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TV presenter, model, influencer, and writer Karuna Ezara Parikh’s debut novel The Heart Asks Pleasure First releases today.

Image: Courtesy Nayantara Parikh

Somewhere between hosting a lifestyle show on NDTV Goodtimes, backing sustainable brands, and having a gorgeous wedding in Kathmandu (that everyone was talking about), Parikh has managed to set an example for modern women who aspire to do it all. Her Instagram account is not just a testimony to how she balances the many different aspects of her life but also a platform for her poetry, which challenges perspectives (much needed in current times). And now her debut novel The Heart Asks Pleasure First — reams of intoxicating prose and lucid poetry — has added another feather in her cap.

It is an evocative tale that travels back and forth across subcontinents, decades, and generations. Set in 2001, the protagonists Daya and Aaftab, two youths from India and Pakistan, form an indelible bond in a new world, but it needs to stand the test of time. The story sifts through several topics — friendship, love, language, aspirations, religion, ideologies, borders — in a non-linear pattern with multilayered definitions. 

In a candid conversation, Karuna Ezara Parikh takes us through her debut novel and her journey as a writer.

Karuna Ezara Parikh
Cover of The Heart Asks Pleasure First

What inspired you to write this book?

In India, I’ve met people from all over the world. But 15 years ago when I was studying journalism at Cardiff University, I met many Pakistanis. It was interesting to meet them in a foreign land as we don’t usually in India. The realisation then hit me that we are just like them, and they are just like us. It’s the same history that we share, yet we never meet. So I wanted to explore that idea.

How have your roots influenced the stories in the book?

The book is laced with my personal life. The love stories in the book resonate with my personal life, as it was during the same time I was falling in love with my husband.

Karuna Ezara Parikh
Karuna Ezara Parikh with husband Amitesh Ray

What does borderless love mean to you?

I believe that all love should be borderless. Structure and politics of countries and boundaries — everything should be borderless. After all, what is a border but an imaginary line?

Your book exposes an intellectual, upper-class society that is still haunted by xenophobia and stereotypes. How did you develop this idea for your book?

Over the last few years, as tensions have stoked in this country, some people still believe differently. Irrespective of someone’s top-notch education or exposure to the international tapestry, they are still not as empathetic and accepting as one can be. I wanted to explore this idea in my book and expose these ideologies.

Nationalism today has polarised the meaning of belongingness and identity? What does ‘going home’ mean in 2020?

The concept of home is fluid. Some people confuse the idea of home with patriotism. I truly believe that home can mean the smell of wet earth during monsoon in Kolkata or it can even translate to the taste of plums in Simla, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to go to war with another country to defend these things. Home is peace within.

Karuna Ezara Parikh
Parikh moderating at the launch of Lisa Ray’s book Close To The Bone

One of the strongest characters in the book is Asha. What trait can the readers take away from her?

The character of Asha in the book is one that I aspire to be in the future. She is fierce and heartfelt and is definitely my favourite character.

Image: Courtesy Nayantara Parikh

Do you think authoring a book has changed your life? Are you planning on delivering more stories in the future?

It has definitely changed my life. It was my dream to write a book, and I’m very happy that it’s finally here. And I do have plans to write more. In fact, there is a collection of poems that I’m planning to publish soon. Some of those are already on my Instagram, but many remain unreleased.

Karuna Ezara Parikh
One of Parikh’s works on Instagram

The debut novel must have stolen nights and days of your life. What still surprises you in the arduous process of writing?

The fact that the process can still break my heart. It’s like spilling your heart over and over again because that’s when your best work pours out.

Get your copy of The Heart Asks Pleasure First here.

All images: Courtesy Karuna Ezara Parikh/Instagram

Harleen Kalsi
Harleen feeds off her nomadic spirit and incessant shenanigans on the road to stay alive. When not writing, she is busy searching for a good read/art/act.