Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Manjiri Prabhu Author interview

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I write because I imagine, dream, feel, love and reciprocate.
And because I have a story to extract from my interactions, from my emotions, whether in imagination or reality and turn it into a fictitious reality.
I want to create a world of my own and enjoy the trials and tribulations of the journey and finally when it is done, sit back and let the world see my creation.
I write because I want to create memories, because I want to learn, explore and live many lives and travel with many characters to lands known and unknown. To feel fulfilled, to remind myself how blessed I am. . . .
I write because that’s what I can do . . . …and love to do!
What advice would you give your younger writing self?
First and foremost, I would tell my younger self that she was right. That feeling that she had all along as a child that she was born to be a writer was completely justified. I would like to congratulate her on her success and persistence. As advice I would tell her to be ready for challenges, be patient and learn to take rejections as opportunities to do better. I would tell her to be more competitive in today’s world and go all out and shout out her achievements. I would tell her to go wild, travel more, love more, absorb more and create more. I would tell her to be more in touch with reality as well as fantasy, experiment more and get out of her comfort zone of writing. I would just want her to live every moment to the fullest so that writing would come inspired, faster and better.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
As a child I wrote for myself, content in the art of creation and heedless to public consumption.  As I grew older, I realized that it wouldn’t matter if someone read my work. In fact it would be great if others did. That’s when I published my first novel ‘A Symphony of Hearts’ in 1994.
Over the years, I’ve written and published books, and the need to reach out to more and more readers has increased. Mostly because publishing a book takes it out of your inner, controlled circle and exhibits it to a world of readers with varied views, opinions and backgrounds. Great feedback from readers is one of the biggest rewards of writing!
The equation of writing for ‘self’has now changed to writing for ‘us’ – for my readers and I. I still create plots that excite me and characters that speak to me but they carry a vision that I want readers to grasp and understand and emulate.
So publishing my book hasn’t changed so much the process of writing, as the need for visibility and exposure to it. Now marketing and promotion also take a big chunk of my time and attention.
What was your greatest writing challenge?
Actually, each of my books has posed a challenge. The Cosmic Clues and The Astral Alibi or Stellar Signs were about a lady detective who solves cases with the help of Astrology. So a lot of research went into choosing the right plots and solving them using Astrology in a systematic scientific manner, and not as a superstitious, magic wand. Similarly, The Cavansite Conspiracy takes place in 48 hours and the protagonist travels from Pune, to Hamburg, to the Isle of Sylt and to London in a matter of so many hours. Matching the time-differences and flight timings was a huge challenge. Finally, my latest thriller The Trail of Four takes place entirely in Salzburg and is about non-Indian characters, taking Re, the investigative journalist on a trail set 75 years ago. The biggest challenge was writing the novel like an insider, and combining history with a contemporary plotline. Having said that, I have enjoyed writing each of these novels.
What’s your idea of literary success?
I write so that people will read, enjoy the product of my imagination and take away something from it. When books sell, the monetary gain enables you to be at peace to write some more. So it helps. It is practical. But I would like to go beyond this materialistic gain . . . to grasp and capture something that is more ephemeral and transient. Memories. For me literary success would be when readers carry me in their memories forever, in the form of my books, characters, stories or messages. When I freeze into their memories, I would feel that I have touched that peak of success as an author and have attained virtual immortality.
What’s your idea of bliss?
My idea of bliss is complex. I want a world where every dog has a home – which means the world is compassionate enough to understand that ‘lives’ matter. It spells peace and love.
I also want a world where each being is treated with respect and love and given the freedom and choice to live his/her own life.
And finally, on a more personal note, my idea of bliss is to travel with my loved ones including my dogs, from country to country, absorbing new cultures, making new friends, writing and filming about it and more, and in the process collecting  answers from the Universe and unravelling the mystery called ‘life’.
Your latest novel, The Trail of Four, is set in Salzburg, Austria. As an Indian author, what inspired you to set your story here? Did you feel compelled to make Re, the protagonist, a person of Indian origin?
I have often wondered what the lure of the foreign books is for the Indian reader. Even today, I believe that books by foreign authors are read more than by Indian authors. And I think it is mostly to do with habit. I grew up reading books by British/American authors and I knew that I was totally fascinated by the milieu and culture and language. Now, after having written 8 books that are based in India but which pop in and out of some parts of the world, I felt this need to explore foreign horizons and move out of my comfort zone. And that is why The Trail of Four is based entirely in Salzburg with Non-Indian characters. However, the Indian in me needed to be satisfied too, so I made Re half-Indian, but alienated from his Indian roots.
But what really inspired me was a visit to the Palace Leopoldskron and Salzburg. I fell in love with them both. I knew way back, when I first set eyes on the Schloss that one day I would set a novel here. I think I was destined to write this novel. Incidents unfolded in such a manner, rather mysteriously and everything aligned perfectly for me to write The Trail of Four. I think the novel ‘happened’ to me. It got itself written. I simply followed a pre-destined path to accomplish this feat.
When did you first realize the power of the written word?
Speaking from an author’s point of view – My childhood was complete and content as I grew up reading Enid Blyton books and lost myself in the world of mystery, adventure and fun. I believe that those books laid the foundation for my career because I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer and create such worlds which offered hope and joy to every reader.  Personally for me, that was the first impact of the power of the word.
Later, as I matured and my reading habits encompassed more serious work, my belief in the written word was only strengthened. A good piece of writing, whether fiction or non-fiction is like a living, breathing entity. It can hook on to your brain and either mess up your thinking or create patterns of thought that can change the world. Either way, the effect can be stunning.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
I get furious when I see dogs or other animals being abused or see nature getting destroyed.  I feel that taking care of street dogs is the answer to world peace. I have a philosophy called my ‘Dogtrine of Peace’. Destroying nature is like destroying ourselves. When you cut down trees, encroach into hills and the sea, all you are doing is cutting into the lifetime of your generations. Sooner or later, the consequences will rise like a Tsunami, sweeping off races.
Other than that I get furious when people lie, and are manipulative, are ungrateful, take advantage of the weak and tons of other things. I am basically an angry woman 🙂
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence. 
Kindness and love make a difference. Do your bit. . . .

About the Author:
Dr. Manjiri Prabhu is an independent film-maker for Television, a Writer/ Novelist in English and also the Founder/ Director of Pune International Literary Festival. Having authored 9 books published by Penguin, Bloomsbury, Random House USA and Jaico Books, Prabhu has been acknowledged as a pioneer in India among women writers of mystery fiction. She is also the first female mystery Author to be published outside India and has been labelled as the ‘Desi Agatha Christie’. She has been invited to reputed International Literature Festivals like The Agatha Christie Festival, UK and International Women’s Fiction Festival, Matera, Italy.
Her novel The Cosmic Clues was selected as a Killer Book, by Independent Mystery Booksellers of America and The Astral Alibi was honoured as a ‘Notable Book’ in the Kiriyama Prize. Her unpublished psychological thriller novel was adapted into a Hindi feature film by NFDC, titled
“Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha”. Her thesis-cum-book, titled Roles: Reel and Real, has become a rare reference book for students of Hindi cinema.
Recently chosen as one of 50 Inspiring Women of Maharashtra, she was awarded for “Excellence in Writing” by ERTC Global Herald, in Mumbai. She has also been awarded the Rex Karmaveer Gold Medal Award.
This review is published in Kitaab

The TRail of Four by Manjiri Prabhu: book review

This intriguing mystery by an Indian author is set entirely in Europe, in the historic city of Salzburg, Austria. The novel brings to life the beauty and rich heritage of an old European city, which serves as a striking backdrop for an exciting intrigue. The three-century-old heart of a princely archbishop is mysteriously stolen from its place of rest. Who would do such a thing, and why? An insane criminal is out to destroy the pillars of the city’s heritage and culture. Re, a photo journalist and psychic, Isabel the beautiful local historian, police chief Stefan and hotelier Dan, who is managing the prestigious high profile Salzburg Global Seminar in the Schloss, are compelled to work together to stop impending disaster. As the threats materialise and mayhem unfolds, they must figure out which of the city’s many historic landmarks will be the next target, and prevent further chaos.
It’s a well-crafted, exciting story that will keep you turning the pages all night long. The mystery and fast-paced action are cleverly plotted. There are deliciously interwoven mysteries within mysteries, leaving readers with never a dull moment. There’s even a mystery from the historic past, coming alive in the present. Renowned theatre director Max Reinhardt once owned the majestic Schloss, a luxurious palace by the lake. Forced to flee the Nazi advance during World War II, he left behind a series of complex clues to an unsolved mystery, a hidden secret. As the hours until the next attacks tick away, our heroes must solve the clues and hand over the hidden treasure to the shadowy perpetrator of the attacks on the city’s landmarks. This is the only hope to halt further destruction.
Isabel’s American husband Justin has vanished, and is suspected to be dead. He has left cryptic messages which connect to the attacks on the city. Is Isabel really an innocent, grieving wife, or does she have a hand in Justin’s murder? Is she truly working to solve the clues and save the city, or is she in league with the enemy?
This novel is great material for a film adaptation, with spectacular settings and nail-biting, edge-of the-seat action. With drones spraying toxic gas, floods from the city’s underground water supply system threatening to engulf the city, an explosion in a famous cathedral filled with praying devotees and tourists, shock waves are threatening the very foundations of a city famed for art, culture and fine living.
The plot and the mystery take readers on a virtual tour of Salzburg, and its history and heritage. It is a delightful bonus to the reading experience. Salzburg in all its beauty, is brought to vivid life. The shimmering lake with its undulating blue-green waves, the surrounding mountains, the magnificent Schloss, a historic palace turned hotel that dazzles “like an eternal bride in glitter and gold”; the vivid descriptions are deftly woven into the action. The Schloss, a focal point of the novel’s action, has its own fascinating history. “Concerts, theatre performances, serenades by the lake; the Schloss had created so many careers, ignited so many affairs – it was the perfect baroque dream.”
The novel at times rises beyond complex mysteries to present a blend of beautiful settings juxtaposed against many facets of subjective realities. “Laughter trickled in from the street, carefree and happy. As if just some hours ago the cathedral had not been almost blown apart, as if the threat to the fourth Pillar was only a frightening dream, as if every ticking minute they were not getting closer to a horrendous conclusion. That was why truth was subjective, reality had such different dimensions and memory was sweet and short.”
The characters are convincingly drawn, with light but firm touches which do not distract from the compelling action. Re, the photographer, journalist and psychic sleuth, has an Indian father and a French mother. As such, there are passing Asian cultural references in the story. Whenever faced with a difficult situation, Re clutches his ‘Om’ pendant, that powerful Hindu symbol, to regain spiritual equilibrium and focus. Since the author is Indian, one may have expected a stronger Indian and Asian connection. However, this does not dilute the overall reading pleasure. Readers can expect the unexpected, and turn the last page with a satisfied smile.
this review is published in Kitaab

Shahbano Bilgrami: THOSE CHILDREN book review

Those Children 
Shahbano Bilgrami     

Harper Collins
2017, pp 352
Rs 399

This is a delightful and sensitive tale about the innocence of childhood and growing up, of family ties, loss and love. Imaginative and poetic, with touches of humour and childlike innocence, this novel presents unique and engaging characters seeking their roots.

Ten-year-old Ferzana Mahmud’s life in Chicago is shattered by the untimely death of her mother due to cancer. As their affectionate father nurses his own sorrow, Ferzana and her older sisters Fatima and Jamila, and her big brother Raza, must console each other as they try to cope. They do this by creating their own fantasy world, where they are superheroes with special powers.

To further complicate matters, their father moves the family to Karachi, half a world away. Landing in a strange city with alien people and unfamiliar customs, the children must adjust to a completely new life. They now live in a large compound as junior members of the Mahmud clan. There are grandparents to deal with; sometimes distant and forbidding, and sometimes affectionate. Uncles, aunts and cousins with diverse personalities must be tackled, and school poses new challenges. There is the secrecy around their late mother and the circumstances of their parents’ marriage. Clandestine meetings with their flamboyant maternal uncles raise more questions than answers. What was their mother really like as a young girl? Why is she never mentioned in the Mahmud household? Why is Ferzana’s Dadi so sad, and what secrets lie buried within the folds of the Mahmud family?

“My instinct was to tell her that she was wrong,” Ferzana thinks at one point about her dear Dadi. “That it was unfair of her to deny us the right to find out about our family’s past. After our mother’s death, we needed anchorage; after being displaced... we were searching for something to hold on to, to explain to us who we were and why we were here.” 

As she navigates her way through this chaotic new world, Ferzana begins learning things that school books don’t teach. “It was no less a surprise to me, after countless geography classes and colouring my way through outline maps, that countries, like people, were not stable entities, that they were made and broken, then made again.”

Religious differences and intolerance are a reality creating rifts even within Ferzana’s own family. Her youngest uncle, Shahbaz, says in an uncharacteristic fit of outrage, “But the evidence is everywhere. Where do you think this rigid, intolerant, unforgiving version of our faith has sprung from?” Their orthodox uncle Jamshaid Chacha retorts, pointing at Ferzana and her siblings, “What about the filth these people have brought into our country?”

The influence of religious intolerance is all-pervasive and a reason why their late mother and her family are never mentioned. As Shahbaz Chacha points out to Ferzana’s father, “Even Bhabi and the kids are into it. It doesn’t end there... it just seems as if some of them have lost sight of the essence, or spirit, of the faith in the process.”

Her friendship with Shahnaz, their driver’s daughter who is a girl of her own age, brings home to Ferzana the reality of class divisions. “Even after months of living in Karachi it struck me as odd that people were not always seen as individuals but as products of several abstractions which, when combined, typecast them as surely as if they were mediocre actors in a third-rate comedy.”

People can be dangerous. Ferzana and her brothers and sisters barely escape an attack on their father by “a typical ‘aunty’ complete with full stage make-up... They were intentionally khatarnak, or dangerous, and feared by children the world over, especially for their wet kisses and cheek-pinching fingers.”

Ferzana learns harsh worldly truths when she realises she is being used by her teacher, Mrs Naseem, to carry on an illicit relationship with her rakish teenaged brother Raza.
Despite such grave themes, Ferzana’s imaginative escapades liven the story and prevent it from sinking into gloom. The children suspect the warm and lively Shahbaz Chacha to be “born of a scandalous union”, because he is so unlike the Mahmuds. Ferzana as the superhero Little Furry sleuths around, losing her sister Fatima’s black panties to a devious opponent in the process. She weaves fantasies around her parents’ first meeting and falling in love. A college trip to the scenic hills of Swat and the chance meeting of future true lovers; or Baba as a placard-wielding student protester and Amma as his revolutionary sidekick facing a lathicharge together; she imagines “their pure love a perfect example of the union of the personal and the political.” When Fatima raps her for reading their maiden aunt’s forbidden Mills & Boon romances, Ferzana’s innocent retort is hilarious. “I’m telling a serious story. What do baboons have to do with it?”
As secrets unravel, a transformation takes place in the family. Durdana Phupo emerges from the cocoon of her little-girl room, and slips off her chador. Shahbaz Chacha comes to terms with the truth of his parentage, which is stranger than any fiction the children could have concocted. Dada and Dadi mellow, and the beautiful ending is of hope, tender love and reconciliation. This is, overall, a heart-warming and memorable read.

This review is published in Sunday Herald