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Friday, January 30, 2015

Author Interview: Saumya Misra, author of 'A Life Less Lived'

Saumya Misra
The author, Saumya Misra is an editing professional and soon, launching a magazine on the environment. The reason, I felt had a little something to do with her being inspired to write a ‘social thriller’. As one reads the novel, ‘A Life Less Lived’, one notices a lot of social environments blended together to form this story plot.

This book, ‘A Life Less Lived’ is just that. You, as a reader can decide for yourself, as you look into the city bred Aparna’s life and the rural life with Panna’s and as you travel through the plots and the sub-plots. You can read the Review, right here and Buy the Book right here.

How did ‘A Life Less Lived’ happen? 

It was a natural progression from writing short stories. I was a senior editorial person with the ‘The Times of India’, Lucknow and our duty hours were very different from the normal 9 to 5 job.

When I returned home well past mid-night, I found myself sleepless till dawn. You can say this insomniac state was to a large extent responsible for this novel. I had the balmy quietness of the night to aid my creative thoughts.

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it?

To be honest, the core idea came to me on its own. I have been writing short stories and poems since childhood and thinking up story ideas was not very difficult for me. As for developing it, I borrowed a little from the life of my great grandfather and merged it with the modern. 

Once I started writing, the story unfolded itself in my mind, the plots and subplots emerged accordingly, as well. You may find it difficult to believe it, but I did not make a rough draft on paper. I wrote directly. Everything was in my mind: the names, the situations, the turn of events…

How would you relate the book and its characters to the lives today? 

This book has a timeless quality about it. Even today, you may come across persons who have been dealt a nasty blow by fate. If you just stopped and asked, maybe they would also have a past like Panna's.

Besides, don’t we find over possessive parents and rebellious youth in this day and age? That part of the story is anyway, contemporary.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?

My favourite character is Aparna, a kind, gentle yet strangely mature girl who never thinks twice about helping others. She is a dependable friend and a confidant. 

She likes to speak her mind without a thought to the consequences and has a way with people. She is selfless and a cut above the rest. What is more, she is sensitive towards animals too. In the novel, as you can see, she has no issues of her own in life but she is busy fighting others’ battles for them.

Which character do you feel most close to and why?

It goes without saying, I feel closest to Aparna because I also feel trust and empathy are the virtues most needed in today’s world. I also know the difference between right and wrong and am not afraid to speak my mind.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing a book?

For me, my book is like a part of myself. It is the best way of self-expression. I know there were many odds against me and I managed to overcome them. This novel, according to me, has turned out better than I thought. 

But the greatest part is that I was able to fulfil my grandfather’s dream and my school principal Sister Consuelo’s prophesy that I would become a writer, one day.

How did you manage to blend events from the past and the present, to help build this story? 

Like I said, my brain built everything for me, very systematically like a computer. I did not consciously plan out the events. Once, I started writing, past and present blended naturally. This book is a very spontaneous attempt. You can even call it, a divine intervention of sorts.

What pushed you to write a social thriller?

I think everyone is writing either rom-com, political thrillers, women-centric novels or mythological novels. Social thrillers are the least attempted. Writers think that they might not be appreciated. 

But, unless you write one and give the readers a chance to decide for themselves, how can you write off this particular genre? One can actually connect with social thrillers. This is a lost art and I wish to revive it.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

Who told Mr Amitabh Bachchan he could become a superstar? His self conviction! It was the same with me. I wanted to become a novelist, so I became one. But here, I must also tell you my grandfather always said I would become a writer. My school teachers and my principal also believed I should develop a flair for writing and composing, so their conviction also sowed the early seed. 

Then, my editors also encouraged me to write. With so many people’s aspirations resting on me, how could I but not become the author that I am today?

Any advice to writers that would like to be published today? How tough is it to be published?

Personally, I do not feel I am in a position to advice anyone right now, as this is just my debut novel. Yet, I would say one thing : if you believe you can write, then write. Getting published by established publishers is tough and takes time, but one must keep faith and patience. If one’s work is good, it will be published.
I am not referring to self-publishing here. That way, anyone can get published but it is not worth it. More than getting published, it is tougher to get well-marketed. Here, most authors face problems these days. Those with money purchase publicity, those with a good book might remain anonymous. 

Who are your favourite authors and why?

My favourite authors are Munshi Premchand, O. Henry, Ruskin
Rabindranath Tagore
, Ayn Rand, Rabindranath Tagore and RK Narayan. I love their simple yet poignant style of writing. Their ability to touch human emotions, and sketch characters that are too real and too likable. 

But I also like Robin Cook, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Amish Tripathi etc. So, you see I like to read every genre and many authors. Like you, I also love books, period!

Which book are you currently reading?

I am presently reading ‘EastWind : West Wind’ by Pearl S. Buck. The book provides a glimpse into the Chinese way of life. It is the story of a traditional Chinese girl married to a Chinese doctor, educated abroad. How this girl opens up to freedom and point of views of the Western world is the story.
What do you do on a daily basis?

I am an editing professional and am soon launching a magazine on environment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review : ‘The Book of Gold Leaves' by Mirza Waheed

I cannot start this review, without mentioning the cover story. Gorgeously, rich yet subtle is the book’s cover, which turned out to be the author, Mirza Waheed’s great grandfather’s, a papier-mache artist’s work. His painting, ‘Book of Gold’ and this book, ‘The Book of Gold Leaves’ seem eternally linked.

Coming down to the book, ‘The Book of Gold Leaves’ which has been set in the 90s, where it traces the lives of two star crossed lovers, Faiz and Roohi. Faiz works as a papier-mache artist, thereby supporting a large Sunni family. Roohi is a pretty young Shia girl, who has just turned twenty and being a graduate, is busy avoiding all marriage talk. 

The novel, kind of reminded me of the film, ‘Haider’. Though not story wise, it became easier for me to imagine Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor in place of the main protagonists as they and their famlies too, are torn by war in Kashmir.

Coming back the main story, we see Faiz talking through and through about his unfinished work of art and dreaming of finishing it. Roohi, who remains a constant dreamer herself, though hers takes on another route. She holds on to dreams of romance, and a man, who would sweep her away. It is not fate that they meet, but her headstrong ways, which compel them to meet in the end.

That is one story, but there is the other story, of a local high school, which has been taken over by the Indian army. Enter the school principal, Shanta Koul, and her loss of her love. She fights on and steadfastly holds on to her school, in spite of the army, on its grounds. She keeps arguing with Major Sumit Kumar, who understands but feels pressurised between his duty and his genuine need to get away, from it all.
Mirza Waheed
As Srinagar has to deal with the militants flowing in and out of the city, and says goodbye to its inhabitants, who do not feel safe, we see all their stories unfold. Faiz sees his nanny killed in from of his very eyes. Shocked by the whole process, and probably not understanding his grief and confusion, he ends up, joining hands with militants. But there too, Roohi and her memories do not leave him, as you can read in his letters. Roohi, who will do anything to be with him, writes to him, compelling him to return to her. Faiz finds that though he would be hailed as a hero in some parts of Srinagar, but he remains wanted by the army.

You also cannot miss the subplots of Roohi’s and Faiz’s families and the marriage between the Shia and Sunni households. And the militants and the army’s hand in all of this. 

One can read the confusion, which is a constant reminder in this novel. It remains firstly, a movie like love story, stuck between a war and politics. There is of course, the beauty of Kashmir, which the author feels for it, as he unwraps the words on to the pages. You can understand his sadness too. However, he probably weakened over the love story but it remains a wonderful story in parts.

The story in itself is one which questions, but leaves you in the lurch. And please do not miss the details about the collapsing houses and buildings and yet the romance of Srinagar, which only an artist of books could describe, as Mirza Waheed does.

Author: Mirza Waheed
Genre: Fiction
ISBN : 9780670087426
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Price: Rs 499 /-

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Author Interview: Sarita Varma, author of 'Girl from Fatehpur'

Sarita Varma
Sarita Varma's book, 'Girl from Fatehpur' was a good book. I thought there were times when it reminded me of life, a simpler life, with all its accentuations. Little towns, empty roads, families, friendships and romances. Each one of these reminds could remind one of the past, and perhaps touch us, in its own way.

In this Interview, Sarita Varma explains to us how she came about with the idea and how she used 'believable situations and characters' to achieve what she needed to. So, let's read on...

How did ‘Girl from Fatehpur’ happen? Could you describe the journey?

It was a journey fraught with misgivings! Like most budding writers, I too, dreamt about one day becoming an author but was convinced that nobody would want to read anything I had written.

If it hadn’t been for the necessary push I got from family and friends and the very warm encouragement I received from my publisher, Naheed Hassan, I doubt whether ‘Girl from Fatehpur’ would have been anything more than a dream!

How did the story, especially Sanjana and Rajan’s come about?

The migration of people especially from the small towns of India to big metros has always fascinated me. The acquired surface gloss usually covers strong values… cultural baggage, if you will.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this but I feel Sanjana continues to be essentially a small town girl despite her high flying job in Mumbai. Even Rajan, the NRI, though overtly changed also finally falls back on tradition.

Did you have a lot of personal experiences to go with the book? What exactly was it that inspired you to write this book?

I think our personal experiences do influence a lot of our writing but in an indirect manner. I have not consciously tried to write about real people or actual situations but certain mannerisms or style of talking of some acquaintances may have seeped in. Inevitable!

I wanted to write a light-hearted entertaining story about believable situations and characters.

What according to you is different about your book?

I hope the authenticity of the characters and events impresses the readers. I have tried to be realistic in my descriptions about the background of the story whether in Mumbai, Kanpur or Fatehpur.

Writing about the 'Kumbh Mela' in Allahabad was a special delight as I have fond memories of being an awed spectator of the Mela in my childhood.

How would you relate the lives of characters to the lives today? Any similarities?
I think the changes in the lives of characters would be essentially superficial and mainly due to changes in technology. The novella is set roughly in today’s world.

What was the most challenging part about writing this book?

The need to create tension and drama between the principal characters was a big challenge.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

My friend Anjana Appachana, herself an established author was always convinced that I too could write. I owe a lot to her unfailing belief in my writing capabilities.

When will you next book be out?

I hope sometime, this year.
Which book are you currently reading?

‘The Lives of Others’ by Neel Mukherjee.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

Georgette Heyer by a mile… closely followed by PG Wodehouse, Ellis Peters, Gerald Durrell, James Herriot, Isaac Asimov… many, many more!

Isaac Asimov
They are all outstanding writers with impeccable command over the language. I love the sense of humour in Heyer, Wodehouse, Durrell and Herriot, the historical atmosphere of Heyer and Peters and the sheer creativity of Asimov.

What else do you do on a daily basis? 

I have been involved with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of India for nearly two decades in various capacities. As a busy homemaker, I’m always on the job!

What advice do you have for the young writers of today?

Write about what you feel passionately about.

Check and re-check your work repeatedly, like a blade being honed and sharpened. 

Persist in writing. Please don’t give up.