The Woman Ink: Conversation with Ranjani Rao

Ranjani Rao talks to The Woman Inc. about her book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After. She also shares an excerpt from the book.

The Woman Ink Series brings conversations with women authors.

Excerpt from Rewriting My Happily Ever After – A memoir of divorce and discovery by Dr. Ranjani Rao.

(Available online and at your local bookstore.)

Ultimately, it’s the simple things that make a difference ~ Chris Smalling

“What will we do for my birthday?” asked Shreya.

Like all children, her immediate concerns revolved around her own life, even though her life was quite different from those of her friends. Shreya’s calm acceptance of the new normal—weekdays with me and weekends with her father—had been a welcome surprise. A small part of me had expected her to make a fuss about moving between homes. She often forgot her books or shoes and became anxious, but she quickly learned to plan ahead to ensure she had everything she needed on Friday mornings, since she went straight from school to her father’s house.

Even more surprising
, and inspiring, was the open way in which she talked about it with her friends. Without even a tiny bit of self-consciousness, she would say “I am at my Dad’s house this weekend.” It had pinched me a bit when I heard it the first time, but I quickly recognized the wisdom in her direct approach. No one questioned her about the reason for this unusual living arrangement. Frankly, it was none of their business, but on a more pragmatic level, you couldn’t expect an eight-year-old to go into the details of their parents’ split. I envied her easy confidence.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

I had never been a fan of huge birthday celebrations, both for the expense and the work involved in organizing food and games for little kids. The whole system of receiving redundant gifts and handing out return gifts made me squirm. But Shreya was turning nine and was expecting some acknowledgement of her special day. We shopped for new clothes and bought chocolates that she would distribute to her friends and teachers in school, an annual ritual that she looked forward to.

“I don’t know. Something?”

A clear ask is easy to fulfil, but an ambiguous one is much more difficult. What could I organize on short notice?

Back in California, I used to take a day off from work so that we could simply hang out. I had taken her to a petting zoo once, and to a park where she fed ducks and ran around the lake chasing bubbles. I might have carried on the tradition each year, but Shreya was a conscientious child who enjoyed going to school, especially on her birthday. She didn’t have to wear her uniform that day and enjoyed her short-lived popularity thanks to the bags of candy she handed out.

I sent her off to school, still unsure of what to do later that evening. I left the office earlier than usual and stopped by
Country Oven, her favorite store for snacks and pastries. I picked up a regular cake customized with a birthday message and bought some samosas and curry puffs. Dada bought her favorite Lays Magic Masala chips and Coke from the small store in our neighborhood.

Shreya returned from school pleased with the day’s events. She had handed out every single chocolate and emptied the bag in the school bus on the way back. I went to the bus stop to pick her up, an unusual surprise for her since I was never home at that hour. I smiled at her enthusiasm. We had talked about ordering pizza that night and she was looking forward to it.

“What is this?” Shreya exclaimed when she entered the house and spotted the unusual collection of goodies on the dining table.
“Did you bring cake? And chips? And Coke?” Her eyes widened first with surprise and then with genuine delight.
“Yes. Let’s have a party,” I said.
“But who will come?” she asked.

“Call your friends, the kids who play with you every day,” I said.

It was an impromptu party of the best kind. An hour later, half a dozen sweaty, hungry kids entered our home. Radha brought her children over, a surprise for Shreya, who was thrilled to see their familiar faces. All the kids sang the birthday song and clapped as Shreya cut the cake. I handed out plates piled with slices of cake and chips. No physical gifts were given or received but there were smiles all around.

“Thank you, Amma,” Shreya hugged me when her friends left. “It was the best birthday. Ever.”
I thought back to Shreya’s first birthday party at a hotel in Hyderabad, an event that her paternal grandparents had organized. Shreya’s fifth birthday in California had been a casual pool party where her friends munched on cake and Cheetos and watermelon slices after swimming in the condo pool.

There would be other birthdays, with or without parties. One day she would turn sixteen and then twenty-one, and cross other milestones that are not purely age related, but also achievement related. We would come across other crossroads in our lives, but it felt good to pause and celebrate the ordinary things that make up life.

The Woman Ink Interview Series with Ranjani Rao

Congratulations on your new book! How would you describe the journey of writing and publishing your book so far?

The writing of the book was both a creative and a cathartic experience. Revisiting a painful period of my past was not something I looked forward to but in retrospect, I see that it was time for me to process that phase of my life through writing.

The writing itself flowed very easily and I spent some time on fine tuning it before sharing with beta readers. The final production activities took more time and energy than I had anticipated. Yet every person whose path intersected mine during the writing and publishing added value to it. I feel satisfied with the way the book has turned out.

You wrote this book after your divorce. How was the experience of sharing something so intimate with the larger audience? What was the motivation for it?

It took me more than ten years after the divorce to feel ready to tackle this subject in my writing. Although I have always written personal essays and shared details of my life with my readers, I had avoided the elephant in the room, ie my divorce.

A friend and fellow writer encouraged me to write about my divorce and somehow the timing felt right. The biggest motivation was the wish to share my story with women in a similar situation. In a way I wrote the book I wished had been around when I was struggling with the decision to divorce. I want my book to be an inspiring resource that helps people find clarity and gives them courage to move on.

Divorce may be a one time thing, yet what holds many of us from taking the final step is the fear of everyday things. I chose to focus my writing on those daily details that resonate with all of us but also trip us up. The response from readers thus far is proof that such a book was needed. In some ways I feel validated.

Did the book help you gain closure or a new perspective on your life in the process of writing it?

Yes, I do feel a sense of closure. It feels liberating to not have to tell half-truths or avoid talking about areas of my past. I discovered the paradoxical truth in ‘becoming strong by becoming vulnerable’.

The new perspective comes from knowing that I can move forward more freely in life now since I have made peace with what I once considered a ‘failure’.

Do share some memorable moments from when you were writing your book.

How much detail to share? And what to leave out? I struggled with defining this in the beginning. But as I got into the routine of writing every morning for an hour, I found myself being guided to include mundane, minor instances from my life that I had not given much thought to.

The act of writing was like unspooling a roll of film (remember those?) that slowly developed and revealed itself in discrete scenes. And each scene evoked myriad emotions. I remembered the sorrow triggered by the falling leaves of my frangipani tree, the despair I felt on the morning my daughter threw up on the way to school, and the anxiety of waiting for my next paycheck. Many of the moments (big, small and inconsequential) from those years of my life revealed themselves during the writing phase. And I was so grateful to have been brave enough to tread on the path of revisiting that phase of my life.

Divorce is becoming more common, even in South Asian community. Would you like to share thoughts about that?

I have not tracked divorce statistics but let’s just look at the changing scenario from our own lives. In my parents’ lifetime, if someone had asked them if they knew anyone who was divorced, their answer would have been a categorical ‘no’. Today, practically every Indian/South Asian person knows someone who is divorced.

There are various reasons why marriages fail – incompatibility, illness, insolvency, in-laws etc. The threshold for accepting the status quo has perhaps dropped, or expectations from a partner have changed rapidly and relationships have not evolved to match those expectations, plus the increased independence of women may all have contributed to this phenomenon. The fact still remains that no one enters a marriage expecting it to fail. Everyone hopes for that fairytale ending of eternal bliss.

From ‘arranged’ marriage to ‘love’ marriage, we have adapted to the personal choice aspect of marriage but there is still social pressure to enter into matrimony and stigma when it fails. We need to stop considering marriage as the sole determinant of ‘having arrived” or ‘being settled” as it is often labeled in South Asian circles.

Every person should seriously debate whether they are ready, able and willing to enter into marriage, considering it as the next stage of their life. Instead of an institution to which you want to belong, it should be treated as a journey you want to embark on with a compatible partner and as an experience you wish to have in your life.

What is next on your plan?

I am keen to get my book into the hands of readers who need to read my story. An audiobook version is on the cards.The book was written to open conversations about divorce. Now I would like to continue those conversations. I’m considering launching a podcast and see where it leads. I’m also planning to write my next book.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

In addition to my full time job? I read – mostly print and ebooks and lately I have taken to audiobooks in a big way. I love to go for long walks in the nature reserve near my home. I’m enjoying interacting with readers these days and hope to learn from these conversations. For my health and sanity, I practise yoga and meditation as well.

Who are your favorite authors? What are you reading right now?

For fiction I love Chimamanda Adichie and Ann Patchett. I read a lot of memoirs. I am currently reading Ann Patchett’s latest nonfiction book “These Precious Days” and Tara Westover’s “Educated”.

If there was a book or poem or essay you would universally recommend, which one would that be?

I would highly recommend Khalik Gibran’s The Prophet.

Do you think writing and publishing gets easier with each book published?

I do think the practice of writing helps you hone your craft. With each book published, there definitely is more ease with the process and more importantly, your voice becomes more confident.

What is your advice for other writers? Are there certain takeaways as a woman writer of color?

Write your truth. This is my advice to all writers, including women writers of color. There seems to be a tendency to write to please – certain readers, editors, market forces etc. Trying to hitch your creativity to what’s currently trending may give you a lift but it wont’ carry you far.

There is beauty in capturing the subjectivity of your experience without expecting your literary work to mean all things to all people. In fact, what I have found through writing a book about divorce is that various parts of my life story have resonated with readers whose lives diverge greatly from mine. In the details of our lives lie those gems of truth that everyone recognises when they see it. Keep writing, keep digging to find that nugget of universal truth.

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, and a former resident of USA, who now lives in Singapore with her family. She is the author Rewriting My Happily Ever After – A Memoir of Divroce and Discovery. She loves connecting with readers at her website and at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Website| Buy her book at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s