Freedom

She watched listlessly the evening sun making morbid patterns on the walls opposite. She also watched her husband’s chest heave up and down, barely though.

It had been a harrowing week for her.

For him too.

His fever wasn’t coming down even after five days, the headaches weren’t going and his breathlessness was getting worse by the hour. A slow panic was setting in both.

The children settled in the US, the attending doctor, all advised testing which took another two days to materialise.  There were just too many waiting for medical help.

The reports had come the previous evening and as feared, he had tested positive. He went to pieces and then clammed up, almost immediately embracing his impending fate without a whimper or putting up even the tiniest of fights.

It was so unlike him to throw in the towel so quickly and look towards her for guidance, having meticulously decided every single minute of her day without her say so and vote, through the thirty-five years of their marriage. She was expected to be the implementor of his diktats. A mere mute follower. Not following his diktats meant days of silent treatment with intermittent verbal outbursts from him. He ruled over her ruthlessly.

 The massive weight of her wedding band sat heavily on her hand because with time, dominance became normalized, in this aged marriage.  

The children, quick to sense the power dynamics of their household, did their best to play the honest referee, but then gave up when they understood what they were up against. Their father was not a very amenable man. He hated being corrected. So they studied hard and flew the nest as fast as they could, mouthing a silent prayer for their frail mother left behind, whenever they could.

Presently, she suggested to him albeit weakly, to follow the doctor’s orders and shift into a hospital to have a fighting chance. He refused point-blank saying a visit to the ICU meant certain death. He would rather spend his last few days in his home, which he had lovingly built with his sweat and blood.

She smiled softly at ‘his’.

She then religiously updated his situation over FaceTime to the children. The children after a virtual huddle left the decision on her. They couldn’t anyways come to help. Plus the intensive care came at a very steep price. They certainly weren’t flush with funds and they had families to take care of. Things were already dirt-messy back home. The parents had to fend for themselves.

She sighed.

The children couldn’t be blamed. They had their share of responsibilities and problems. Money always brought out the unwanted uglier side of one into full glare and also made one coldly practical.

But then her mind began to float unfettered.

Sure, they would save a lot, if home treatment continued, and eventually, when the inevitable happened, she would be left with the house and a tidy sum in the bank.

The children anyway wouldn’t bother about this small change, in their eyes that is. They weren’t coming back also!

She would be free to go wherever she fancied, do whatever she wanted, without any recriminations or the attendant violence, verbal or otherwise. She would be the master of her day, her thoughts, her actions without any fear or recriminations.

The whole wide world waited to be explored.

Oh to be truly free with an added bonus of money to spend! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

But for that to happen, he had to…

She then crumpled and bawled away uncontrollably, cursing herself!

She the wife! 

Because she took the vow until death did they part.

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A couple weeks later, the vernacular press ran a curious story of an older man getting miraculously cured, entirely by home quarantining, when he was given up for dead.

His hale and hearty wife who had been attending to him developed severe complications, suffered a massive heart attack, and passed away within two days of his recovery.

Shakuni & The Dice of Doom: Book 2 of the Mahabharata Series By Mallar Chatterjee

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Shakuni & The Dice of Doom: Book 2 of the Mahabharata Series by Mallar Chatterjee is a riveting rendition of the much-maligned Antagonist of Mahabharata, albeit with a delicious twist!
I have read so many versions and voices of Mahabharata but the twist attempted here leaves a powerful impact on the reader. Fine writing is all about looking at yet another unseen angle and retelling an oft-told tale with a beautiful and newer effect. Mallar is a fine writer by that barometer. Let me confess, initially, I was a bit disconcerted at the turn attempted but the author sews it up splendidly at the end. Language is marvelous and the pace never lags. Kudos Mallar for making the well-known epic come across as a new tale. Looking forward to more such stellar stuff from your pen.

Mallar Chatterjee answered a few questions posed by AkkaAcerbic

1)What made you choose a mythological/ epic thriller as your first and second offering? Why did you choose Shakuni after Yuddhishtra and not Bhima?

 Actually, I didn’t have to “choose” mythology. Rather, my avid interest in mythology brought out the writer in me. Perhaps I felt an urge to express my own realizations through a kind of customized rendition. I chose Shakuni after Yudhisthira mainly because of the contrast. Another reason was that I was looking for a subject that can give me some liberty to work my imagination.

2) What makes a good rendition of a well-known epic? What are the aspects one must take care of while penning one? Using ‘Shakuni’ can you elucidate further?

Just like it is difficult to explain what makes good literature, it is not easy to explain a good rendition. I think a rendition of a mythological piece can be of two types – (a) diligently following the linear narrative laced with author’s own realisation or philosophisation (example: “Jaya” by Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik) and (b) penning a fictional story based on the epic developing certain hints, indications or exploring untold possibilities (ex: “Palace of Illusion” by Chitra Divakaruni or Amish books). Both kinds can make successful renditions considering the literary standards they achieve. I personally feel that a good rendition should stop fractionally short of offering a distinct judgment in spite of making its innate tilt understood. We must keep it in mind that even the epics leave enough ambivalence that keeps them so much intellectually pertinent even now. A rendition must preserve that ambivalence in a subtle manner. “Shakuni” falls in the second category, I think (“Yudhisthira” in the first). Although I took some creative liberty in “Shakuni” to create the desired atmosphere, I think I did not let myself be judgemental.  

3) How does one maintain the taut pace that requires the novel to be a thrilling page-turner? What are the beginner pitfalls one must avoid while penning? 

I can share my own experience to address this point. I have learnt one thing. Writer’s thoughts and his words must be like twins separated at birth. What I mean to say is that the thought and the expression thereof are like two closely linked, yet different personalities. They must be compatible with each other but must be allowed to establish themselves according to their own personalities. In my first book, I tried to transmit my thought as it is in my writing creating some chaos at times. At the same time, my first book was more honest than my second as it amply represented the mind of the author. 

4) How important are the setting and characterization? Should they be noble, distorted or just grey? How many strong characters should the novel have to balance the yin and yang? How have you achieved the same in ‘Shakuni’?

In a period novel, the setting is extremely important. The author has to care about creating visuals. Both my books have an implicit assumption that humans are not binary characters, nor are they even consistent throughout. Their actions need to be viewed from their perspective and a universal moral conclusion may not be necessary. In “Shakuni“, I was dealing with multiple characters – all of them having their own specialties. I created two rival groups out of them following the established storyline and then tried to make some characters appear pseudo-partisan or pseudo-neutral using some imagination, thus trying to preserve the ambivalence.

5) What is the relevance of language for writing in this Insta-era? Is it necessary to be verbose or would ‘being-terse’ work better? 

Language, I believe, is like a boat that carries the plot and the theme through the mind and sensibility of readers. It is the language, more than anything else that determines the literary merit of the writing. In my first book, I inadvertently became verbose to create a phonetic effect. I believe today that language should be idiomatically valid, syntactically uncomplicated and thematically succinct. Based on these three tenets, a writer can lend further virtues to the writing depending on his or her natural flair. Personally, I am a great admirer of the style Ms. Chitra Divakaruni used in “Palace of Illusions” that at times borders on the poetic.

6) How essential are hooks? How should an ideal epic thriller end? Tantalizingly open-ended or all ends neatly sewn up? Were you worried about the twist that you have incorporated in Shakuni? How has the response been?

Hooks are important for a particular kind of rendition but it may not be overused. In case of a myth-based thriller, such devices are almost necessary to take the reader by surprise. But in case of a linear subjective retelling, there is limited scope for such devices. Whether the ending should be properly sewed up or left hanging a cliff depends entirely on the treatment of the story and the actual motive of the author. I was – and still am – quite worried about the experimentation I did in “Shakuni“. However, the response that I have received until now has been quite positive.

7) How imperative is reading your peers to fine-tune your craft?

It is very important to read peers unless one is completely confident that he or she is going to do something unprecedented or path-breaking. My personal feeling is that an author should remain a student all along and learn uninhibitedly from the peers who are not rivals but co-passengers on a fascinating journey. 

8) Would you attempt writing in any other genre? If yes please specify. Who are your favorite writers and why?

I am not yet sure if I shall write in any other genre. Time will tell. My favourite authors, across genres, are Sukumar Ray, Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay, Rajsekhar Basu, Satyajit Ray, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Dr. Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri, Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni, Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik, Amish – to name a few.

9) What advice would you give a budding writer?

Not exactly an advice but one suggestion I can give from my very little experience. An aspiring writer should be sure about three things before starting to write. These are why to write, what to write and how to write – though not necessarily in that order. For me, the most important of these is why to write. Once one becomes sure of it, others may be sorted out on their own.

 

Shakuni & The Dice of Doom: Book 2 of the Mahabharata Series By Mallar Chatterjee has been received very well and is available in bookshops across India and on Amazon

https://www.amazon.in/Shakuni-Dice-Doom-Book-Mahabharata/dp/9385854798/

When Tanushree Podder Decodes Complex Plots

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Tanushree Podder calls herself a non-technical writer who goes by her instinct and writes about any topic that catches her fancy.  She writes across genres.

Tanushree ma’am says that across genres there are some commonalities  like setting, characters, plots, conflicts,  and their resolution

For a gripping thriller, plots have to be racy. A thriller has to be an adrenaline-inducing experience so that the novel is a page-turner. To achieve this,  the writer needs to scatter some red herrings, twists and turns across the plot line and also leave some hooks at the end of each chapter so that the reader is invested enough with the next chapter too.

The characters have to be strong and enigmatic while the writing has to be a little mysterious. Complex plots can have subplots which can further be developed into stand-alone tales. Complex plots have multiple characters in multiple events across multiple locations. The simple plot is akin to a cloth with a single pattern whereas a complex plot is a multi-colored, multi-patterned cloth, woven masterfully. To create this successfully, it needs great skill. King, Follet, Grisham, and Brown are some of the masters.

A budding writer needs to read at least 100 books before penning one. Research is paramount. A budding author should have a thick skin and keep the nose to the ground, to smell out a good tale because there are stories happening all around us. Among her contemporaries, she likes to read Amitava Ghosh, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Arundhati Roy, Manu Joseph. She hopes to write many many more novels.

Amen to that

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When Archana Sarat Deconstructs Writing About A Criminal Mind

, Session 5 with Archana Sarat, author of Birds Of Prey and Tit for Tat.

Getting Into a Criminal’s Mind

By Archana Sarat

There are two pillars of a crime novel – A hero, who fights the crime and a criminal who commits the crime in spite of the odds around.

Why should a writer get into a criminal’s mind? 

It is imperative for a writer to do so to get better writing and reading experience. The writer should examine closely the reasons for a criminal to commit a crime because usually, a harsh punishment doesn’t deter a criminal.

How does crime happen?

Though there are multiple reasons, broadly there are three.

  1. The Crimes due to Poverty.  The divide between the rich and the poor is a compelling factor but most often a criminal is known to explain away his stance without any remorse.
  2. The Crimes due to Addiction like Alcohol or drugs
  3. The Crimes due to Passion. Could be psychological issues like neglect during childhood, lack of love or anger issues.

 

Archana also adds that characterization is very important.  Fleshing out a 3-dimensional character who doesn’t disclose his/her true motives and extensions, is a difficult task as a criminal has many shades.  The other challenge is to buildup the criminal and simultaneously get the hero to deconstruct.

  • Research deep into the crime.
  • Analyze the criminal’s mind.
  • A writer should be careful not to give away all the clues at once.
  • Hence multiple drafts are needed to get that added punch. All this hard work will determine how well the novel will get crafted ultimately.

Archana, the author of ‘Birds of Prey‘ was drawn to crime-fiction as she was compelled to talk about child-sexual-abuse. Crime-Thrillers can be used as instruments of change if they can make even one person rethink. If the cause of the crime can be identified and that cause can be done away with, there could be lesser distress.

Archana is in the process of penning another crime-thriller. (Grey Rocks)

As she confesses, writing about a villain or about crimes of passion is more challenging.

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When Archana Sarat Talks About Getting Inside the Criminal’s Mind

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.40.25 PMCrime writing is an adrenalin-inducing genre of writing. Readomania has a big and proud list of authors and titles from the genre of crime writing and is bringing them all together for the Crime Writing Festival 2019 in the month of May. Throughout this month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Readomania’s thriller authors will feature in live Twitter discussions and answer budding authors’ questions on everything ‘thrilling’.

The Readomania Crime Writing Festival will also hold a contest on the best ‘original short crime fiction’, the winner of which will receive an ebook publishing deal with Readomania’s digital imprint, ReadoShots. There will also be book giveaways to the best question asked twice every week.

So, be on Twitter this whole month of May and tune in to the Readomania Crime Writing Festival 2019.

Here, Archana Sarat talks about ‘getting inside the criminal’s mind‘. It is gripping.

5th session of on by  16/5/19, 8PM on ‘Getting Inside the Criminal’s Mind’ The best question wins a copy of her book.

Getting Inside the Criminal’s Mind

By Archana Sarat

Narrating the story of Swarna, in Birds of Prey, through her own eyes, can easily be called as the biggest writing challenge I’ve faced till now. Here was a woman loved and respected by all; she was timid and caring. She loved children and could never harm another living creature. How could she ever be a criminal? A perusal through the newspaper every day is enough to acclimatize us to the fact that criminals come in all shapes and sizes, gender and background. A qualification, or lack thereof, makes no difference to the mind of a criminal.

Causes of Crime

While the government seems obsessed with dealing with the results of crime, it is the duty of writers to ponder about the causes of crime. When we understand what made our criminal what he is, it helps us write and understand him better. Every criminal is aware of right and wrong and they know the potential consequences of their actions. Still, they can shut off this awareness long enough to commit the crime. While some of them regret their actions later, most of them have a fanciful tale of how it wasn’t their fault.

While all criminals refuse to take personal responsibility for their actions and blame others, there are others who would do ‘anything’ in their pursuit of money, power, and control. Some of our politicians are examples of this! For some criminals, this is an easy way out. Stealing the music player or the tyres of a parked car can be an easy way to fill the pocket when compared to working for an entire week to earn the same money.

Understanding the different kinds of criminals, and the causes that shape them can help us write them better. Poverty is the first and primary reason why most people turn to crime. Sadly, the divide between the haves and have-nots is continuing to get wider; crime will only increase in such a society. It is not surprising that most criminals are from the poorer sections of society.

Not all criminals are poor. Some of the goriest crimes are perpetuated by the ruthless rich. What makes a rich person commit a crime? What drives him? What makes him lose his empathy? A history of childhood neglect and abuse is one of the most common reasons for crime in such sections of society.

Not all criminals are abused. Sometimes, a man has everything —a loving family, a good job, financial security—but still, he becomes a criminal. Mostly, in such situations, the man falls prey to a habit of alcohol or drug abuse. A problem of addiction, coupled with low self-esteem, could prove to be dangerous.

Not all criminals are addicted. Sometimes, a person commits a crime in a moment of passion. A flash of fury can be dangerous if a person does not know how to control his anger. One interesting thing to explore in such situations is why does the person have anger management issues?

Not all criminals are angry. Sometimes, the cause of crime runs deeper. Just like any other physical or mental ailment, this kind of criminal suffers from the lack of a sense of empathy and a sense of understanding. Right from a young age, this criminal cannot control himself from injuring others. Sometimes, he feels guilty too. However, his lack of empathy soon overpowers his guilt and he continues his life of crime. This kind of criminal requires psychiatric help.

Stepping into the Shoes

When I wrote about child sexual abuse in Birds of Prey, one of the first questions that was shot at me was whether the abuse was my personal experience. While I was delighted that I could write in such a manner that readers mistook it for a personal experience, writing those particular chapters was traumatic and distressing.

Before working on those chapters, I read extensively about child sexual abuse. Next, I went through medical examination reports and postmortem reports of actual crimes. Some of them had explicit photographs that still haunt me and give me sleepless nights. After that, I had the opportunity to speak to a few victims. I spent more than a month on this research to understand the level of brutality and callousness needed to perpetuate such crimes.

I put myself into the shoes of the victim and agonized over every hurt and every wound. Words froze and it was one of the worst writer’s blocks that I went through. I couldn’t believe how one could do such things to poor, innocent and helpless children.

It was time to put myself into the shoes of the criminal. This can be one of the most challenging activities for any writer. Unless you are a seasoned criminal yourself, it could be near impossible for you to imagine why you are doing what you are doing. This is where it helps to understand the causes of a crime. Now, you have situations to put yourself into that shows you why you became such a person.

Finally, the words started to flow, and the book was written. Getting into the mind of a criminal and exploring your way through it is a must for every aspiring crime writer. It is definitely not a pleasant experience and could scar you for life, but it makes your writing stronger, sharper and better.

 

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When Deepti Menon Talks About Thrilling Twists and Turns

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Crime writing is an adrenalin-inducing genre of writing. Readomania has a big and proud list of authors and titles from the genre of crime writing and is bringing them all together for the Crime Writing Festival 2019 in the month of May. Throughout this month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Readomania’s thriller authors will feature in live Twitter discussions and answer budding authors’ questions on everything ‘thrilling’.

The Readomania Crime Writing Festival will also hold a contest on the best ‘original short crime fiction’, the winner of which will receive an ebook publishing deal with Readomania’s digital imprint, ReadoShots. There will also be book giveaways to the best question asked twice every week.

So, be on Twitter this whole month of May and tune in to the Readomania Crime Writing Festival 2019.

Here, Deepti Menon talks about the twists and turns of a gripping thriller.

1. What makes a good thriller? What are the aspects one must take care of while penning one? Using ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ can you elucidate further?

As its name suggests, a thriller needs to ‘thrill’ its readers. Action is vital, characterisation and setting make all the difference, the twists should hurtle in, hard and fast, and the denouement or the climax should be suspenseful enough to make the readers’ hearts skip a beat.

My story ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ starts with a woman falling off her balcony to her death. My characters are strong and well able to hold their own in a sometimes hostile world. I believe that all my twists, major and minor, are vital in holding the interest of my readers.

I also believe that an effective cover makes all the difference to a good thriller. I remember how Dipankar Mukherjee, of Readomania fame, and I hunted around for the right image for ‘Shadow in the Mirror’. Only once he had found the perfect cover, did we breathe a sigh of relief. My lady in blue with the bright red ‘bindi’ and deep brooding eyes would send a chill up anyone’s spine.

2. How does one maintain the taut pace that requires the novel to be a thrilling page-turner? What are the beginner pitfalls one must avoid while penning? 

What is important is that the writer must maintain the taut pace that characterises the book as a thriller. However, this does not mean that the story uses suspense on every page to take it forward. Too much of a good thing can lead to satiety, and hence, the twists and turns should be carefully monitored.

That is one of the pitfalls authors should avoid. Another one is the clichéd plot that comes easy… what comes easy can also be easy for a million other writers as well.


3. How important are the setting and characterization? Should they be noble, distorted or plain grey? How many strong characters should the novel have to balance the yin and yang? How many twists are mandatory? Please describe how you have achieved the same in ‘Shadow in the Mirror’?

         ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ has around four twists. The first one which came in the second half of the story is the one around which the whole story revolves. I was thrilled that not one reader could see the twist coming… it was like a roller-coaster ride which took the breath away. The other twists are comparatively minor, but they propel the action forward. The book ends on a tiny twist as well, a device that most thriller movies and books use to leave the audience off balance.

          Setting plays an important role as it creates a feeling of suspense in the minds of the readers. Imagine a murder taking place in a bright sunny locale, as opposed to one committed on a grey day in a depressing building. Which, do you feel, would work better?

        Strong characters take the story along with them. However, a story that has only strong characters could prove very tiring. Two strong characters would be the perfect blend, with minor characters aiding them to take the story forward.  

4. What is the relevance of language for Crime-Fiction-Writing? Is it necessary to be verbose or would ‘being-terse’ work better?  Which would you prefer?

There is a happy balance between being ‘verbose’ and being ‘terse’. Frankly, verbosity does not work in any genre, as it indicates a hemorrhage of words, dull, stilted and overdone. In ‘Shadow in the Mirror’, as in all my other writing, I have used simple words, descriptive in parts and action-oriented in others. As a Literature buff, I can never reconcile to writing that truncates words. My young friends often tease me when they read my messages on social media because call me a grammar Nazi, I cannot even leave out a comma or a full stop.

  However, when it comes to writing a taut, action-packed scene, the description takes a back seat, while the atmosphere comes in to play a significant role. For example, in the chapter which deals with my major twist, I have made use of descriptions like ‘dark icy winter chill’, ‘a dreadful ringing inside her head’, ‘an atmosphere of suppressed menace’ and the like. Likewise, the building in which the death takes place is described as looming “ominously in the dusk, wrapped in an air of mystery.”

5. How essential are hooks? How should an ideal crime fiction novel end? Tantalizingly open-ended or all ends neatly sewn up? If you were to rewrite ‘Shadow in the Mirror’ what would you change?

Hooks or red herrings are employed to reel the readers in, and leave them in a state of bewilderment. Most readers prefer to let the story go by at its own pace, but as I have said before, there are the Hercule Poirot readers who love to use ‘their grey cells’, peering at every clue to try and solve the mystery before it is revealed.

According to me, an ideal crime fiction novel could end either way, open-ended or all ends neatly sewn up. What is important is that the readers should find themselves satisfied at the end; left with a feeling of having been fed with a good story.

I don’t think I would want to rewrite ‘Shadow in the Mirror’. I like it as it is.

6. How imperative is reading your peer writers to fine-tune your craft? Who are your favourite thriller writers and why? Please name some.

Oh, I think it is imperative to read the books of one’s peers to fine-tune one’s own craft. Not only does one learn from their writing, but one also finds relaxation in styles alien to one’s own.

If you ask me, I tend to find something to learn from every piece of writing I come across, mostly in a positive manner. Of course, there have been times when I have also learnt how not to approach a subject in a certain manner. One lives and learns!

Favourite thriller writers? Agatha Christie is on top of that list. I also enjoy Conan Doyle, Jeffrey Archer, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Sidney Sheldon and Gillian Flynn. One of the best thriller writers I have ever read is Daphne du Maurier whose writing resonates in my heart still. Another book I must mention here is ‘She’ by Rider Haggard, a book that needs to be savoured and read.

7.  What advice would you give a budding writer?

All I can say is that a writer should love his or her own writing. If you put out something which does not appeal to you, it will not appeal to your readers either.

Also, the grammar Nazi in me would want every piece of writing I read to be well edited. As Zadie Smith put it, “The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.” Never send out a piece that is not edited for typos and spelling errors can irritate the living daylights out of any reader.

Thank you so much, Anupama, for these intriguing questions. I enjoyed answering them. God bless!

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When Anurag Anand Talks About Writing Political Thrillers in Sensitive Times

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Crime writing is an adrenalin-inducing genre of writing. Readomania has a big and proud list of authors and titles from the genre of crime writing and is bringing them all together for the Crime Writing Festival 2019 in the month of May. Throughout this month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Readomania’s thriller authors will feature in live Twitter discussions and answer budding authors’ questions on everything ‘thrilling’.

The Readomania Crime Writing Festival will also hold a contest on the best ‘original short crime fiction’, the winner of which will receive an ebook publishing deal with Readomania’s digital imprint, ReadoShots. There will also be book giveaways to the best question asked twice every week.

So, be on Twitter this whole month of May and tune in to the Readomania Crime Writing Festival 2019.

Here, Anurag Anand talks about political thrillers.

Writing Political Thrillers in Sensitive Times

By Anurag Anand

Cloaks and daggers and a little bit of gore,

A thriller is but life and a tad bit more.

Greed, lust, ambition, and passions,

Myriad motivations make up its core.

Such a cocktail when one sets out to stir,

Of politics and politicians and their heirs…

The rope is tight and the margin so thin,

Of ruffling feathers there’s always a fear.

The times are sensitive, they say…

For, by old rules, they’ve long ceased to play.

There’s the white and there’s the black,

As we go on to write an obituary for the grey.

A writer’s role, as he takes on such a task,

Is, to be honest, and sincere to his readers’ ask.

And to stand by his pen in the wake of accusations,

Of tilting right or to the left or standing on half-mast.

       Politics ranks right up there with Cricket and Bollywood in terms of the passions it ignites amongst us Indians. The myriad characters and machinations that make up the political landscape are discussed and analysed at length at roadside eateries and office cafeterias alike. Come election season and this buzz magnifies, permeating our lives in more ways than one would wish for. It was this widespread appeal of the subject that got me thinking of a story that finally took shape of an exciting political thriller, The Assassination of Rajat Gandy.

Once I was satisfied with the way the story structure had shaped up, I got down to penning its expanded version. This was the easy part. I had enough material from lifelong observation of the Indian political system – greed and lust for power, duality of behavior and fractured moralities – to allow the characters to chart their own course through the pages of the manuscript. Here, the only choice I had to make was whether or not I should mould my characters on real people. I opted for a balanced approach, drawing inspiration from living politicians, but only just. This allowed the story to develop its own unique flavour, without compromising on its relatability for the readers. After all, it was an honest political thriller that I had set out to write.

It was only once the manuscript was ready and I began sending it out to potential publishers that the sensitivity of the subject dawned upon me. Many of the A-list publication houses loved the plot but were weary of commissioning it for they believed it had the potential of ruffling a few feathers. An unwarranted eventuality that they were not willing to risk for the sake of putting out an exciting story.

Their stance wasn’t entirely surprising. The political narrative in the country has never been as polarised as it is now. People are wedded to political ideologies and personalities almost in a manner of blind faith, not willing to acknowledge any faults in those that they side with and unable to see any positives in those that they oppose. I have seen, on social media and otherwise, normal discussions on politics taking ugly turns and friends turning into foes on this account. Passions have undoubtedly been running high, and it is only fair for entities in the publication business then to want to steer clear of any possible controversies.

I went through the manuscript again, chopping, pruning and rewording the potentially flagrant sections, without compromising the essence of the story. I sought opinions from my friends in the legal fraternity as well, before recirculating the story for evaluation. At this stage, I had realised that the one thing that my story couldn’t be accused of – was being politically motivated. If it had to attract brickbats, it would do so from both polarities of the political spectrum. It was an honest story that didn’t take sides. And this, to me, was a source of much confidence as an author. By way of my sincerity of approach, I had managed to create a sense of balance about the story, albeit not in the appeasing sense, and it was now time to put it out there and let the readers pass their verdict.

I was fortunate that the team at Readomania shared my passion and belief in the story and were willing to burn the proverbial midnight oil to get the book out in record time. The Assassination of Rajat Gandy is now out on the stands, and if the initial reader reviews are anything to go by, it has turned out exactly the way I had hoped it would.

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When Sourabh talks about penning relatable Crime Fiction novels

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Festival 2019, Session 2 with Sourabh Mukherjee, author of The Colours of Passion and In the Shadows of Death.   on ‘There’s a Killer Inside Everyone’

What drives an individual to crime?

Because Murder is the last resort of the weak‘ (From Colours of Passion)

Sourabh Mukherjee who writes stories about human relationships and the way the emotions unfold, says the biggest challenge to a crime fiction writer is to create characters that are relatable because readers of today are extremely evolved, as they are reading content across the world. The readers are also exposed to diverse storytelling platforms.

He further adds, given the shorter attention span of today’s global reader, it has become imperative to craft stories that are relevant and topical.

Sourabh also touches upon the various developments that have taken place in this particular genre.

  1. The Protagonists or the crime-solvers aren’t larger than life characters. They are as human as you and me with inherent weaknesses, battling their own failures and short-comings.
  2. It is perfectly okay to have the reader figure out the ‘whodunnit‘ right in the middle rather than reveal it in the very last para
  3. More than the Who, and How, the Why is more important

Crime fiction in India is very mature and nuanced, unlike the traditional western crime fiction writing which dealt with thefts of valuables and more.

His advice to the budding crime fiction writers –

  • It is important to maintain the taut pace throughout the novel by revisiting the written chapters.
  • Hooks are paramount. So is setting up the atmospherics for an immersive experience for the reader.
  • Short chapters help to keep the readers’ engagement with the novel constant and sustain their interest.
  • Play out the crime. Delve deeper into the psyche of the killer. The moment leading up to the crime is very important. Do relevant research for a solid retrospective crime solving.
  • Relatable and realistic narrative maintaining the flow

To understand more about Crime Fiction Writing, do check the link embedded.

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Amma & Beta

IMG_2050I took the bite. And I took the plunge finally, after dawdling over the decision for months.  Thus I have come to the profound conclusion (of course subject to market risks) that Binge Watching might be good for the brain but is terrible for the body!

Now that we have dispensed with the conclusion at the very beginning, let us proceed further.

Though my son and most have been raving about ‘Sacred Games‘ I was skeptical about taking the plunge. Why you may ask. ‘She is a prude‘, you may conclude. Well, you will understand my predicament better, once you understand my watching patterns.

Once the family has been fed to my satisfaction and Hmm-Husband vacillating between IPL and sleep while Darling-Dotty wonders looking at her mountainous pile of books, ‘what is the aim of all this grind?’, I finally settle with my plate of piping hot food for some serious streaming on my laptop, content with the knowledge that I have seen this day through.

When the very first scene is all blood and gore, naturally you can’t chew on it. Neither food nor the scene. But yesterday was different.  I was in a benevolent mood towards self, as I managed to finish penning a chapter. I was willing to traverse the whole nine yards. ‘Sacred Games‘ was my reward. Like a true blue binge watcher, gave up on beauty sleep and finished the entire series in less than 24 hours. ( Let me gloat Ya, a record for me 😀 )

All through Ashwathama…Sarama…Yayati, I plodded on, pushed myself,  ‘ab aayega twist, ab aageya twist.‘ Only to have the end credits roll. Concerned that I might have missed a vital point somewhere, I called my son to reconfirm the plot. Apart from the marriage of convenience between Bollywood, Mantralaya, Police, and Ganglands, with religious violence thrown as a seasoning, what else was in the offing? ( of course, this is a very simplistic and uni-directional summarisation of the two-threaded plot)

Wasn’t all this already dealt with in Satya or in Black-Friday?

My son answered, ‘Maybe so. I will Google about Satya. Some Manoj had an awesome role na?”

I counted till three and said, ‘Bhiku Mhatre! Manoj Bajpai!’  Sonny said, ‘Mom, my generation has loved the clarity, the sheer honesty with which this ganging up together has been shown in Sacred Games. It is very raw.’

I: ‘You mean this marriage of convenience between powers-to-be and unsavory fringe elements of the society?’

Sonny: ‘ Yup mom. You will take time to get this!’

At that moment it hit me of how paleolithic I was.

But I wasn’t giving it up so easily. ‘At least you wouldn’t categorize me as pusillanimous. Would you? I am open to watching a farrago of content’

I thought I had the last word.

Sonny: ‘Looks like someone is getting ‘Tharoorised

Uff! Me thinks, I won’t go bananas. I gotta ‘scale‘ it down and watch the boy’s head weight.

Who knows what will crash and when?

We are headstrong alright! Mommieee!

Revolt of the Lamebren: Book 1 of the Super-Dome Chronicles – Manjiri Prabhu

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What if you are born with a termination date? Would you be ready to die at sixteen?

I’m in the midst of completing ‘Revolt of the Lamebren: Book 1 of the Super-Dome Chronicles‘ by Manjiri Prabhu, the feisty lady who wears many hats –  Director of PILF, a filmmaker and an author – very adroitly.

This book is a captivating Sci-Fi work, which is a commentary on the present times, where the man in his greed for the rapidly depleting environmental resources, has become oblivious to the repercussions. Is doom in store? Will the man script any changes to his destiny? Can compassion become relevant again?

In the Super-Dome of the future, Altklugs are born with the super-knowledge and efficiency of 6.25 human years, in their one year.
Zinnia is one of the Lamebren, normal humans missing the ace inputs in this world. As she and others like her grapple with their clipped, carefully monitored and suffocating life in the Super-Dome, they face the looming threat of their termination dates.
Startling events and unexpected dark secrets reveal the decay, cruel intentions and repercussions of the Altklug world, making Zinnia realize that it is up to her to challenge their pre-decided destiny.
Through a vortex of extreme adversities and life-threatening danger as well as painful self-realization, Zinnia bravely fights the world of the Altklugs for justice and equality.
Would she and her friends ace the fight for the survival of the Lamebren and beat their termination dates?

That is for you, dear reader to pick a copy, read and decipher.

I recently had the opportunity of asking some questions to Manjiri and this is what she had to say. The answers are precise, incisive and straight from the heart!

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a) Authors are often asked this question, but everyone has their own reasons. Why do you write? What motivates you?

I will say the same thing that I have said elsewhere…I write because it’s a need, 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!

b) How did you decide upon the genre of science fiction for your latest book, ‘Revolt of the Lamebren’, considering you are known as the Agatha Christie of India?

Every story needs to be told differently and every idea needs to unfold in a manner appropriate to its complexity. When I contemplated the world of Altklugs in my mind, it was obviously futuristic and had to be narrated as such. I call it a futuristic reality, hence the treatment is not exactly science fiction, but more a futuristic adventure. So, in a way, my instinct of writing mysteries also played a major role in the writing of this novel.

c) ROL talks of a futuristic world, which is not totally impossible. Did you have to do a lot of research in fleshing out this world? We would love to read some examples of how your research was converted into the world, as depicted in ROL.

It certainly was a tremendous amount of work, which began with the unlearning of what I had always taken for granted. For example, what would trains be called in the future? Or what would video cameras be called? I worked around a lot of combinations and possibilities and finally came up with words like Rattlers for trains, Digi-Eyes for cameras, the Snarl for a forest. Or Dissolution Crypts for Death Chambers. Even the lame-brained children were called Lamebren, lame-brained boy was lamebroy and a lame-brained girl is lamebirl.

The process was very exciting and a huge pleasure when I finally saw the Super-Dome and its inmates, including the Lamebren, take a solid, credible form.

d) Why did you choose women as protagonist and antagonist? Is there a hidden message? Do you think women would rule the world in the future?

Women are powerful beings with untapped power. They have the capacity to rule, create, love and nurture but also an equal capacity to hate, destroy and destruct. A woman has two sides to her and it is up to her which side she wishes to project. By having a female antagonist, I acknowledge this dark side of a woman and her capacity to scheme and be cruel. But by having a female protagonist, I establish more, my faith in her, as she counters and stands against her own dark side.

Yes, definitely women will rule the world in the future. In a way, they already do.

e) Zinnia is a very believable character, a strong, brave and determined person, almost like a role model. Did you draw parallels with what women should be in today’s world?

Zinnia is a lot like my sisters Purnima and Sonia. Strong, brave, intelligent, capable and overly emotional. They will do anything for justice and for what is right. And I do feel that Zinnia is a good example of how to tackle issues. She is a child but yet so mature in her outlook, she cares and loves her friends with abandon, is selfless and possesses a positive, unfailing will. There is a lot to learn from Zinnia.

f) Do you think each of us has a Zinnia within us who is constantly fighting for her independence and identity in this patriarchal and misogynistic world?

I do believe that there is a Zinnia within us, operating at sub-conscious levels, questioning and trying to override established norm. Often subtle.

But most of the times, from what I have seen, we are so conditioned and used to reconciling to a situation because of tradition, parental teachings, other pressures that we forget that the Zinnia in us can actually help us establish a new way of life. But first, it is up to us to acknowledge the need to do so, consciously and then allow the Zinnia in us to question and confront that which goes against our better thinking. But yes, she lives within us.

g) Did you enjoy writing this book more than your crime thrillers? Would you write more of this genre?

I thoroughly enjoy every book I write – its conception, journey, research. I wouldn’t write it otherwise. But yes, The Revolt of the Lamebren provided a unique challenge and it was a completely satisfying experience.  I have two more to write in the trilogy and I am quite looking forward to it.

h)RoL must be read for many reasons. What is that one reason that you think it is?

It should be read to understand that if we aren’t careful, we are going to be heading the Altklug way soon. We already are…My one message is clear – there is no option for love and compassion if we wish to survive as a human race.

i) Are the processes for writing a sci-fi or a destination thriller any different?

Every writer has his or her own process of writing. So do I…I sometimes follow a set pattern, sometimes I allow the pattern to follow my gut instinct. A destination thriller requires meticulous planning and research….I have a responsibility to the destination, the reader as well as myself. In a sci-fi like The Revolt of the Lamebren, since the world is all mine, the responsibility is towards this world, my characters, myself and the reader. I am answerable to my own creation. I believe therein lies the difference. Otherwise largely, plot development etc go through similar dissections and journeys.

j) What do you enjoy reading? Does it help your writing? Would you recommend the same to other writers?

I used to enjoy reading mystery novels and have devoured classics but nowadays, to be really honest, nothing seems to satisfy me. Perhaps the writer in me is too critical, perhaps I am just plain bored with what is being written nowadays. But I have yet to read something that will really excite me. I long for that headiness, that excitement of reading a book non-stop, through meals, throughout the night and which will leave me enraptured at the end of it. I haven’t read such a  book in a long, long time.  But I will find it soon – I am very hopeful, that this phase is temporary and that one super book will find me too!

k) You have done many things in your professional life – films, books, events. Looking back, what do you think excites you the most? Did straddling across so many art forms aid in your creative evolution?

It all depends on what mood I am in. Writing certainly excites me but so does a film. Organizing a Litfest is really hard work and the enjoyment hits after it is over.  On a serious note, though, organizing a Litfest does give me tremendous satisfaction.

But I believe that it is my traveling and writing that has really been responsible for any creative evolution in me. The constant need to seek something out there in the world and try to apply and merge those experiences, ideas, and thoughts into my world of imagination, is a continuous, heady process which requires my hundred percent involvement. That connect with unknown landscapes and cultures, the challenging of boundaries and comfort zones is what keeps me clued in, alert and energized and I feel is the source of all my creative energy.

l) PILF is now an established name. How has been your journey as The Director of PILF?

Challenging, extremely satisfying and exciting. I am very proud of what PILF represents, its uniqueness and its potential.

m) Given the increase in the number of literature festivals, do you think they are losing relevance? What according to you is the main objective, the essence of such a festival?

In my mind, a literature festival has to create an apt platform for writers and creative professionals to meet and create new readers and audience. It has to be aspirational and inspirational. There has to be a definite takeaway for the audience. I wouldn’t say there are too many litfests. How can we, when there are so many authors and only some select few get represented at these litfests? A litfest would only lose its relevance when its focus shifts from writers to something more commercial.

n) What is your future vision for the festival?

Clear and vibrant – a better festival, not bigger; a festival which would never lose sight of its real goal; a festival with a heart and a platform for writers and creative practitioners at all levels of their careers. But mostly I would love to create a world of storybooks and magic and a hub of knowledge and creative energy.

o) RoL was your 10th book and that surely makes you a very senior author. What is your view on the future of reading/writing in India?

Every person I meet is a writer. Stores are cluttered with books. I don’t even know if these books will ever be read or sold. I don’t even know if the books I write will ever be read. But I still write – research and travel and put in the time, energy, money and sit in solitude for months to write a 90000-word book, which I have no clue will ever be read. Why do I do it? Why do so many others? Because of an inherent need to share and express something – ideas, message, something. It’s a crazy need – regardless of the future of the book.

I look at these two as parallel entities -the future of books and writers writing because they believe in it, like two separate islands with nothing to do with each other. I believe that these two islands are quite capable of surviving on their own in the long haul.

p) Given the current pressure on marketing books, is a writer expected to be a complete package? Is writing, only half the deal? What pitfalls should a novice avoid?

Certainly – today a writer is expected to be a writer, an actor, a salesperson, a spokesperson, a host, a magician! Sometimes publishers expect it, sometimes authors go out of their way to draw attention.

A novice should just enjoy writing his novel for a refreshing change, at least his/her first book before he gets sucked into the quagmire called promotions!

q) Is popular and accessible writing far removed from deeper nuanced writing? Or is there a bridge joining the two?

For me, there are only two kinds of books – good books and bad books. Good books can be popular, serious, of any genre, multi-layered, accessible etc. Bad books are just plain bad. No matter who writes them. They have no caste or creed. There is no bridge between the good and bad ones.

r) Finally, what would you want the world to remember you as? Manjiri, the filmmaker, the author or the Director of PILF and other festivals?

Manjiri, the Author!

 

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