Hello Manna, thank you for being a part of IWI’s Incredible Women Writers of India 2016, and sharing your journey as a writer.
How would you define yourself?
A creative person, madly in love with the colours of nature be it in the velvety laps of mother earth or up in the grey-green rocky mountains, deep in the blue ocean or fancy hues of the sky, the bright orange of the horizon or the silvery gold of nights and days. Extremely sensitive, yet, positive enough not to wallow in self pity and adjust with any circumstances or surrounding. A born optimist, and crazy about music and poetry.
What was your childhood like? Any incidents form your growing up years that shaped you as a person?
My childhood was like an ongoing spree of Merry-Go-Round. A world full of games like badminton, tennis, hockey, football, cricket, gilli-danda, marbles, kites; you name it and I have played it. A large joint family was a big boon; so many children aged between two to twenty, with a huge play ground available to us inside the compound to play, helped me grow into a grounded person who accepted winning and losing as a part of game in life as well. The fun doubled when parents joined in. It was a wonderful care free happy childhood with adorable parents, and a loving family.
All India Radio Patna was like a second home for us. Almost all my family members were engaged with some programme or the other. I was a regular child artiste, earning Rs.5 per week, which was a huge sum those days. I remember a drama was going live; being a little child I had to be propped up on a small table to reach the mike, just as I climbed, marbles tumbled out from my upside down pocket, giggling and tinkling loud enough for the mike to catch the sound. From then onwards, my pockets were emptied before entering the studio. I was barely seven years old then, but learnt the basics of broadcasting. There were many stage shows where I was a regular feature. This continued in college too. All these programmes I guess made me a confident person. I felt as if sky was not the limit, I could fly higher. Later it helped me secure my feet firmly, in a highly competitive world of Doordarshan where I won awards for best presenter.
When did your journey as a writer/poet began?
I started writing poetry when I was still in school. My essay on 15th August won a prize and was read out in the assembly for the entire school. That was a huge boost and my first taste of success. The winning spree continued in College too where I won every inter-college and inter-university poetry competitions. My short stories won awards too.
Then for long many years, I got busy with family life, raising children and adjusting to a totally new and different but interesting and satisfying phase of life. Later, when my husband got posted in Delhi, I joined Doordarshan. My writing prowess came in handy as I had to write my own script. However, after working for about 13/14 years, unfortunately I lost my voice and consequently lost my profession too. It was the most trying and terrifying period of my life as I was unable to speak. To come out of this dark and dingy emptiness, I picked up paint and brush, splashed colour on a number of canvases and once again held exhibitions. A good number of my paintings got sold and was much appreciated like earlier times when my paintings were displayed and sold at AIFACS Calcutta in 1974. Gradually I connected with my inner self to express my emotions through writing once again. The smile and sunshine returned.
‘Aks Mere jazbaat ke’ and ‘Dhoop-Chanh’ my two Hindi poetry books received rave reviews. ‘Neelanjana’, a light romantic novel, humorous and kind of a stress buster was much appreciated. Then on my friends’ demand I switched over to writing in English. My first manuscript ‘The Dance of Death’, a thriller published by Penguin India Ltd. in 2012, was a best seller. And now ‘The Curse of Nalanda’, my latest novel is published by the best upcoming publisher Readomania. It is another fast paced thriller which is getting five stars rating, excellent reviews and praise from book lovers.
Do you have a muse? If yes, who or what acts as a catalyst to your writing?
Human Psyche is my muse.
The way humanity reacts to situations, incidents; hiding or revealing their depth of feelings and emotions; their understanding or ignorance of life’s affairs arouses curiosity in me; making my imagination take wings, and search for characters who would fight, love, befriend the readers, take them into confidence, go through their own created pathways, face highs and lows, find humour on the way and ultimately find pragmatic solutions to utter chaos in this confused and complicated world. The different perspectives of people that I enjoy listening to, often helps add spice to various circumstances in the story.
Do you plan out your work or just go with the flow?
I go with the flow. Although turbulent waves often change the track dumping the story line amidst weird situations, leaving me completely nonplussed. However, I love the challenges it throws. Finding a solution to revert back to the track is like a battle that I have to deal with constantly in my mind.
For you, what’s the easiest thing about writing and the hardest thing? Do you have any weird/funny writing rituals?
The first draft of a story is the easiest thing to write, but finding a subject, a theme that sets fire to the belly and keeps hammering till it has taken the shape of a story is the hardest thing to find. When I heard the reason behind Nalanda annihilation, it churned inside me day and night till ‘The Curse of Nalanda’ took shape. It was so painful that I was crying and sobbing while writing the ghastly scene as if the massacre was happening in front of my eyes. The words that I have used to describe it are dipped in my tears.
There is no weird ritual, but I do believe in getting into the skin of all my characters, sometimes it does feel funny, but unless I become them, I would not know how to make them look real! I believe language is important, but feelings are more important. So, I laugh and cry along with my various characters and therefore I need a secluded space for writing, so that my funny gestures do not alarm my people. An airy well lit room is another must for my thought process.
Do you get writer’s block? How do you battle it?
Writer’s block can create havoc with writers who have to meet deadlines. In my case, I write when I feel like writing, and do not approach a publisher till I have finished at least second draft of the complete book. When time constraints are not there, the clog does not raise its ugly head..
How have you evolved as a writer since you have started? If you could give one advice to yourself, what would it be? What are you working on now?
I have come a long way since I started writing. More confident, mature. However, if I had to rewrite, my earlier books, I would like to phrase them exactly as they were done then. The only advice I can give to myself is to stop being lazy. At the moment I am working on the hardest thing required for writing; looking for an idea, a subject, a theme that whets my appetite and sets my imagination rolling.
What’s your opinion about the future of writing/reading/the publishing industry in India?
The publishing industry is flourishing in India; I think the writers never had it so good, especially with the online magazines, blogs etc. However, reading habits need to be inculcated amongst the young ones in a big way. Our culture teaches us to share, a very caring thought indeed for social bonding, but when one book is shared amongst the entire neighbourhood,then a great injustice is done to the poor writer. It hurts when someone says ‘there is a long queue of readers waiting impatiently for their turn to read your book’.
Favorite food… Ice-Cream.
Favorite Book… ‘‘The devotion of Suspect X’ and ‘The day of the Jackal’
Favorite author… Frederick Forsyth, Sidney Sheldon and R.K. Laxman.
What are you afraid of… Snakes, Lizards and Mosquitoes.
What makes you angry… Lie and deception. Injustice and disrespect shown to women or less fortunate people.
Childhood crush… Shammi Kapoor and Rock Hudson.
Things that you can’t live without… Love and affection.
Any message or advice you want to share with our readers?
I believe in being sincere and original if I have to make a space for myself in this competitive world, and I never lose hope.
Please Note: This interview has been conducted online via emails by Rhiti Bose for IWI.