An Interview with Ira Trivedi by Rebecca Danos

This first appeared in Wellesley Underground as part of the Wellesley Writes It series, here.

We all traverse different worlds from family to work and school and even to different countries or social climates. We all have stories to tell. Ira Trivedi ’07, bestselling author of What Would You Do to Save the World: Confessions of a Could Have Been Beauty Queen (2006), The Great Indian Love Story (2009), There is No Love on Wall Street (2011), and most recently India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century (2014), not only has her own puissant stories to tell, but gives a voice to those who might only have whispered their plights. It is such an honor to chat with Ira and to discover a little of her journey.

Ira Trivedi came to Wellesley from India with a background in science. As a child, she harbored thoughts of writing, but hadn’t found the story nor the means to realize herself as a writer. She credits Wellesley with developing her skills and learning how to become the author she is now.

But she needed to find a story to tell.

In her junior year, Ira conceived a “half-baked” dream to enter the Miss India beauty pageant, despite the dissuasions of her family and society. Ira persevered, emphasizing that you “have to take risks in life.” And she thought it would be fun. The gamble paid off by winning her, not the crown of the pageant, but what is “far greater than [a] crown,” the material for a story which translated into her debut, bestselling, controversial novel, What Would You Do to Save the World: Confessions of a Could Have Been Beauty Queen (2006). Ira warns that privilege, too, carries a burden of “strings attached,” insinuating, perhaps, the expectations and risk avoidance that accompany the advantaged. She advises, especially for women, the importance of moving beyond what might be a safer choice, even recommending women be single for a year to transcend being “needy.” In fact, she is currently working on a memoir about a year she spent as a single woman, describing it as Eat, Pray, Love meets Sex and the City. As Ira commented about her first novel, “writers need [a] story” which is facilitated when it’s her “own story”.

Ira describes the publication process of her first novel as “smooth” and believes that “things meant to happen, fall into place” like “destiny.” Despite her success as a published author, she admits she “never looked as writing as a lucrative career.” Armed with a degree in economics from Wellesley, Ira moved to Wall Street where she earned an MBA from Columbia. During an absence from school, she worked for a company selling private jets to the wealthy, which provided material for her exploration of the perils of decadent life-styles in her later books. She admits she has lived a privileged life and traveled through glamorous worlds. Her books, however, convey important messages about the disillusionment and contrast between one’s fantasies of glamorous worlds (beauty contests and finance) and reality, the deception of appearances. The young might “aspire to be in [a] glamor world,” but in reality, when you’re older, it’s “not that great.” Her books offer lessons for young people about the “reality behind [the] surface.” After her experience on Wall Street, Ira returned to India to pursue writing full-time, crediting the skills, such as conducting research, she garnered from Wellesley as invaluable to her now. She continues to employ Wellesley students whom she attributes as “bright young women” she can trust with her work.

As a writer, Ira explores the themes she absorbed at Wellesley including gender issues and service to others. In her own words, “[I] owe so much to Wellesley.” Ira is one of the early Indian writers to broach gender issues in her society, penning one of the first pieces on homosexuality and gay rights in India, The Indian in the Closet. She recently explored the themes of the Indian sexual revolution in India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century (2014). In this work, she discusses sex and marriage in a Westernizing India and brings the country’s people’s stories to the rest of the world. For this work, she traveled to fourteen cities and talked to six hundred people. When asked about the experience as a writer in India compared to the US, she notes that the difference is little, but that Indian women often don’t have a voice, which she is trying to change in her journalistic pursuits to tell the stories of impoverished women. In addition to her memoir on her year as a single woman, Ira is tackling a book on the beauty epidemic discussing the increasing obsession of the world with beauty. For this book she traveled to disaster zones and talked with women to understand the importance they place on beauty.

The East. The West. Ira notes that India can learn civic sense and creativity from the US. And from India, we can learn from its holistic, spiritual values and from India’s spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama. In India, there is “a deep regard for all religions and themes.” On Ira’s street, for example, there is a peaceful coexistence of a church, mosque, and temple. The Indian culture possesses a deeply spiritual nature from which the West has much to learn. Ira, a certified yoga teacher, attributes her three-hour morning yoga practice as the most important activity she does in the day, truly exemplifying her ideals.

It might have been early morning for me when I chatted with Ira and mid-evening for her, but despite the separation in time zones, continents, and background, I didn’t feel an awkwardness and experienced a connection to this remarkable woman. Maybe it’s the shared experience of having studied at Wellesley, which nurtures a sisterhood I have discovered that can be more powerful than even that of blood-relatives. I don’t know what it was, but when the call ended, I felt refreshed and energized, like some of the spiritual beauty that Ira referenced was transmitted through her voice. We all have a story, and today I was honored to learn a little of Ira Trivedi’s.

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