BLF2020 | Body and Soul – Vasudhendra with Rheea Mukherjee

The title ‘Body and Soul’ sets us off on our own accord of a journey of questioning and wondering about the entire interpretation of life and afterward. The writers present on stage, Vasudhendra and Rheea, have also had their share of conquest regarding the same and is reflective in their works.

Vasudhendra is a well-known Kannada author with more than 50 publications and 60+ awards to his credit. The publications include short stories, a collection of essays, novels, and translations. And Rheea Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth and was shortlisted for the TATA Literature Live First Book Award 2019. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Scroll.in, Electric Literature, Out of Print Magazine, and Southern Humanities Review among others.

Rheea started the conversation by admitting that she was quite confused about putting into words the body and soul and how to pull off an entire discussion on it! However, Vasudhendra came to her aid and presented his idea about body and soul with an analogy. It goes like this; he said that the soul is like the stones of a Hoysala temple that make up the entire temple. And just like the whole temple collapses when a single stone moves, the body is non-existent without the soul, is what he exclaims, to which Rheea agrees.

Vasudhendra further added that people will connect with friends and society when they have conversations beyond just a body’s structure. He gives an instance from his life. Community and the family questioned his body language and conduct because he was more on the feminine side. He said that it was instilled in him to like girls and walk in a masculine way. After years he realized it was so wrong to force the body in a way it does not want to behave. He addresses his body as another identity and says that it does not like to be subdued by the people’s norms. And that, people who love will always look beyond the body, that is, the soul.

To which, Rheea added that as a girl, she was always taught to cover her chest while stepping outside and she subconsciously carries the thought even now. She pointed out that just like a woman’s chest is objectified, many other things regarding the body are.

The conversation next steered towards the subject of freedom to express sexual desires. Vasudhendra points out a courtesan in Tanjore by the name of ‘Muddupalani.’ Muddupalani wrote a poem called ‘Radhika Santvana’ (in Telugu) where a woman’s sexual desires are expressed. This work was later republished and was banned for being vulgar during the British reign. Vasudhendra expressed his concern about how was expressing one’s desire vulgar? It’s just the needs of a person which is beautiful in its own way.

A lot of Vasudhendra’s work revolves around the LGBT community, and while he was writing his work, he found it extremely difficult to find English equivalent words in regional languages. Rheea wonders why is it so? Vasudhendra says that transgender people have been addressed in history because the community was aware that they existed. But gay/lesbian related words do not exist because society did not know their existence until two years from now! He admits to having used a term equivalent to ‘queer,’ which is not a very respectable one.

Rheea added to the point, saying that families work in a role-based way. Like, the husband is the provider, and the wife is the caretaker. Such predefined notions have made society very rigid and have assigned duties even before they realize their identity. These things have led us as a community to not see beyond the horizon.

They concluded on a note that nobody needs to change to fit in. And we can be anything when we step out of a certain mindset and set ourselves free. Vasudhendra quoted this as his concluding line of the conversation, “If I can understand Shakespeare, you can understand me as well.”

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | The Last White Hunter – Joshua Mathew with Tony V Francis

This session was with Joshua Matthew, who penned down The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari, the biography of Donald Anderson, son of author and hunter Kenneth Anderson. Tony V Francis, a novelist and Media & Broadcasting professional with over 19 years of experience in the Indian Media industry, was very curious about knowing Joshua’s experiences throughout the journey of writing the book.

Joshua Matthew said the idea behind this book was to tell the extraordinary story of Donald and capture the changes in the jungles of South India and Bangalore during his lifetime. He wanted to shine a light on lesser-known aspects of Donald and the city’s past. He mentioned that all he had was Don’s story and his purpose was to tell it exactly the way it was, without any filters.

When Tony asked Joshua about his thought process when he started this project and how difficult it was for him to publish the book, Joshua talked about how he met Donald and accompanied him to his favourite jungles. He said he knew Don for 6 years, and during those years, Don gave him a fantastic collection of photographs and negatives starting from the late 1800s to the modern day. “I realized that nobody would be interested if I had just published the photographs. So I decided to tell his fascinating story and make the photographs a part of it.”, Joshua added. 

Speaking about the struggles of getting his book published, Joshua mentioned that the title and the story made it very challenging for him to find publishers. He said whenever he approached a publisher, it was always about the left and right way. The right side was about focusing on the right things like story and content. The left side was actually about building an audience for this book. So, he used to tell the publishers that if they would care about the publishing, he would take care of the selling. “The book took me 6 years because of Don’s health and other issues. So, I thought when the book was ready, I would already have an audience ready.” He added.

Later, the discussion revolved around Joshua sharing his experiences and conversations with Donald Anderson. He pointed out that his discussions with Don never really went in the way he wanted. He said he understood that a systematic or structured approach of asking questions and getting answers from Don wouldn’t work well. “It was difficult to get better insights from him before he got friendly with us. He wasn’t very open to talk and explain things. So we used to record his words secretly.” Joshua recalled.

Tony also shared some compelling lines from the forward of the book where T.N.A. Perumal, a wildlife photographer from Bangalore mentioned “Don and I are very similar. We are naturalists and the only difference was that I picked up a camera while he picked up a gun.” Joshua responded to this by quoting a few other words of Perumal where the latter once said whether it was hunting or photography, one had to understand and track the animals’ behaviour in the same way.

Towards the end, Tony emphasized the role of Aaya (Domestic help) who supported Don and mentioned that the stories she told were a big influence on his life. Joshua also talked about a few more interesting things about Don, and the colonial life in Bangalore during those times.

About the Author: Sai Pradeep is an aspiring writer from Visakhapatnam who recently published his first collection of poetry, All the Lights Within Us. He is working as a content writer in Bangalore. He currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Mythology via Women – Madhavi S Mahadevan, Rashmi Terdal and Samhita Arni with Mani Rao

Mythology is long-lived, and its retelling is spread across in various formats, from poems to fictional novels. It’s the second day of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020, and we had a panel of women writers who have written around mythical characters and stories.

Mani Rao, an author who featured in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, was the moderator. In the panel, we had Madhavi; she’s a book critic and writer of children’s stories and short stories. She has written two books based on the characters of the Mahabharata. Next, we had Samhita Arni, known for her books ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Prince.’  Then we had Rashmi Terdal, journalist and writer, well known for her translation of ‘Uttara Kaanda’ by S. L. Bhyrappa.

Mani began the conversation by asking the ladies what led them towards writing around mythology and mythical characters.

Madhavi responded that she had heard the stories since her childhood, but it’s only now she realizes how bleak they are. She feels these tales not only need a retelling but a reinvention from a women’s perspective because the role of the women is undermined in the epics. She gives an instance from one of her books, the central character named Madhavi is a surrogate mother. And this story dates back to the Mahabharata times. It was an incident of commercial surrogacy, which is a huge business now.

Samhita shared her view that she had always heard mythical stories that glorify only men’s achievements. If we want to challenge our system for a change, both men and women should join hands and not just either of us. Thus, it is essential to bring forth victories and stories of women from the legacy to influence the future and current generations.

Rashmi said that the versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata that she had read were abbreviated and subdued from a women’s perspective. The female voice is kept submissive and mellow, whereas the men’s heroics are glorified. These things drew her towards writing on the mythical stories from the perspective of the women characters.

Mani asked the panel if their being women influenced their writing and if it would be different for a male writer?

Madhavi said that her being a woman has definitely helped her get to know her book’s character, ‘Madhavi’ more precisely. Samhita said that she was subconsciously driven since she is a woman even though she never wanted her gender to be influential. Rashmi adds to her previous point that Ramayan has always been obsessed with the duties bestowed upon women. She gives an instance where king Dasharatha reminds Kaushalya of her priorities (husband, children, and kinsmen). Then she jumps to another example where Sita leaves the Dharma-Sabha where her exile’s decision took place. Ram was disturbed after Sita left and expressed his concern to his minister, which is highlighted in the book ‘Uttara Kaanda’. She appreciates the writer for giving Sita the voice she deserved and that we need more such writing.

“A woman rejected by a man can cross oceans, but a man rejected by a woman cannot do anything.” – Ram’s words to his minister from the book ‘Uttara Kaanda.’

They concluded the session with a note that Sita was liberated when she left the Dharma-Sabha, and this is just one character from the mythology. There are great stories of women who rose above everything that needed to be told and written about.

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | When the Headline Is the Story – Amandeep Sandhu, Neena Gopal and Nirmala Govindrajan With Aruna Nambiar

Writer and editor, Aruna Nambiar was in conversation with Neena Gopal, Amandeep Sahu and Nirmala Govindraj. A journalist for thirty-seven years, Neena Gopal is also the author of ‘The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi’. Amandeep Sahu has authored two novels, of which ‘Roll of Honour’ was nominated for The Hindu Prize 2013. Journalist and social sector documentarian Nirmala Govindarajan’s new novel ‘Taboo’ has been shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize, 2020. As Aruna pointed out, the one common thing among these three authors was that their books were all inspired from their real life experiences and the subject of their books have been burning the headlines for months together. 

The three authors then spoke of their experiences that shaped their lives and writing.

Neena Gopal went on to talk about the persona of Rajiv Gandhi, his last interview with her and the happenings of the day when he was assassinated. She also briefed on consequences that followed. Aruna also asked her of the various conspiracy theories around Rajiv’s assassination. Neena thought that although the blame was pinned on the LTTE there was more to it than what met the eye. She spoke of how Rajiv overturned every decision that was made by Indira Gandhi and how it was a grave mistake to send Indian troops to Sri Lanka. She also opined that Rajiv was probably tricked by Jayewardene who used Indian forces for his own political ambitions. She mentioned how all information about LTTE’s role in the assassination of Rajiv came from Ranasinghe Premadasa and SITs mess up with Sivanesan’s arrest in Bangalore. She also spoke of Rajiv’s meeting with General Zia, the back-channeled peace talk with Pakistan and that Mossad and CIA did not see India as a friendly nation. Speaking of Rahul Gandhi, she said he has a long way to go and agrees with Aruna that he shouldn’t be referred to as a ‘young’ leader anymore. 

Amandeep Sahu spoke of Punjab, his family, his personal experiences as a boy in the midst of a political hellfire.When asked about how some paint him as a supporter of the Khalistani movement, Amandeep explained that it’s the work of trolls. Amandeep has been very vocal in his support for the ongoing farmers protest and that has irked some right wing supporters who call him pro-Khalistani. However, the translation of his novel ‘Roll of Honour’ in Punjabi titled ‘Gwah De Fanah Hon Ton Pehlan’ has been received well by all factions of Punjab. This is despite the fact that  the book is critical of the political machinery and various religious institutions of that state. Speaking of the farmers’ protest, Amandeep says that it has brought Haryana and Punjab along with the various ideologies within Punjab. He also went on to explain how the centre cannot arbitrate on a state subject. Amandeep insisted how with his writings he wanted to change the current political narrative that demonizes Punjab.

Nirmala then spoke of how she first came across child labour, sex trafficking in Odisha and rural Jharkhand and how that changed her life for ever. She also spoke of her experience with young women in Ooty and Kolkata who were rescued from sex trade, the developmental work being done by various NGOs in these region and how the individuals she met in these places inspired  her work. According to her no political party stepped into these areas and the plight of the tribal people she worked with had changed her opinion about reservation.

Aruna who had recently read Nirmala’s Taboo said she expected the book to be sombre and bleak given the seriousness of the subject. She was surprised to find it rather whimsical and that it made her smile. Nirmala in response said that the idea of writing fiction is to move away from reality to create the alternate reality. Also in her opinion, these girls and women, despite being survivors exude so much positivity that one can write nothing but a whimsical tale of them. When asked about how some of her characters seemed to have been inspired from the current political landscape, Nirmala said that her writings and creations are reflections of what she sees across the country. So her work is a satire on the political state of the country and not merely on sex trafficking. Nirmala also mentioned that her next  book is also a women-centric subject.Her advice for anyone who aspires to write such sensitive subjects is that they must feel strongly about it to be able to talk about it.

BLF2020 | Language, Literature and Translation – Vivek Shanbhag with Karthik Venkatesh

Language and literature are common to everyone, and yet they stand out in the multitude of forms they come in. The session with Vivek Shanbhag and Karthik Venkatesh is a beautiful dissection of language, content and the magic it brings to its audience.

Vivek Shanbhag is a popular Kannada writer who has published five short story collections, three novels and two plays. Vivek also engrosses himself in translation, and editing. Moderating this session with Vivek is Karthik Venkatesh, a writer whose work lies in the realms of history, language, literature, and education.

Going all the way to the beginning, Karthik nudges Vivek to share how it all began. “Fond memories of his grandfather, a teacher, and Yakshagana”, Vivek says. Vivek began his literary exploration when he was a teenager, with Kannada. His reading habits panned magazines, and often brought out many questions from an inquisitive young Vivek. The second one of course, was Yakshagana. Vivek’s thought processes and influence on his literary interests were pretty much shaped by the art form which typically uses stories from mythology. Yakshagana trained Vivek to look at it as art, as one that describes and helps one imagine a complete scene around a lone dancer on stage. The avatars, and the artistes, though finite, the stories that Yakshagana brought to life were aplenty! The same story, every time that it was retold, brought in a very different depiction of the episode, akin to his grand-aunt’s storytelling, Vivek recounts. How the same story begins at a kitchen, when in a kitchen, or someone’s broken ankle intrigued Vivek.

Although educated to be an Engineer, Vivek’s interests still lay with literature, he answers Karthik. May be a page or two for writers today to relate, a day job as an engineer frees the writer in him. There are no rules, or deadlines, or pressure that a literary career may bring, but is used more like a release.

Karthik’s next question in tow was on the long-standing debate of how non-English speakers could write in English. Although Vivek writes in Kannada, a similar logic applies here, since Vivek comes from a household that speaks Konkani. A polyglot himself, Vivek attributes his ability to write in Kannada since he studied it as his first language in school. He brings it back to his reference of Yakshagana, and how every writer is at awe at what is written only after the deed, and the surprises are what keep it going. He acknowledges how all this is possible only when the writer knows the language, the ebb and flow of emotions and language is only possible when there is a strong hold on vocabulary. He also talks about how, vernacular language writing stands an advantage over English, since it is a language that the common person would understand. English, even today, is not universal in its use, or even in its unity with the daily life of a stranger, and therefore, may not do much justice. The usage of ‘paroksha’, a metaphor, could be extremely local to the culture that may get lost in translation.

While Vivek justifies this, he also recounts how a translated material from early in his career seemed to nullify its purpose. Using words that meant ‘training’ or ‘machinery’ in Kannada, when the experience associated with it was in English, sound superficial, or even artificial, he says. Not just the vocabulary of a language, but also the experience within that makes writing more personal and relatable.

Speaking of such experiences, Karthik brings to the fore the kind of literary movements that have taken place in the past. He recounts that nothing of the sort has happened in the recent past and questions if such a need arises today. Vivek believes that a movement may be helpful to pan the spotlight over to a certain direction, and yet, it remains a spotlight. The presence of the movement, as seen in the past, may throw relevant, brilliant writing into a dark corner while the focus only stays on some.

Karthik throws light on one such movement, ‘Nayiwali Hindi’, where the focus is on the ‘Hinglish’ writing today. Could there be a similar one for Kannada? Vivek negates it. A language like Kannada has seen a very successful amalgamation of languages in its literary history. In the works of legendary writers like Da Ra Bendre, we see Marathi words, and in some others, we see a whole different dialect! That, he says, is what makes it unique. The experience and exposure of a writer to a language is what makes a writing of a certain kind, and that, is no issue at all.

As an editor, Vivek says, that it excites him to be the first to read many different works. It also brings to him a new age of young writers. Yet, but not with much remorse, he comments on the lack of time.

Literature and translations, have humbled him. To work on a translation means going through multiple works in languages he had once thought he’d known, and that adds to the whole experience and the magic that writing brings him.

About the Author: A believer in the subtlety of magic in everyday living, and Shobhana seeks the same from the books she reads, and the poetry she writes. Immerses herself in music, literature, art, and looking out the window with some coffee. She curates her poetry, and occasional verses in her blog Thinking; inking. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | The Zoo in My Backyard – Usha Rajagopalan with Tony V Francis

Keshava the Monkey, The Devil Family, and an exciting world of animals made up the conversation for this illuminating session. Usha Rajagopalan is a Bangalore based author who spoke passionately about the contents of her recent book, The Zoo in My Backyard.

Tony Francis interviewed Rajagopalan in this fun session. He began the session by commenting on how this book would make him a better father if his kids read them. He asked Rajagopalan to enlighten the audience about her life.

Rajagopalan had five siblings and belonged to a South Indian joint family. Her father had served in the IFS. He would bring back injured animals home, and Usha and her siblings would wait eagerly for him to return. Every time he came home, he’d surprise them with a new animal. Usha hadn’t realised that her family was unique until her friends pointed it out to her when they recalled seeing her in her backyard with a Black Monkey on their shoulders.

Usha had written this book to thank her father. She used to, initially, write for the Deccan Herald, about trysts she had with the animals she was brought up with. While looking back at her upbringing for her write-ups, it was then that she realised the unique upbringing her father had brought her up in. When Puttenahalli lake, a lake close to Usha’s house, was going extinct, her father’s voice in her head encouraged her to gather people and attempt to save the lake.

Tony Francis asked Usha why her family was called the “Devil Family”. Phantom comics was the inspiration behind this. One of the author’s brothers wanted a pet wolf, and her father instead, brought home a Rajapalayam Hound. She then recalled instances of other engagements with animals that seemed to have given her family the title of the ‘Devil Family’. Once she had gone to a party, where a little girl had yelled out loud to her mother, “Amma look, the devil family has come!”

Usha Rajagopalan then read an excerpt from her book. Her voice was sweet and she used different tones to suit the light-heartedness of her book. Listening to Usha’s narration of her book, Tony Francis marvelled that Usha has the mind of a child. Usha, responded excitedly, saying that she likes going into the world of her characters. Characters like the bear, whom Usha thought was grumpy, and Keshava the monkey help give her novel an anthropomorphic element. Her story-telling humanises the animals she grew up with, making her story more charismatic.

“How do you deal with attachment to pets, especially knowing that they’ll go away from your life eventually?” asked Francis. A lot of families choose to not have pets because of the potential for heartbreak. But as a parent, Usha realised, keeping pets helps gave children a sense of responsibility. We love our parents too, even when we know they’ll not be a part of our life anymore. Having a pet is just like that.

Usha recited another excerpt from her book, that brought our attention to Usha’s personality as a child. She was very argumentative as a child, and the paragraph she reads out brought out this trait of hers. Growing up, she learned a lot of bird calls. She has learnt different styles of “Kooos” to communicate with birds. She read out another excerpt from her book, that highlighted how she learned to communicate with a Cuckoo bird in her backyard.

Usha’s books have received praise from children of age seven to adults who are 80 years of age. Francis called the book a classic, and remarked on its timelessness. The session was quite heart-warming and made one think of their own childhood experiences with pets and animals.

About the Author: Anusha is a final year undergraduate student pursuing English Hons at Christ University. She can usually be found expressing her thoughts in the genres of social concerns and satires, often accompanied with a cup of chai. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Grandparents’ Bag of Stories – Sudha Murty with Andaleeb Wajid

“I don’t write to please somebody. I write because I enjoy it” says Sudha Murty, an engineer, social worker, and one of the most prominent writers of India.

The first session of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020 witnessed an interesting conversation between Sudha Murty and Andaleeb Wajid. Andaleeb Wajid is a Bangalore-based writer whose famous works include The Tamanna Trilogy, The Crunch Factor, My Brother’s Wedding, and More Than Just Biryani.

The session circled around Sudha Murty’s latest book, Grandparents’ bag of stories. Andaleeb started the discussion by asking about the inspiration behind writing this book. Sudha Murty said, when the covid lockdown began in March, she was wondering what she would have done during this pandemic if she was a kid. Because she grew up in a village, she thought of her grandparents and how they would have told her a lot of stories. “I remembered I wrote a book ‘Grandma’s Bag of Stories’, and thought why don’t I write a sequel to it!” she recollected.

She pointed out that it took just 2-3 weeks to finish the book. While expressing her love towards the book, she compared its stories with pearls in a necklace and grandparents to the thread that holds the pearls together. She also added that she cherishes writing for children and young adults and recalled the sweetest comments she received from children.

When Andaleeb asked Sudha about her favourite choice between writing fiction and writing non-fiction, Sudha replied “When I was young, I used to enjoy fiction. Now, I don’t. For children, it has to be fiction. But for young adults, I prefer non-fiction as I always feel that life is stranger than fiction. In fiction, you imagine certain things, and it is directly proportional to the capacity of your imagination. When it comes to non-fiction, there are so many things that you cannot even imagine. There are no limits. Also, one can learn a lot from non-fiction and real life.”

Sudha threw some light on the kind of books she read in her childhood. She said she did not have much choice as there was no electricity or television in her village. Reading was the only entertainment in those times. She said she was more into epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, further acknowledging that it helped her in writing mythology in later years.

Speaking about current generation kids, Sudha said, making their reading sessions more interactive is the best advice she could give to make them enjoy literature.

When she was asked about the closest book to her, Sudha mentioned that “House of cards” could be the closest one as she spent 15 years thinking about it and was not easily convinced with the output. “I write until I convince myself with my work” she added.

The session ended with Sudha Murty announcing her upcoming work which is going to be the second book of The Gopi Diaries Series. She plans to release it in January 2021.

About the Author: Sai Pradeep is an aspiring writer from Visakhapatnam who recently published his first collection of poetry, All the lights within us. He is working as a content writer in Bangalore. He currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Romancing the Black Panther – Rohini Nilekani with Usha KR

The session began with a screening of a short film where Rohini Nilekani shared her experience looking for a Black Panther in the Kabini forest, Karnataka. She made us fall in love with this panther, which she lovingly calls Blacky, that has an irresistible pair of yellow eyes and evenly black skin. The film consisted of so many stunning photographs of this panther clicked by various people. She took us on this trip to the forest, describing its vastness and beauty. She explained to us why she describes this experience as romancing the black panther by defining what romance meant to her. She delved deep into her experiences in this forest space, given the numerous amount of times she has been there. We understood the way in which this experience has given her a sense of peace and also made her introspect. She connected her ideas with that of some interesting figures like Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy. This film then shifted its focus to environmental sustainability, conservation, and biodiversity. She described this journey of looking for Blacky as symbolic of engaging with the natural world.

Usha KR, the moderator, led the session with a narration of the poem ‘Ithaka’ by C.P. Cavafy and linked it to Nilekani’s experience. Nilekani spoke of her motivation to engage with the natural world and motivated the audience to introspect too. She also introduced us to a book called ‘Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas’ by Radhika Govindrajan, which deals with how people create stories about animals, and their relationship with these animals.

Usha then steered the discussion towards the topic of climate change and its urgency. Nilekani examined this problem faced by the entire world and presented us with solutions and answers that could help turn this situation around. This led to a discussion on the economic model in India and how it should (and can) be restructured to help protect the planet from further damage. She spoke with great confidence in the youth population who she considers to be cautious about their carbon count.

On being asked to describe her approach to such important topics for children’s literature, Nilekani shared the problems faced by her as a writer for children. This included her difficulty in trying not to sound too didactic, or indulge in writing down to them. She then prompted the audience to engage in more literature because she believes it is the only way to develop critical thinking which leads to introspection. She also gave many book suggestions for children as well as adults to further engage with ecological aspects. The session ended with an interactive question-answer round.

About the Author: Immersed in the process of unlearning and relearning different values and ideas, Nanditha Murali chooses writing as her medium to approach the world. She is currently pursuing her English (Honours) degree at Christ University, Bangalore. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bangalore – Meera Iyer, Menaka Raman and Shweta Taneja with Karthik Venkatesh

Bangalore! To a local, the city is one that carefully caresses the history it comes with, and throws the demanding, fast paced world of start-ups, and tech parks, and a growing population to the mix. Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bangalore is a book curated with short stories that revolve around this beautiful city.

The panel consists of Meera Iyer, a writer who deals with history, heritage, science, food, and environment among other things, Menaka Raman, a children’s book author, columnist and a communications professional, and Shweta Taneja, an award-winning speculative fiction author. Bringing them altogether is Karthik Venkatesh, the moderator today who is also a writer who dabbles in history, language, literature, and education.

The book is a collection of 11 stories, that touch upon the history of the city through different periods of time. All stories come with a fun side to them and is aimed to bring in awe around the history of the city, Meera says. Often consumed with dates and wars, history today is viewed only within the pages of a textbook, seldom looking at what happened in the streets of the city. Growing up, Meera says, she has grown with books from the west that very clearly talk about the streets of London and has come across only a few of them that illustrate her own city which is why this book came about.

Through the multiple little stories, all set at different times and places in Bangalore, such as those of Whitefield or Shivajinagar or Begur, the book aims to drive home a bit of pride from each of these episodes. Even though Menaka is in Bangalore for just about a few years, she was able to capture the essence of the area she lives in. While newer areas today boast of glitzy malls, and busy tech-parks, each of them has their own history with the same, even some less popular stories of Winston Churchill’s romance!

Similarly, Shweta has been in the city for only about a decade now and brings in the perspective of migrant population moving into Bangalore for hundreds of years today. This culmination of cultures and bringing spaces alive is where Shweta’s story lies. Another story on Begur combines the history of the inscription where the city’s name is first used, and has been brought into a story, Meera says.

The book boasts of a myriad of writers, all charged with the same brief, bringing a host of stories that pan through timelines and situations, and even protagonists. They aim to bring history of the ordinary lives of citizens just as known as the others.

“How do we keep up with understanding history”, Karthik asks. The ladies in the panel offer a great perspective. From talking to children about grandparents and great-grandparents, to exploring the city, tapping the natural curiosity of children, and even trying to redefine the timelines around what history could be, could just be the key to bringing in the tiniest of details from the past relevant today.

About the Author: A believer in the subtlety of magic in everyday living, and Shobhana seeks the same from the books she reads, and the poetry she writes. Immerses herself in music, literature, art, and looking out the window with some coffee. She curates her poetry, and occasional verses in her blog Thinking; inking. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Club You to Death- Anuja Chauhan with Niret Alva

It was an animated conversation between Niret, an award-winning television journalist, producer; and Anuja, his wife and the author of five best-selling novels who moved from advertising into writing; they have 3 children plus a few dogs and cats. Niret opened with a question on how the lockdown has been, to which Anuja quipped that the lockdown made her want to murder people!

The Writing Process

Niret asked Anuja how she takes her writing from concept to completion. “It is lonely, I go into a cave”, said Anuja, and added that she does a lot of chatting with people to get inspiration. The “percolation process” is when it all comes together.

Inspiration for Her Characters

Niret asked if she gets worried that her family might unearth characters which are based on them. Her immediate response was, “No, people don’t recognize themselves”. She disguises her characters so that the resemblance gets blurred out. For instance, a cook she knows becomes the character of a megalomaniacal drug lord.

The Changing Genre

Anuja started writing romance and is now shifting to the whodunit genre. Niret’s poser to Anuja was on how this shift occurred. Anuja revealed that she got feedback that romance does not exist in real life. It made her think, “Is it with rose-tinted glasses that I’m writing?”. It led to her altering course a bit, in order to give romance along with something more realistic. 

Club you to Death

Niret read out a blurb from her book Club you to Death, to be out in the summer of 2021. Anuja revealed that it is set in a posh club and hence ‘club’ in the title.

Anuja then read out an excerpt from her book – a little was not enough and Niret urged her on to read more. This led to a very interesting segment of the session which built up the mystery and the anticipation of her book. The book is about privilege – class, caste, social hierarchies, hypocrisy.

Balance is important, it is the key to everything, said Anuja. By balance, she meant a mix of humor, depth, frivolousness. She expressed her satisfaction in having good critics in her house, who egg her on to do a lot of deleting and thus help refine her books.

Is ACP Bhavani Singh here to stay?

Quizzed on whether ACP Bhavani Singh would continue as a character in a series, Anuja said she loves ‘cozy crime’. Hence, ACP Bhavani is an old-school character; people love opening up to him, so she sees a lot of scope in continuing with his character.

Anuja went on to say that she is a huge fan of Agatha Christie; there is a dedicated bookshelf at her home for Agatha Christie’s books. The fact she loves about such old-school books is, “in two sentences they bring a person alive and they pull the killer out of a hat”. Anuja likes books that one can get engrossed in, sitting by the fire, sipping hot chocolate.

Lockdown Reactions

Anuja admitted being selfish in saying that lockdown has been a good time for her. It has been a blessing for her, a time when she could get into her escape hatch and be there.

Her Advice to Aspiring Writers

  1. Write every day, make it a discipline (Anuja writes about 1000 words a day).
  2. Avoid starting with an outline and two chapters, then getting your publishers approval before starting the next chapters. Let your writing flow.
  3. Don’t be too hard on yourself by keeping a critic’s hat on always. This hampers creativity.
  4. Read, read, read – across genres, different languages. It increases the breadth of your knowledge.

Writing Screenplay vs Books

Anuja spent 17 years in advertising, which is a world that demands quick creativity with boundaries. Whereas writing books is the other side that gives complete freedom of fiction writing. Screenplay is in between – you get more freedom than in advertising and is a ‘different crayon box’ of writing, music, visuals coming together.

How does Anuja get her cues for books?

For Battle for Bittora, it was a visual cue. Sometimes, ‘what if’ becomes a cue, for e.g. ‘What if a girl is lucky for cricket’ was the cue for The Zoya Factor. Anuja went on to add that she desists from getting down to the last level detail of anything which can stifle the reader’s imagination.

Inspiration for ACP Bhavani Singh – was it Miss Marple?

Not exactly, said Anuja. It was more of her ‘mama’ in the police; maybe a glimmer of Miss Marple could have come into the character. ACP Bhavani is from the ‘cozy’ genre, old-school.

Would Anuja write a book inspired by Remington Steele?

The mention of Remington Steele made Niret get nostalgic. He mentioned that he was a great fan of the series, loved it when Pierce Brosnan became James Bond and wishes the series would come alive on OTT again. Anuja added that she would love to write inspired by the series.

The clock had ticked by, it was now time to close; the session ended on a note that, this being the third time for Anuja and the first for Niret, they both had a great time!

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog, talks about her experiences in her YouTube channel Usha’s LENS and puts up photos on Instagram. She is also a software professional and a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.