Author and Speaker Ira Trivedi '06 Reflects on Wellesley Experience

August 22, 2012

Trivedi Credits Wellesley with Enriching Her Professional Life

Junot Diaz and Ira Trivedi

Ira Trivedi '06 has written three popular novels and earned an MBA from Columbia University since graduating from Wellesley with a degree in economics. The most recent novel was There Is No Love on Wall Street—the photo at right is from a book release event with Junot Diaz in late 2011. As a senior at Wellesley, Trivedi took a class with Junot Diaz (at MIT). "That is how our association started," she recalled, adding, "and five years later, the book that I was working on with him as an 'independent study' was released with him at the Jaipur Lit Fest."

Trivedi grew up, according to her website, across four countries, nine cities, and three continents. Her best-selling books, What Would You Do To Save the World? (2006), The Great Indian Love Story (2009), and There Is No Love on Wall Street (2011), have been translated into several languages including Hindi, Marathi, Malyalam, and Greek. She is currently working on a non-fiction book, India in Love: Love, Sexuality and Marriage in 21st century India, to be published in 2013.

She writes for websites and publications in India and beyond, is an invited speaker at schools and businesses, and is a certified yoga instructor too. You can watch her TED talk on arranged marriage and social change surrounding that in India. She is quick to credit Wellesley with shaping her for such an energetic career.

Trivedi was recently interviewed by Cool Age, an India-based AOL publication aimed at college and university students, where she spoke about her experiences and influences at Wellesley. This prompted us to get in touch, and she shared an expanded version of her Cool Age interview with us.

Q&A with Ira Trivedi '06

1. With a degree in Economics from Wellesley College and an MBA from Columbia Business School, you have had an interesting education graph. How did your days in college help you in the career path you've chosen?

My college days were a fabulous time for me to explore my talents and passions. I was a student of science in India, till class 12th, and was very quantitatively focused. My education in India had been rigorous, and had inculcated a sense of discipline, but lacked any space for exploration.

Wellesley was, more than anything else, an intellectual playground for me. I was able to take classes in different subject matters, and for the first time in my academic life I could choose what I wanted to learn, as opposed to being told. This in itself was very liberating, and I really enjoyed the freedom of learning—of choosing what to read, write, and think. I never understood the concept of “liberal arts” before I went to college, or even when I was there, but now, six years after I have graduated, I realize how important it is.

Strange are the ways of this world. Though I never took any writing classes at Wellesley, this is where I learned how to write. I remember my roommate teaching me how to do basics—an introduction, conclusion, a heading. I didn’t have a clue on how to write papers, which were required by so many of the classes that I took.

One of my biggest achievements in college was learning how to speak French fluently. I studied abroad for a semester in the Aix-en-Provenance program, and this too was a fantastic experience.

At business school too, I learned so much. New York was a great place to be, especially after my bucolic college experience. Still, it was Wellesley that really set the pace for me. There I was able to dream, and had the capability to turn these dreams into reality.

2. What sort of extracurricular activities were you a part of during those days?

I was on the Wellesley College squash team, and we traveled a lot for tournaments. I have very fond memories of long East Coast drives in the Wellesley college van. It was nice to visit other campuses too. Squash took up so much of my time every day that I had little time to do much else. We had practice two hours a day, and then most weekends we traveled. That said, I did like partying when I was at Wellesley. I loved exploring Boston at night, even though when I got to college I was not yet 17.

3. Was there any specific individual who inspired you in any way during your college days?

I would say my friends. Wellesley was a very international place, and I made friends from so many different countries. For the first time in my life I met a large group of diverse, nonjudgmental people, and I really enjoyed spending time with them and learning from them. Many had come from very humble backgrounds, and had to struggle to make it to the United States. This I thought was quite amazing, and was an enlightening experience for me.

Also, I felt that Wellesley girls were particularly dedicated. Every field, be it music, or fine arts, or finance, had women who really gave it 100 percent. Wellesley is no place for dilettantes, and I tend to be one, so at times I suffered, especially grade-wise!

4. Would you like to share one (or a few) of your most memorable experiences during college?

Some of my most memorable experiences were the trips I took with my friends. In high school, I wasn't allowed to do this, so in college for the first time, I traveled with friends. I remember a trip we took to Las Vegas during my first year where we all nearly ran out of money, and then hit the blackjack tables to try to make some. I made a $1000 in one night, which seemed to be a fortune at the time.

Wellesley is all-women, and it is great to make girl friends, but some of my fondest memories are of the men (probably boys back then) whom I met while I was at Wellesley. One of my favorite t-shirts was one that said, “You may not like us but your boyfriend does.” Colleges crushes are the best. If only I could fall in love the way I did back then….

As I said, I loved Boston by night, and I loved going out, especially to night clubs, because I love dancing. Also, the sort of characters that I came across were quite delightful. I remember days when I came back from a party in the early hours, basically went to my room, changed my shirt, and rushed to class. First the 8:30, then the 9:50, lunch, then bed.

5. What was your favorite or most worn ensemble during college days?

A pair of sweatpants (usually dark-colored to minimize laundry) a sweatshirt, and Puma sneakers (I had six pairs in different colors). We didn't really dress up in college; we were usually studying too hard!

6. Did you have a favorite kind of food during your college days?

We had an unbelievable dining hall; in fact, so unbelievable that I gained a healthy 10 kg. during my first year and spent the rest of college trying to lose it! I would rather not think about my eating habits in college. That said, this was the first time in my life that I gained weight, and it took me two years to lose it. If it hadn't been the weight gain, I probably would never have learned about health and weight management the way that I did. For that I am very happy.

7. What movie most appealed to you when you were in college?

Mona Lisa Smile! That movie was filmed at Wellesley during my first year. The movie is about a professor (Julia Roberts) at Wellesley. A part of the movie was even filmed from my dorm room.

8. What was your favorite book during your college days?

I would say Love Story by Erich Segal. I was dating a guy from Harvard, so it was all very romantic. When I think back, I was always reading so much for my classes that I didn't get the chance to read a lot for pleasure. In retrospect, I wish I had done more of that.

9. What do you think about books getting adapted into movies? Would you ever want any of your books made into movies?

I think it's a fantastic thing to bring words into action. I would love to have one of my books made into a movie; I would say The Great Indian Love Story would be a good one to begin with. I am working on that now, and we are in advanced stage of negotiations.

10. Is there a book that you wish you had written?

So many! Probably The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I feel that India is going through such an interesting time right now, and if Fitzgerald were alive today, he would be in New Delhi, not Paris.

11. Being a young, woman writer in India can be a challenge. Did you face any difficulties in getting your work published?

It was difficult, but so are most things in life. You just have to be strong, take critics in your stride, and move forward. My first book was controversial. At 19, I was on live news channels like CNN and CNBC, and it was quite frightful. That said, I really learned how to handle the critics, and after that it’s  been smooth sailing. Everyone rejected my first book initially, except for one publisher, Penguin, and well… the rest is history.

12. Your book The Great Indian Love Story challenges the popular notion of romance and love. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration behind this book is actually a true story. I met this young lady during the breaks when I was back home in Delhi. I would listen to her talk to me about her life, and I was so fascinated that I decided to write a book about it, even though I was meant to be finishing There Is No Love on Wall Street. The Great Indian Love Story is her story.

13. Is it true your most recent book is set in Wellesley?

Yes, a part of There Is No Love on Wall Street is, and it most certainly was inspired by my days at Wellesley. Several of the characters in this book are based on people I met at Wellesley. This book takes a look at investment banking right before the days of the recession and is based on my experience recruiting and then taking an internship on Wall Street.

14. Do you think the study of literature is necessary in shaping one's literary abilities?

Studying literature is not necessarily important, but it is helpful. If I could change one thing about my college days, I would go back and study English, maybe not economics. That said, reading is more important than studying literature. I have always been an avid reader, and this is how I learned how to write.

15. What's your opinion of the current Indian English writing scene and where do you think it is headed?

I am really happy to see the book scene flourishing in India. When my first book came out in 2006, it was one of the very few books of its kind being published—one of first few books in the “chic-lit” category, which then became very popular. It is great to see so many young Indian authors writing and being published.

16. Do you have advice to all budding writers?

Read! Reading is what shapes your writing. Read anything you can lay your hands on; books, newspapers, magazines. It will all help you.

17. In your opinion, what are some attributes and traits necessary to be successful, and those that are counterproductive?

For any line of work, what's necessary is working hard, discipline, passion, and most importantly direction. Wellesley helped give me that direction Counterproductive traits are greed, taking short cuts, and dishonesty.

18. Do you believe in role models? If yes, then who is yours and why?

I do believe in role models, but not one, many! I have had different role models at different points in my life. Today, I would say it is my mother; I admire her for the kind of life that she has led, devoting her life to her children. I also have several role models for my writing; authors whom I admire and whom I would like to be more like.

19. Since graduating, have you been in touch with any alumnae or students that you were able to help, or one who helped you along the way?

So many. I am actively involved with the Wellesley Club of India. I always mentor interns who come to New Delhi for the summer. I recently had a very nice interaction with a Wellesley alum during her trip to India. The notable alum is Hillary Clinton! One midsummer night at around 9:00, I decided to go for a non-scheduled swim at my health club. I finished at around 10:00 p.m. and was waiting at the hotel porch for my car, when I saw a whole bunch of security arrive. It turns out that Hillary Clinton was staying at this hotel. That morning I had gone with the Wellesley Club to St. Stephen's College, New Delhi, to hear her speak. The Wellesley Club had requested for a meeting but her schedule had not allowed it. I was fresh out of the pool, in a pair of shorts and a tank top, and my hair was uncombed and dripping wet. Since it was late, the hotel lobby was deserted except for Hillary and her security. I went up to her, and introduced myself. The security was a tad wary of me, and a little alarmed. Hillary and I proceeded to have a lovely 20-minute chat on India, love, and life. The next morning I dropped off copies of my book at the hotel on her request.

20. While you were a student you participated in the Miss India 2005 pageant. How did that happen?

That's a story in itself! For that you have to read my first book, based on my experiences in the pageant: What Would You Do to Save the World: Confessions of a Could-Have-Been Beauty Queen.

21. When did you become a certified yoga teacher?

I had a neck injury from horseback riding, and I was in a lot of pain mentally and physically. I decided to then take up yoga to help with the injury, though I always had the notion that it was slow and boring. I went to the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala for something called a yoga vacation, and I totally fell in love with the ashram and yoga. From them on I continued with a regular practice and my neck got better, and a year after I started doing yoga, I found myself at the Sivananda ashram training to become a teacher. Today, I teach and practice regularly. Writing is a very sedentary profession, and doing yoga is a welcome break for me.

22. You have also been involved in grass root organizations in rural India. Tell us more.

Being at Wellesley helped me realize the importance of giving back. Though I live in India which is so poor,  service is not stressed at all. It is only when I was studying at Wellesley that I realized the importance, significance, and happiness associated with service. For that I am very grateful. Today, I volunteer actively at the Sivananda ashrams teaching yoga. I have worked in various NGOs throughout my life. It's always a wonderful, humbling experience and helps develop a real sense of gratitude. We sometimes forget how lucky we are and working in grass-roots groups and with people in need takes us back to reality.

23. What project is absorbing you most right now?

I am working on a new book, my first work of non-fiction, titled India in Love: Love, Sex and Marriage in 21st Century India. It's one of the most difficult things that I have done in my life. It should be published by mid-2013. It is all very exciting, but also intimidating.

24. Not only do you have a passion for writing but you also love to speak. Can you tell us more about your talks and what you plan to achieve through these?

I speak regularly to students around the country on a variety of different issues including careers, leadership, creativity, and more, depending on my audience. I like to do my two bits to inspire and motivate the Indian youth, and however I can do that, I am happy to. I also love visiting campuses, meeting and speaking with students.

My biggest recent speaking achievement was probably my TED talk on arranged marriage in India. I speak frequently, but this six-minute talk required so much preparation, and was really nerve-wrecking. It was thrilling to be on TED though. (I invite the Wellesley community to watch, rank, and rate this video! The most popular speakers will  make it to the TED stage in Edinburg.)




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