Former English teacher writes first book

By Austin Block

A few years before her 2007 retirement, former English, journalism, and communications/public speaking teacher Chitra Kallay took a UCLA extension writing class and began writing her first book. She continued on long after the class ended, writing often at night after grading papers and finishing in 2007. Her project culminated this summer in the publication of a novel: “The Flat on Malabar Hill.”

Her inspiration was a story in an Indian newspaper that chronicled what happened to a family when an aging father gave his property to his son, though she said her book is very different from the story and is completely fiction.

She described her book as a family story that includes three generations: an older, traditional couple, a younger, more modern couple, and their kids. She said she wanted to show the “clashing of traditions with modern ways” and the differences between Indian and American lifestyles.

She will donate a share of the proceeds from her book to the Alzheimer’s Association and to Maitri, a San Francisco-based organization that helps abused women from Southern Asia.

Kallay said she sometimes suffered from writer’s block for days or even weeks, but then would suddenly hear the characters speaking to each other and be able to complete a chapter in a week.

“I can just hear them in my head…I literally can hear them in my head,” she said.

She once woke up around 3 a.m. with the entire two to two and a half page final chapter in her head, went to her computer and typed it all up.

“It writes itself sometimes,” she said. “Sometimes [the characters] say something and I say ‘oh my God I can’t believe he said that.’”

She said it was sometimes hard to find motivation to write.

“I was told the book had to be about between 250 and 300 pages and sometimes you think ‘oh my God I’ve only written 150,’” Kallay said.

She said the most satisfying moments of the process were seeing the book in print and seeing the preliminary copy of the book that the publisher, iUniverse, sent for her to approve before larger scale printing began.

“It was a very enriching experience,” Kallay said.