and what you are good at and what you’re not so good at, and find a way to make that your job.
Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?
Avantika: Don’t go on social media. It’s toxic. Spend time on your work instead. Make goals and work towards them. And accept self-doubt. It’ll always be there no matter how great you become. It is, in fact, a sign that you’re striving for something brilliant, and with practice you’ll get there.
Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you believe to be true. What would you say?
Avantika: We cannot exist without diversity— embrace it, learn everything you can about other people and this world. Other people are not the enemy; ignorance is.
A prosperous lawyer turned broke writer and editor, Avantika Mehta lives in New Delhi with two mutts. She’s published non-fiction in several of India’s leading publications, and some fiction in Asia Literary Review and Open Mag. She is the founder/ editor/ web manager of The Ladies Compartment.
Featured awesomeness: Avantika says, “I think everyone needs feedback, be it writers or artists, so TLC has a Zoetrope thread to be used as a workshop. I’d encourage my readers and everyone to get as much workshopping done on their pieces as possible.”
Also, Avantika says, “Please use the Diva mini cup. It’ll save you money, and save a helluva lot of menstruation waste.