We’ve decided to meet for coffee. She comes in, with her hair flying all over her face, alternating between two expressions: a wide, warm grin, and a downward half-spiral of the lip apologising for the grin. She sits, brushes her hair back, grins again, and out comes an unexpectedly deep voice, and an equally sombre enquiry, “Am I on time?”
Yes, yes you are Amrita, I supply to her as quickly as possible, trying not to convey my momentary alarm at her question. It’s the voice you hear powerful villainesses use in movies, as they smoulder through what they want because they can. Amrita, however, seems uninterested in power.
“I tend to hold on more than let go. But, holding on stagnates you. Letting go helps you move on. This world is made for shorter attention spans, briefer encounters. It is unnatural to commit to anything long-term.” A complete statement in itself, but not an answer to the question I asked her – where did she get the voice? I ask her again, and she replies, “I don’t know. Probably, from Axl Rose.”
Axl Rose? Is there some covert paternal connection with the G N’ R frontman? She lets out a she-villain loud, bellowing laugh and says, “God, no! That would be awful. I only meant I strained my voice growling a lot of 80s hair metal bands when I was a teenager. You can even blame Bon Jovi for that. And I certainly don’t want him to be my dad!”
It’s time to order. It is a struggle, interviewing Amrita, and not because she chooses to be vague, or unresponsive, like other brooding artist types. It’s because she masterfully changes the topic, or takes you somewhere you had no idea you were going. In short, you need to have a degree in Psychology as well as Journalism to make sense of all the meaningless nothings you have to transcribe and piece together to describe as an ‘interview’. The same might also be said of her writing – meaningless nothings that you somehow find compelling enough to read.
We said coffee, but she wants black tea. “Coffee makes me squeamish, but tea makes me burpy. I choose burpy.” I compliment her on her frankness, but she says, “Oh, it’s you. Not me.” I realise this would have been a very different conversation had I been someone intimidating. It’s an interviewer’s ideal circumstance to find their interviewee chatty and revealing, but I get the feeling I might have bitten off more than I can chew with this one.
“We need to f**k up our lives. We choose to f**k up our lives. If we didn’t, how would we bear to live with ourselves?” Amrita goes off into one of her tangents, an Amrita-ism that does not, at first glance, have much to do with my question (which was, why did she choose herself as the subject of her book?)
“Maybe it sounds like I’m trying to be overly dramatic, or am dissatisfied with privilege, or am just annoyingly provoking because that’s what most people who don’t have real problems resort to, and I guess all of this is true, but I sincerely am failing to point to the fact that we need this, we need to look at ourselves and make some meaning of it, even if it’s creating pain, because we’ve been told the problem starts with ourselves. I can’t change the world, or anybody else, for the better. I’ve tried, and it just all reminds me of the work I need to do, before I have the audacity again to go out and try to be the hero.”
Is that what it is? Selfishly trying to be unselfish? “I don’t know. I no longer understand it. Or anything about the world I used to be so sure of before. Come back to me in July. This is annual existential crisis time for me.”
It has been a difficult interview so far, and our beverages don’t seem to help the process either. Amrita has an opinion about it too, “We meet, we eat together, we ask each other about our lives, we laugh, we try to meaningfully reflect on things. And we do all this again the next time we meet.” Don’t we all? I tell her, or is this one of her other vague, trying to be deep, world weary reflections? “No, it’s just me trying to fill up air.”
“An interviewee must be interesting.” Amrita begins to teach me about my job. “Nobody has the time for things that bore you. Or money. Your magazine, The Heart Laughs, wouldn’t have set this up if they didn’t wager this exchange might be interesting. They have too delightful a name to waste on someone tedious. I just don’t know how to be interesting enough for you.”
Despite her nervous excitability, her tendency to talk too much or not at all, Amrita manages to have some acute perceptive skills about her environment. I had already spoken to a couple of mutual friends, asking what to expect, and they said writing is the right career for her. Or psychologist. Or spy.
“Oh, that would be amazing! I’d be useless with a gun though, or under any amount of distress. But yes, I do like to observe people. Work out their machinery, the nuts and bolts. I live more outside in than inside out. Which is why I’m all over the place when it comes to expressing myself. I can’t always tell what’s relevant information.”
That, certainly, is true. We’ve been here almost an hour, and I’ve found out more about Amrita the Soul than Amrita the person. I ask her more specific things, like how her book Of Opinions: Essays on Life, Love and Loneliness is doing.
“Dismal. I’ve learnt the meaning of indifference. People don’t even want to read it for free.”
Surely, that must not be the case, I try to comfort her. I also commend her for keeping her spirits up despite facing rejection and failure. Though, I do not use the words ‘rejection and failure’.
“There’s a quote by J. M. Barrie which says, ‘Life is a long lesson in humility’. I understand being humbled or rejected or failing [She again displays that uncanny, mutant ability to read minds], but complete indifference is a novel experience for me. Writing is a vain, bold, but thankless job. You have to be interested in what you write, but you mostly have no clue how to sell it to people. Why should they care about what you care about? I wish I could say it was a matter of luck or destiny or whatever, but I don’t believe in destiny. We are wholly responsible for whatever we make of what comes our way.”
Defeatist, and yet self-aggrandizing is another one of those Amrita dialectics I’ve come to expect. It must be difficult to live in that mind, which greedily includes everything and holds itself too weak to stand by anything. Despite my best journalistic instincts, I deviate from the reason behind why we are here today and try to lighten the mood.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“A mononymous pop person. Like Janet Jackson. Even if she uses two names. I wanted to be an all-singing, all-dancing, RnB type of performer like her.”
And how far did you get with that?
Why should people read Of Opinions?
“Well, they haven’t been taking my word for it, and I don’t know how to spin it to make it enticing any more either. It’s what I’ve been droning on about – because it makes you think. About everyday things. I’m sure it’s way less interesting than selecting an outfit for Kim Kardashian on her gaming app, but if someone read it on the Kindle App while commuting on a train, just to sigh, frown slightly and think, and I was aware that they had done that, my heart will be filled with rows and rows of chocolate fondant fancies that The Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry would be proud of. That’s what I would like to achieve as the progenitor of Of Opinions, even though it seems unlikely to happen.”
– From our high-on-coffee correspondent, also called Amrita.
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