29 March, 2015

#SpecialFeature :: #Interview with Veena Nagpal, #Author of The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi

*** Special Feature - March 2015 ***

A Quick Recap

About the Author

She was ten when she was caught reading in the bathroom late into the night.  Her mother banned her from reading ‘story books’ for a whole month. She decided if she couldn’t read, she’d write her own stories. That night in a naval apartment in the then city of Bombay, Veena Nagpal’s passion for writing was born. 
She now lives in a small house with her husband and lots of plants in a suburb of New Delhi. 
The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi is Veena’s third novel to be published. She has also penned four books for children and numerous short stories. Her two previous novels are, Karmayogi (Jaico) and Compulsion (Sterling).
Her four children’s books are, Adventures in Sapace and Time Travellers (IBH), Smuggler’s Isle (Hemkunt), Tenderella and the FoFs (EEP) and Garbie Garbyhog – The Worm That Wanted To Fly (EEP). 

Contact the Author

Fun Facts about the Author

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
As a ten year old, studying in Bombay’s St. Anne’s School, I had a favorite shop – a small bookshop (I forget the name) opposite Kailash Parbat in Strand. 
Every day I would collect my Toffee money and the moment I had enough I’d head for this shop and glibly lie to the owner “I’m buying a gift for my friend and if she has already read this book, may I exchange it tomorrow?” 
A knowing smile and a nod was his usual answer. I’d rush home with the book, devour it the whole evening and come back to exchange it next morning.
Maybe reading became an obsession, maybe I neglected my studies but one day my mother 
That day I decided if I could not read storybooks I’d write my own.

What inspires you?
Life is full of such bewildering perplexities, seething with so many unanswered questions. Writing is my way of finding some meaning in all the disorder and uncertainty… 
It nurtures me, heals me.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
The driving force behind all my fiction has been a simple but niggling question – Why? 
In the case of  UMZQ…
Since my childhood, I have seen – and still see – some kind of instinctive, atavistic calcified-over-the-centuries hostile vibe between the two major communities in India and I have always wondered why. Especially since I didn’t feel this hostility in myself. In fact I had some really close friends from the other community during my college days and even kept rozas with them – that I suppose was motivated more by the anticipation of the yummy food that would follow.
The badgering ‘why’ continues to plague – UMZQ is perhaps an expression of that aggravation.

Is there some story tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Oh yes. I’m sure every writer has some half forgotten work in the recesses of her desk. 
I have a novel that I had named ‘Rebels Without Cause,’ and a children’s book tentatively titled ‘A Toy Named Creaky.’
Somehow I never did get down to showing them to anyone.

Tell us about your writing process.
The kind of writing I have been doing lately requires a tremendous amount of research – so that’s the starting point of most of my work. I think I spend as much time in research and in mulling over ideas as I do in the actual writing.
I also like to get a detailed plot – including place maps where I need them - down on paper before I start writing – somewhat like a sculptor likes to get his armature right before working with the clay. Of course as the work progresses, things change – sometimes a character takes charge and tweaks the plot into a whole new direction. Sometimes a character just fades away into oblivion right before my eyes and sometimes a totally new character gets born… a most fascinating process actually!
I like to leave things on the back burner for at least six months – once I’ve finished with a novel I like to put it away, start on something new. I find this ‘maturing’ period very necessary. It makes me see flaws that hitherto I have been blind to. And so begins the rewriting…

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
My favorite scene in ‘The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi,’ is almost towards the end when the two estranged lovers meet, emotions peak and love transcends. 
The scene is my favorite because it is an example of good writing where conflict, emotion and suspense are expressed in simple and heartfelt writing.
I am giving an EXCERPT BELOW:

Incongruous in faded jeans and a large brown shawl over her shoulders and head, covering her hair a little unkempt, Zeenat stood, a wistful forlorn figure, next to Chashma Devi. His heart stopped. She looked so ill! What had happened to her?
Suddenly she noticed Ajay. Wrapping the shawl closer around her thin shoulders, she ran down the five steps from the platform.
They clung to each other. 
“What have you done to yourself? You’ve grown so thin!”
“Ajay! Ajay! I love you so…”
Words trailed away unwanted as with his fingers entwined within her thick black curls, he pulled her head to himself and crushed her rose bud mouth with his.
Above them, Chashma Devi rapturously reached for the heavens and the moon went sailing by, glowing in the joy of being.
Zeenat closed her eyes. Lips clung to his…
The stars twinkled in her hair as the brown shawl slipped from her head and trailed down her left shoulder to the floor. Somewhere a solitary bird cried…
He pushed aside her shawl with his foot, and circling his arms tighter around her, took her within the folds of his coat. 
A grey hare stopped to watch. Eyes blinked. Whiskers twitched. He turned and white tail bobbing behind him, disappeared into the bushes. 
Impassioned tongues probed. Emblazoned limbs touched. The earth whirled around them. The earth stood still. They saw nothing heard nothing only felt flowers bloom unseen, only sensed the smile of God engulf them.
The temple lights came on. There was a faint far away murmuring of human voices. They did not notice. 
“I have caused you so much pain!” Zeenat murmured. “I’m so terribly sorry…”
Ajay sealed her mouth with his lips.
“Shush! Don’t say anything… nothing at all.”
“Don’t ever leave me,” she murmured
“Never. I will never leave you.”
They clung to each other. Time stood still. Time passed…
Suddenly he heard a rumbling sound. Ajay ignored it.
Zeenat stirred in his arms.
“What’s that noise?” She asked.
“Nothing! Zeenat, I…”
Zeenat shivered in his arms. The noise had become louder now. Abruptly Zeenat turned. She gasped. He turned in the direction she was gazing. His eyes widened.
Headed towards the park, coming down on the road to their right was a sea of lighted torches. The buzzing murmur of human voices had become a clear cry…
“Allaho Akbar! God is Great!”
Zeenat’s eyes widened in horror. She gasped.
“Pirzada tricked me!” She cried, in a strangled voice. “Oh my God! I’ve been tricked!”
The mob turned the corner. The frenzy was palpable now as the torch lights danced aggressively down the road. The shouts became louder… 
“Allaho Akbar! God is Great!”
Desperately Zeenat caught hold of Ajay’s arms and shook him
“Run! Ajay, run! They’ll kill you … where’s you car? Where did you park?”
He turned his eyes towards the gate. 
“Oh my God!” She clutched his wrist. 
The mob had already reached his car and torched it. The flames leapt high, crackling as the breeze licked at them. 
Wild with fear her eyes darted around trying to look for some escape route. 
Behind Chashma Devi’s statue, the cliff was steep, almost perpendicular. There was no way they could scale it. The road on their right was blocked by the approaching mob. On the left…
Ajay saw her turn and shook his head gently. He had already noticed that from the road on the left, beyond the temple, another angry mob was approaching. Blazing torches held high. Shouting 
“Har! Har! Mahadev!”
Zeenat’s nails dug into Ajay’s wrist. Suddenly it is all so clear to her. 
“Sometimes Muslim, sometimes Hindu,” she murmured. “Manipulators all!”

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?
As an author I hope to create new characters, not clones of me… that would be too boring.

What is your usual writing routine? 
Nine to one is my ‘me’ time. That’s when I generally do my writing too.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
Books have been my fave friends since my childhood. 
Haruki Murakami, Orhan Pamuk, and Paulo Coelho remain my favorite authors. Among Indian writers I like to read Amitabh Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri and Ruskin Bond.
In the last year or two I have enjoyed reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Julian Barnes Sense of an Ending.
I really don’t know if I have been influenced by my readings - I like to think I have my own unique writing style 

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
I wish I had had some mentor but I didn’t and have just floundered around as best as I could. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Write from the heart. 
Move away from yourself and your life – your source of inspiration will dry up too soon otherwise.
Write everyday – even if it seems to be trash at first – gradually your own unique style will emerge. Put in 10,000 hours honing your writing skills – after that you may start producing cream. No one and nothing can prevent cream from rising to the top

What would be the Dream Cast for you book if it were to be turned into a movie?
Anoushka as Zeenat, Ranbir Kapur as Ajay and no one but Amitabh Bachan as Swami Agneyanand…

If you were to be stranded on the famous deserted island, what three things would you carry?
My Kindle, Laptop and WATER.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I used to love playing golf but now with a bad back problem that is out.
To truly unwind I need to travel – see new places, talk to new people, understand new perspectives…

Can you share with us something off your bucket list?
Would love to travel to as many new places I can and read as many new books as possible.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
- Oh I’m terrified of rats! My rat tales have been the butt of family humor for years now e.g. the one when a certain Mr. Rat decided to share my flat and every time I wanted to use the loo I’d politely bang on the door and give him ample time to make a getaway before I stepped in.
- I dislike houses without flowers. 
There was a time when my husband was posted to the Defense Services Staff College near Ooty. As the youngest officer he was not given any accommodation. I can tell you he had his hands full trying to cope with a wife sobbing her heart out because the private house he had rented was so new it had no garden. 
- Sometimes I can get so absorbed in reading that I can create a fiasco at home. I haven’t heard of anyone else who has boiled an egg to charcoal or sterilized a baby bottle nipple till it evaporated into non-existence.

What do you have in store next for your readers?
My next novel, tentatively titled ‘The General Who Lost it’ or ‘Daayara – A Limited Circle’, is the story of a fragile love helplessly caught in the cross fire of two nuclear powered nations warring over limited water resources. 
The book is in the editing stage.
It is inspired by a real life situation. Thirty kilometers north of the Indo China border, China is building the Yarlung Tsangpo dam on the Brahmputra to divert its waters into the Yellow River. This would deny basic rights to millions downstream on this trans-national river and lead to widespread destruction of farms and townships.
I am also well into writing another novel after this.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
A Book is nothing but a block of paper until it finds a reader and an author is nothing but a would-be until a reader gives her a feedback.
I need you to inspire me, so tell me what I do wrong and what I do right in my writing. PLEASE REACH OUT TO ME at veena.nagpal@rediffmail.com

About the Book
Two young cousins hell-bent on restoring Muslim glory, even if it means importing terror. An incendiary Hindu religious leader with one mantra, 'Break-mosques, build- temples.'
Zeenat Qureishi has one question, "What's my name? Why can't you tell me my name?"
Traumatized in the aftermath of the London Tube bomb- ing, the phobic 20-year-old comes to India. Long before Zeenat was born, the eldest Qureishi brother, his wife, and six-year-old daughter Zainab were murdered.
Zeenat's family believed the Mehras, their Hindu family friends, responsible and the friendship turned sour. Wild and impetuous Zeenat promptly falls in love with Ajay Mehra. Faced with proof that he was involved in the demolition of a mosque, she scorns him.
Disturbed, Zeenat undergoes regression therapy in an atmosphere of paranoia and uncovers memories so powerful that she can project them. Communal bitterness that has simmered for centuries threatens to explode around her and Zeenat tries to find answer in the past that will help her understand and heal the present.

Book Trailer

Find the Book

First Giveaway
One Signed Copy of the book to a lucky Indian Resident

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Second Giveaway

Submit a Video clip
(Not more than 2 minute)
The reader should say what he/she liked about the book and should read aloud your favorite quote from of the book.

Entrants must:
1.‘Like’ the Uncommon Memories Facebook page
2. Post their video clip on the Uncommon Memories Facebook page and
3. Send a copy to veena.nagpal@rediffmail.com. 
All submitted material will become the property of the Author who may use it for publicity purposes.

The Entry that receives the maximum ‘Likes’ (by 31st March) will receive the
PRIZE of a £20 Amazon Gift Coupon from the Author.