"I have always lived two lives," says the novelist. "I was born in India. When I was two, my parents moved to England. My reality was starkly polarized. At one end was mini-India, my home; the other was a predominantly white east-London of the 1970s. It was normal for me to live in these two, very different worlds."
Even as an adult, Nair continued to straddle two disparate fields - finance and fiction. One would imagine that it takes two different types of people to excel at management consultancy and writing. But she denies it. "It can be quite similar. Both need clear thinking, planning in advance and sticking to schedules. If you say you are going to deliver on a particular date, you have to. Be it a financial proposal or a first draft."
Duality is a recurrent theme in Nair's life. Having no publicist for debut novel, which she was self-publishing, Nair took on a second identity, that of Preu Menon. "Preu is what my brother calls me and Menon is my mother's maiden name."
"I needed someone to help sell the novel," says Nair. "Gypsy Masala was rejected by all the publishers I sent it to. So I decided to publish it myself." She is quick to dismiss the romance of the entire episode, saying that it was just something that had to be done.
"It was a nightmare born of necessity. I was two people at the same time, two phones, two attitudes, two email ids and even two voices. Preu had a more high-pitched voice."
The campaign made her a stronger person, she says. "I had to confront my worst fears. People would call Preu and tell her that they hated Preethi's writing. It's like your soul and your ego are both out there, a wonderful comment caresses the ego and a harsh one rips into you."
The duplicity worked, until a journalist found out that Preu and Preethi were one person and it was a publicity coup for Gypsy Masala. At that time it helped sell her novel, but now one gets the feeling that she is somewhat tired of it. "Nearly every interview I have done has been about it. I think it is going to follow me around for ever," she says in an almost aggressive voice. Time to back off, I think.
All her novels to-date have a very strong Indian influence. She says it is because she writes of what she knows well. "It is more believable for me if I do so. My novels stem from tales I was told as a child. But if I were to write a novel set in a western scenario, I would so under a pseudonym." Her schizophrenic approach to life seems to feed into her storylines as well. Gypsy Masala is about the same story told from three different perspectives. Like Nair, one of the characters in Gypsy Masala leaves her job to search for her destiny and like Nair she finds it.
On its cover, we are told that the novel is about following your dreams. This is something Nair is passionate about. Not only does she use it as a storyline, she also lives it. For many, a top City job would be the culmination of a long journey, but she hated it. "I was working endless hours, long, tedious hours. Living for the weekends and hating the Mondays. In fact, I was not living, simply existing. It was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life." A lot of people are stuck in a job they detest, but it takes a lot of courage to leave the behind the security that comes with a well-paying job and venture out into the unknown. But if there is one thing that Preethi has in abundance, it is courage.
Nair's life seems to be a constant reinvention of herself. Perhaps it has something to do with her abhorrence of being slotted. Ask her if she sees herself as an Asian woman writer and watch her hackles rise. If there is one thing she hates, it is people making assumptions. "It is so easy for people label me; it is a very obvious thing to do. But my novels are not about that. They may be rooted in India, but they have a universal theme. They are about following your dreams."
Bio by Priyanka Gill
South Asian Women authors