Author Judy Balan is nothing if not candid
Rajkumari Sharma Tankha
A fascinating story of self-discovery, Judy Balan’s new book Why Am I Like This (Simon & Schuster India) talks about astrology, Jungian psychology, mythology as well as her own life experiences.
Mother to a 17-year-old girl and two Retrievers, the author is a Consulting Psychological Astrologer and lives in Chennai. “I’ve lived in the same city (Chennai) all my life (hence the compulsive need for all this stimulation: If I can do nothing about where I actually live, then I’ll just have to turn my head into an interesting place and live there sort of thing),” she answers when asked about what inspires her to write. Excerpts from an interview:
When did the idea of penning this book strike and how did you go about writing it?
My editor pitched the idea to me in 2018 when I first started out as a Consulting Psychological Astrologer. But I gave it a couple of years before I decided to take it on. So I signed the book in Jan 2020 but struggled to write it for almost three years. It was bizarre. It wasn’t fiction, so it’s not like I had to wait for inspiration. And it was a subject I knew well. I loved the idea of the book and desperately wanted to write it and yet I just couldn’t. Though it was always meant to be a book for the absolute beginner, I found myself unconsciously trying to please the academic. So it was a lot of writing, re-writing, whingeing about never being able to write again, until I decided to make it part memoir as my editor had initially suggested. I was very resistant to the idea, especially given the bits of my story that emerged in the writing (I’ve never been a private person but I was shocked by what wanted to be written). But I was also exhausted from the dry spell itself so I just decided to get out of the way of whatever wanted to be in the book. The rest was easy.
You call it an in-depth beginner’s guide to psychological astrology. Tell us more about it.
Psychological Astrology as a recognised branch of astrology has been around at least since the 70s to my knowledge. It’s the synthesis of astrology and depth psychology, particularly Jungian (after the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung) psychology where the central focus is the study of the unconscious, which holds way more psychic real estate than everything we think we know about ourselves.
Seen through this lens, Psychological Astrology presents an entirely different way of understanding Astrology (which pop astrology has unfortunately reduced to sun signs and mercury retrograde). It’s about looking at the natal chart – which is basically an astronomically accurate map of the sky at the precise moment (and location) of your birth – as a map of the psyche and the potential wholeness of the person. Even predictive astrology seen through a psychological lens is not about “what’s going to happen” as much as “what is the meaning of this time and how can I navigate it consciously.”
Prior to this you wrote a parody of Chetan’s Bhagat’s novels – Two Fates: The Story of My Divorce and Half Boyfriend. What made you do these?
Two Fates was my first novel and I had no idea what I was doing. It was a random thought. A joke, really. I blogged about it, people asked me to write it, so I did. I didn’t expect to get published so like most good things in my life, I just stumbled into it. As for Half Boyfriend – I’m not the sort of person who has regrets but I do regret that (sobs). So if it’s alright with you, I want to now stop talking about it.
How challenging is comedy as a genre, and who has been your inspiration when it comes to penning comedy?
I’m not sure how to answer the first part. I don’t ever remember deciding to write comedy. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I wasn’t even a particularly funny person and don’t think I am even now – it’s just a voice that emerges in my writing. I think I find things funny in retrospect, so it makes sense that it shows up in writing. I do mention this in the book but it was quite dramatic the first time this comedic voice showed up in my writing. I had been through a particularly difficult time psychologically and otherwise and I felt anything but funny. But when I started writing this blog from what I experienced as a rock-bottom, this is the voice that emerged. It was light, honest, open and decidedly funny, though I had only known myself to be intense and high-strung till then. So this felt like a gift from the unconscious – this capacity to laugh at myself and to see the humour even in the most traumatic experiences. It was profoundly healing and liberating and it’s understandable that I latched onto it for dear life.
As for inspiration, again, I’m not sure. It wasn’t conscious at all. It’s not like I was studying this genre in order to write comedy. I just always loved watching and reading comedy and it was one of those things that could help even in the throes of inner turmoil. So I suppose it just happened organically.
You were an advertising professional. What made you switch over from advertising to a full-time writing? When did that happen?
I was in and out of day jobs (in advertising) so it’s not like I quit advertising, started writing and never came back to a day job. My decision to quit – like most other big decisions at the time – was because of undiagnosed ADHD. I was extremely impulsive, couldn’t tolerate the idea of being pinned down by a day job, and privileged enough to keep going back and forth. I wouldn’t recommend it if stability is something you deeply value. I just needed the exhilaration of new beginnings a lot more than I needed stability so I was okay with the uncertainty. So like I said, it was mostly ADHD inspired.
Any new project you are busy with?
Yes, but not yet on the writing front. I have an idea brewing (that’s the best part isn’t it?) and I can’t wait to get to it but some recent transitions and irritating adult responsibilities are currently making it impossible. It’s fine. I need it to be something I have to fight for or I’ll never get it done.