Literary Agent Mita Kapur: Gun Point, Been There. Rebellion, Done That.
- IWB Post
- August 26, 2017
When I made her a call to fix what we refer to as ‘a shoot’, I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Not particularly because she is a freelance journalist, author of two books, and the founder and CEO of the country’s best literary consultancy firm – Siyahi, and she also indulges in conceptualizing and producing literary festivals across the world. No.
But because in that brief-barely-a-minute-long-conversation, her persona came across as that of someone who is strictly a no-nonsense person and someone who is a fascinating, but at the same time, not an easy read.
I got my armor together and ventured into Mita Kapur’s extravagant territory to explore the multi-faceted personality that she is.
Me: I have heard a lot about you…
Before I could even complete my sentence, Mita intervened.
Mita: Ah! I’m sure it is all horrible! Tell me about it, though. I’m always very interested in the bad things people say about me.
Me: Umm, why do you say that?
Mita: Because I work very hard to build that kind of image. But at the same time, I am contradicting my words by saying that being a bitch comes effortlessly to me. It is instinctive in my nature.
And I’m sure she must have read the WHY flashing in upper case on my face, which is probably why she continued…
Mita: Being mean and bitchy makes life easy. Otherwise, people tend to think that you are very accessible, they take you for granted, they walk all over you. And I don’t take shit from anyone.
Me: But doesn’t it make life difficult at the same time? With people saying ghastly things about you?
Mita: Nope. I’ve never cared a damn about what people think about me. I can’t be bothered. Social acceptance is something that is very multi-dimensional and something that should be convenient for you.
Me: Any exceptions to the rule?
Mita: I don’t care as long as it doesn’t hinder my work. But as a literary agent, I have to take care of my authors’ rights, and if that means I have to agree with a person who I may not like, or to someone whose way of functioning I don’t subscribe to, I will do it happily without batting an eyelid. Yes, I am pretty shameless about these things because when it comes to my work, I am like a horse with blinkers on.
Me: Having said all this, I believe you’ve piqued the interest of many.
Mita: It’s just that I have made a choice, and I am sticking to that choice. How many women are capable of doing that? Everybody tends to bow down to social pressure, family pressure, and role playing.
She spoke with a deathly iciness in her voice that heightened the effect of her thoughts.
Mita: Having said that, it is also a little paradoxical because there will be situations where within the family structure some things will be expected of me, and I will do them happily. But the reason I will do them happily is very different from why another woman would be doing it happily.
Any other woman would do it thinking that she ‘must,’ without cross-examining and simply taking it to be her role as a daughter-in-law or a wife. There is no ‘must’ in my dictionary. I do things because I owe it to the person – maybe out of love, respect, the recognition that without their support I couldn’t have done what I am doing.
Me: It is the ‘individual’ instead of the ‘role’ responding to the situation.
Me: So, why do you think women behave the way they do, in the face of such societal expectations?
Mita: *With a voice as strong as her conviction* Because these women are so accepting! They take whatever is given to them!
I’ll tell you an instance. Some time back we began the ‘Why Loiter’ chapter wherein we – a group of women – were reclaiming public spaces that are originally seen unfit for women. I made a group on WhatsApp, and just as I announced that the next loiter is at a daaru theka in Bagadia Bhavan, half of the women left the group. Telling me things like… ‘We can’t be seen at such a place. What will my in-laws think of me? What will people say?’ And I replied, even for a cause you wouldn’t?
Women themselves in Jaipur are not ready to stand up and take a position and make a choice because they are scared. It is 2016. High time yaar! Where the f*ck does the society think it is going with its ideologies, with its thinking, with the way it is mapping people’s lives?
Can we just please change the way we look at women? Can women just change the way they look at themselves? And especially in this city. I am sorry, not sorry, but Jaipur still lives in the 18th century and is so so narrow-minded… it’s not funny!
Me: Hmm, so it is pretty apparent that you don’t like the city much.
Mita: I have grown up in this city, and I don’t like where it is heading. Look at the conservation of architectural heritage for instance! The way the modern areas are coming up is so gross and ugly. Nowhere is there any sense of aesthetics, or vision. The city is all lost.
Well, one look at her mansion, and you would know she’s not to be argued within this context. Oh, did I mention that when I entered her house, it felt like entering Mr. Darcy’s estate – Pemberley?
Me: *Now trying to drift the conversation away from Jaipur and its short-comings* Let’s talk about you! How did you end up being a literary agent? Did you always want to be one?
Mita: Ah! It happened purely by accident. I am actually trained as a journalist. It was while reading, writing, and being a part of various writing communities online that I was helping a lot of friends edit, assess, and critique their work. And then it just so happened one afternoon in a casual chat with a publisher from the UK, that he pointed out that I was already doing almost all that a literary agent does. The only thing I wasn’t into was getting these writers in touch with the right publishers.
This, and the fact that a lot of good writing lies in piles on publishers’ desks unattended, got me to consider the field seriously. And hence, within a month, Siyahi came into existence. I knew a whole lot of publishers; I had many friends who were writers, and they all welcomed me well and supported me. Within the first two weeks, we sold two books. It all happened organically. I owe Siyahi in pockets to a lot of such people I look up to.
And no matter how cynical she may seem or claim to be, a smile flashed on her face… the kind of smile the sweet and subtle origin of which makes it contagious.
Me: How old is Siyahi?
Mita: We started out in April of 2007. We’re almost nine years old.
Me: You’re a writer, as well. What do you write?
I think that’s the only word in the English language that has the notions of being complete in itself; no further questions asked.
Mita: I’ve also been into investigative journalism, wherein we would not only just write about an issue and leave it there. We would trace it to the core, belt it out and follow it to the end. There was this one case of domestic violence, where I had a gun pointed at my chest. The man in the case threatened to kill me, and I asked him to go ahead. Of course, he backed off, but later when I narrated the story to my husband, he was pulling his hair out going all ballistic.
Me: That sounds FUN! Wow!
Mita: Much as I would like to continue doing all that, the 100 authors I have are commitments on my head, and these commitments do not let me pursue my passions beyond a certain point.
Me: What else are your passions?
Mita: Like I was saying, FOOD! In the years that I wasn’t working, I channeled all my creativity into the kitchen, solely because I love cooking.
Me: How about writing poetry? I am looking at you right now, and I have a very strong feeling that you write poetry too.
Mita: I love poetry as a genre, but I don’t write.
Me: (And like the 164th copy version of Sherlock Holmes that I am, I focused my eyes on her and asked) Are you sure you don’t write poetry?
Mita: Back in school, I used to write a lot of poems. Everyone does that.
Somehow, I felt an inner sense of victory at this admission of hers.
Me: So, being a writer yourself, doesn’t it require a lot of courage in rejecting other people’s manuscripts?
Mita: Not at all. That is my job. If an artist cannot prepare himself for the harshest critiquing, he is not a true artist at all. Feedback and critique are the only ways to grow and to improve oneself. We get hate mails from people sometimes. And when we do get them, it is a cause for celebration in the office.
Even today when I write an article, I don’t have it in me to shoot it off directly to the publication I’m writing for without showing it to my editors. And my editors slice me. Ruthlessly. And I’m happy about it because that’s how I know I’m evolving as a writer.
Me: What according to you is the one quintessential quality of a writer?
Again, a word that was complete in itself. No further questions asked. Though, she did mention that being honest with yourself and not being pretentious is the mantra to writing well.
Me: What does writing mean to you?
Mita: It is a way of losing self and at the same time, trying to find self. I want to keep losing myself, again and again, figuring myself out, and then reaching somewhere only to start again. It is rejuvenating.
Her smile mirrored on my face too, because maybe, that’s what writing is to me too.
Me: And what is the next big thing?
Mita: Listen, I want to die when I’m 65. I’ve told my family just to bump me off at that age because I don’t want to grow older than that. 65 is a good time to go.
Me: Okay, well. Still, there’re 15 more years till that happens. What’s the next big thing?
Mita: *Like a little child trying to evade a question when clueless* Mereko nahi pata yaar! Of course, I’d want a good future for Siyahi. But that’s that. Nothing particular per se.
Me: Okay then! Here’s to a future of success and living life a day at a time! By the way, I have a rapid-fire thingy for you, before I take my leave.
Mita: *Frowning* Oh I suck at these games! I’m boring that way.
Me: It’s alright. I’m boring too. So, from one boring person to another, here’s a rapid-fire! Keyboard or Pen?
Me: Food or Sex?
Mita: Foooood! As I’d have guessed!
Me: Pet or Children?
Mita: Pets! Anyday!
Psst! Did you know that Mita has an adorable cocker spaniel named Waffle? The name makes him all the more edible! *Gulps*
Me: Husband or Mr. Darcy?
Mita: Husband! My husband’s my best friend.
Me: Saree or Pyjama?
Me: First thing that comes to your mind when I say ‘Red Lipstick’?
Mita: Cheeeee! I love it on other people, but I know for sure I can’t carry it off, hence chee.
Mita: Done and over with.
Mita: I’d love to! Well, who wouldn’t?
Mita: Let’s goooo!