Where do we draw the line between love and happiness? Or do we? A few things that fill my soul… 1) love — for myself and for others, 2) a warm cup of masala chai, and 3) the fast-paced, powerful energy of the New York Streets. Cue Annika Sharma — writer, @thewokedesi podcast co-host, and current New Yorker. This south Asian female author is bringing Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words (LCAOFLW) to us in 384 pages, all from the comfort of our own homes.
Voted one of Amazon Book’s Best Romance Books of September, LCAOFLW, the first of a series of romance novels, is already stealing the hearts and souls of women around the world. With a major nod from Popsugar — placing LCAOFLW on September’s Must-Read List as well as in The 14 Best Romances in September, both Annika Sharma and her new book are ones to keep our eyes on.
“‘[Love, Chai] reads like a love letter to both Indian culture and the streets of New York City.” — Publisher’s Weekly
LCAOFLW peels back the layers on multicultural love, introducing us to Kiran — a south Asian, self-proclaimed “good daughter,” navigating through the pressures and life choices that come with stepping outside cultural norms. Kiran meets Nash — a psychologist living in a world of his own patterns, self-reflecting around abandonment and loneliness. Together, they discover if they are meant to be and find so much more than they were looking for – including themselves.
I sat down with Annika Sharma (author, Forbes-recognized podcast co-host [check out @thewokedesi podcast]) to talk about the making of her book, how she defines “self-love,” and what other four-letter words in this story steal her heart.
The Knockturnal: LCAOFLW is already making waves. Tell me, what inspired you to write this book?
Annika Sharma: The experiences we all face, especially growing up here [in the U.S.], we have this immense attachment to this place [India] where we visit but we have never really known or lived in, or on the converse, where you have lived in India and moved to the states and still feel connected to your country and culture — it influences your identity so much! It can taint it or it can enhance your life. I really wrote it to represent dual-identities that have inspired me — seeing how many people are doing different things; we can be writers or business people, engineers, or lawyers, or something totally unknown and creative — and while these new spaces come with struggles, it also comes with a lot of strengths. It’s really powerful to share these experiences and let people see themselves in literature and see there are other mediums where people can speak to this dual-identity. So the inspiration is just life — and how differently people deal with both identities and find their north star.
The Knockturnal: In addition to “love” and “chai,” what other “Four Letter Words” stand out in the book?
Annika Sharma: Yes! There are a few words that tie into the four-letter words —
- “Nash” — Nash is the “hero” of the story, and he is named after a little boy that was in my class a few years ago, and he just had the cutest personality. So that name just stuck with me as a meaningful name for a boy or a male character.
- “Baba” — Another important relationship story is the one Kiran has with her dad, and she calls him “baba.” So there is a lot of love behind the relationships and the names of these characters as four-letter words.
- “F**k” — Taken both as a curse word in a culture that considers this offensive language, but also the sexual nature and feelings that arise during love. The word comes up as a noun and a verb in different situations as a powerful indicator of the meaning and emotion behind our decisions.
The Knockturnal: You were born in India, and now reside in New York. How has your culture and upbringing influenced your writing and other works? Where do you see changes being made in south Asian representation?
Annika Sharma: We are south Indian — my family is from Hyderabad originally. But I grew up in central Pennsylvania — my whole family and myself went to Penn State and that’s where my dad worked. But I really love being able to use my writing as an opportunity to introduce people to India. For example, a lot of people don’t know that there are four states in south India, and so I think it’s important to use my writing as well as my podcast to make sure that different cultures and parts of India are brought together and highlighted in different ways. Representation really does matter and I am happy to see more opportunities for our south Asian brothers and sisters in numerous fields across the globe.
The Knockturnal: “Self-love” is a hot topic, and everyone has their own different practice or definition of it. Some make chai, some make hard choices, and some make changes. How do you define self-love? How do you practice self-love?
Annika Sharma: I think self-love involves a lot of vulnerability — and confidence in making the right decisions for you. I think you really need to genuinely love yourself to follow the path your heart is calling you to, and that’s because it will come with a lot of obstacles and a lot of opinion and pushback from those who think you can be doing something else with your strengths. When you follow your heart, you are loving yourself enough to walk down your path. Falling in love is one of those paths as well because you open your heart and trust that someone is not going to break you, and you tear down the protection and walls. And so honoring yourself and your heart, as well as your boundaries, are the greatest acts of self-love there could be.
There are two things I look forward to in the morning. The first is watching the sunrise — partially because we have two huge windows and it shines on my face and I initially had no choice — but I love it now. The second thing is having my coffee in the morning. However, when I am home with my parents, I definitely love my chai! But at home, waking up and having coffee with the sunshine hitting my face is my most peaceful, beautiful part of my day, where I just get to be.
The Knockturnal: You are such a gem and I am so excited to read this series. From the way you shine light on south Asian culture, to the raw and open conversations you have on your podcast, all the way to the heart-fluttering romance stories you bring us, congratulations on all your hard work and I look forward to following your journey!
Annika Sharma: You are so sweet — Thank you so much!
Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words is now available in book-stores near you as well as online on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and Target. Grab your copy today and follow Annika Sharma to listen to her podcast, learn about the beautiful work she is doing, and when the next book in the series drops!
Annika Sharma, author of Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words