My Rite to Read

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Board Room Fictions



With or Without You is what’s easily the new C-fiction, corporate/cosmopolitan fiction, a genre less explored and even less successfully executed. Women (or men) in the workplace and women out of it have written about boardroom expeditions with malice, indifference, sarcasm, and intellect but never with the easy warmth that Parthasar

thi Basu does. Partha writes a racy sensitive story about couples in and out of love, colleagues in and out of love and about trying to finish first in the race to the top, in what is a light (yet so very dark!) metro read. The corporate story like life, is uneasy on the bowels. Is marital bliss imperiled by rise in the corporate structure? What is the biggest guiding myth out of one’s wit’s end at work? Many scenes from this book are real and timely, and the story is a depressing take on corporate success, the snakes and ladders, ambition gone awry, when not mildly illuminating about the very real road to the top. Mind you, this is not a story that averts you from corporate fiction or fictitious corporates, but actually, astounds you with questions from the back of your head: What kind of a boss are you? How much do y
ou leverage sex in the workplace? Are you happily married, or conveniently estranged? Will they hire and fire you, or keep you for good? Love is at the heart of this slim cosmopolitan read that warms you to its insecurities, naked characters, and middle (aged) route to, oops, the middle path. Is it hard, nay, impossible, to be a happy woman in the Indian workplace? Questions like these are shrouded in a warm pessimism that draws you to the author like glue. This author, a Mr. CFO of India’s largest low cost airlines carrier dabs his story with prowess, and is guided by a general courage of conviction and belief in bare fate, nature’s sedate hand sometimes. Aarav, the headless chicken and CEO of B2Y, a Seattle based multinational with operations in several top countries of the world, with a doting but restless wife sets about findin

g his niche, losing it, and coming to terms with it again. Other interesting women and men dot his life, but the perspective is strongly grounded in the uneasiness of the central male character. Raika, the protagonist’s wife in a moment of marital epiphany reveals to her husband his similarity with salmons: “Salmons are born in fresh water; they migrate to the ocean for few years but finally come back to fresh water. They return to the exact spot where they were born to spawn.” Is Mr. Basu a corporate yogi? No. He’s a simple IIM graduate from Kolkata who has risen in the very corporate structure he has torn apart, and lived to tell the tale of a single harried man in a suit.

Corporate Lessons: An Interview with Partha Basu






It was a delight to be in conversation with Partha Sarathi Basu, two time author and Country Finance Director of AkzoNobel India Limited (Past CFO – India Operation of Whirlpool of India, CFO - Spicejet).


Q: Where do you get fodder for books?

PSB: Like most youngsters, I too used to write short stories and poems. But the habit died once education became demanding and life became hectic in the corporate world. In my training sessions, I used stories drawn from real life. One day, just after I finished an internal training program, one of the participants said, ‘Partha, you must capture these stories in a book.’ That set me thinking….why not? Later, I was on a long flight, and the thought stuck me again. I took out my laptop and captured few incidences. That is when I started re-writing.
The corporate world has given me enough—it is my turn to give back to the corporate world.



Q: Your first book is non-fiction, something that might be a blueprint to the top of the corporate ladder, while your second work is a novel on corporate politics. How have readers, colleagues, ex bosses reacted to both your works?

Partha Sarathi Basu: The reaction I get from people are different …some say “You and writing?” Some react with ‘”You too?” or, “I am proud of you.” But these are the people who know me in person. Initially they were surprised, not many took my ‘journey to authorship’ seriously. But then they started reading book reviews, interviews and I could sense a clear shift in their attitude. Many corporates have used my book for the purpose of corporate / employee gifting. Readers have been really supportive. I get many mails, asking “When is the next one coming?” That encourages me a lot.

Q: But fiction brings out the real ghosts. What got you writing Aarav’s story: Was it a real life moment, incident or character you knew?



PSB: Most of the characters we read or write are around us. An author just watches them closely, feel them and the stories emerge. Aarav is no different, he is one among us, or I should say a mix and match of many around us since both fiction and real life deals with the real stuff….emotion, ambition, competition, politics, love, betrayal, failure, success……. an author just takes the pain and the pleasure to put them together and shares. Thus an author may chose to express his thoughts as ‘fiction’ or ‘non-fiction’ but most of them are stories from our everyday life.

Q: How much of a good idea is it to real-life-romance your colleagues and bosses?

PSB: My opinion is of no relevance. We all know people who have had a serious relationship in a workplace and lived happily ever after and we are also aware of people who have had a real-life-romance at the work place but never lived happily ever after. It’s a personal choice.


Q: Aren’t you known for instilling reading habits among your employees?

PSB: I do believe that reading changes a person; it opens up many new horizons. The reading choice might differ from person to person, time to time. It may depend on the stage of life or the mental framework of a person at a given moment in time, but reading is definitely a great habit to pursue. I just tell people to read, whatever they want.

Q: What were your parents’ reading habits like and did those pass on to you?

PSB: My father is an avid reader. I have never seen him finishing a day without reading something. At my young age I was too much into sports… never a passionate reader that time. However later I realized the ‘lack of reading’ in me and developed the habit for myself. Now I enjoy every moment of it.


Q: What thing or trait would make you lose your confidence if you didn’t have it anymore?

PSB: Time for myself….

Q: What are your thoughts on regional literature? Did you for example, grow up with Bengali literature as a staple reference?

PSB: I love Bengali literature, and grew up with them. I am really proud of them. I regularly read Bengali literature, magazines. I feel bad that in my lifetime probably I will be able to read only a fraction of the Bengali creation. I hope to write a novel in Bengali soon.


Q: How often do you look up the dictionary in a day?

PSB: I look at a dictionary on a need basis. And I really thank Microsoft Word, the right click really helps.



Q: Who is your favorite bestselling author and why?


PSB: There are many authors that I would like to read again and again and thus I would not like to single out any one in particular. However, few books that I read again and again are: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom; Execution: The discipline of getting things done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan; Like a flowing river by Paulo Coelho


Q: How educated must one be to deal with the corporate rough and tussle, without losing one’s grit?

PSB: Education is relative. One can achieve education, knowledge or wisdom through formal or informal education. Corporate life itself is a great teacher. No one is a misfit in the corporate world; it is big and magnanimous enough to absorb everybody. It needs different people to perform different jobs. It therefore always depends on a person on how he is coping, without losing his/her grit.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Oops and Downs of a MAd World




Indu Balachandran is hot, happening and full of breeze! Author of a barely three month old book on the quirks and adversities of a mad life that is already a bestseller running into reprint, her quick prose dazzles with gentle humor and 29 year old wisdom from having worked her way up in one of India’s top ad agencies, as she elbows us with her crafty blueprint of “making it” in that luminous land of advertising. Smarter than a Dummy’s guide, and lighter than newsreel, Indu’s wild experiences at JWT (formerly HTA) inspire her debut book chronicling the best job in the world, not just because of the money but also because “work is synonymous with fun and people are never found in the (ad) agency way past 10:45 am because they were busy catching up with work, because they were too busy all day having fun, or rather it’s synonym work… so they took time off for some work…sorry fun, and that is why they were so late arriving for fun, in other words work.”

Peppered in frolic Indu cracks down on the yuppy hierarchy in ad agencies, effortlessly seizing every living ad caricature she has met, baring for us the poor vulnerable souls of Creative (bedraggled copywriters and art directors of both pre-Mac and post I-pad eras), the traumatized Client servicers and account executives, Planners and tiara flashing Media men and women (from Planet Hollywood) among several others. She breaks open and closes every straitjacket in the business of advertising, proving to us there are no superheroes, only super-teams on super-steroids. The Copywriter, however, does remain the consistent butt of all jokes and affection, who, through all his/her hard work, laziness, and good times and bad, chants feverishly “Give us this day our daily, multi-grain, nutria soft, ezee digest, super crust, vitamin enriched bread.“ The ensuing empathy and reality, “For every high flying Creative Director traipsing off to Brazil to judge entries for an award show, there are about 7328 humble copywriters trying to write a sales conference AV script for a rubber lined gasket or a fuel injection pump. Or… administering vitamin pills to the client’s depressed sales force.”

This book is a fond reminiscence, but mostly a hail funny look at the goggle eyed workforce of eccentrics, jokers, nerds, sleazepots, and above all dreamers. “Advertising is the only non-criminal human activity that allows you to make a living off your character defects, which usually include pride, anger, gluttony, lust, sloth, greed and envy”! Alight these pages guilt-free, vacuous, and help yourself to anecdotes and delectable potshots at the people we love to hate. Indu has given us, what every aspiring, current or former young ad professional wants to know: What does it take to succeed (or survive?) in the Attention Deficit world of Advertising. This slim digest of 100% Tao is both intimate and objective at once, with energy so textually manicured and yes, meticulous! Read on, to identify your stereotype better than any Facebook quiz on what’s your ad personality. Be it acronyms, acrimony, or jargon, the death is in the detail, as CANNES (CERTIFIED AWARD NABBERS, a category of defensive, award obsessed Creative Directors) assume tall tones like “Conceptually the copy is turgid, but consciously so, because the undulating greens in the visual need a holistic counterpoint.”

A verbal cartoonist with crackling insights on every aspect of the industry, Indu leaves you rolling on the floor laughing your pants off while still inside your head, dizzy even with the unbearable lightness of being an agency outsider, or worse, insider, a has been or a will be, as you scour these pages of her MAd ex love.


This week we sneaked up on former advertising professional and eco travel writer Indu Balachandran, who hands us a boisterous script of the ad world in her first book Don’t Go Away We’ll be Right back: The Oops and Downs of Advertising.

Dial a book: What a Title!!!

Indu Balachandran: The words “Don’t Go Away, We’ll Be Right Back,” uttered every single day, just before a commercial break all over the world, is actually a cunning way to remind people about this Book! Which means glamorous talk show hosts like Oprah and Simi, funny men like Jay Leno, even respected news presenters like Pronnoy Roy, all say this phrase for me— completely free of cost. How’s that for some clever, un-paid-for advertising…

DAB: From copy trainee to executive creative director… all in 29 years. Are all these years encapsulated in your book? Is this the bible to surviving faux pas in the advertising world?

IB: There are some characters and observations in the Book that I remember from my first year as a trainee in HTA Delhi (now JWT). So yes, it is a happy recall of many years of being in a charged, idea-rich environment, where a remarkable set of talents come together. Besides, I am also a compulsive scribbler of ‘wit as it happens’ aka the ridiculous (oxymoronic) things people say at meetings. For example: The client who says, “I’d like to see some fresh, innovative ideas that have been tried and tested many times…” Or this angry reaction when a great campaign is rejected: “The client changed his mind again!” “Yeah, but the new one doesn’t work any better…” Priceless stuff!


When I first started writing about some of the loony ways we advertising guys work and talk, I found lots of readers from other agencies say, this is EXACTly what happens in my agency too. And even though it wasn’t really the intention, some said it made them stop and think about their work quite a bit: the inordinate amounts of time we waste on pointless stuff at meetings, the play-safe clich├ęs we keep on using for ads, and all the eccentric nutcases we have to put up with, just because they are ‘creative people’… So if there’s any such thing as “Laugh Your Way to The Top” then my Book has a dubious, higher purpose as an advertising manual!
It’s purpose is also to make those in advertising ‘see themselves’ and make those who left the profession recall an enjoyable time of their lives, and for the newbies—give a realistic picture of the madness, mayhem and excitement, without scaring them away.

DAB: Was advertising a conscious choice for you as a youngster when people had more conventional career options?

IB: I think I’ve always wanted do writing… thanks to a Dad who was pretty amazing with wordplay. He got us Mad Magazine from abroad years before anyone in India had even heard of them. He got us “The Golden Trashery of Ogden Nash-ery” filled with brilliant nonsense rhymes. Even though we never knew there was such a thing as an Ad Agency, I did dream about writing the world’s shortest short stories: birthday cards which start with an intriguing line on the cover… and end with a twist on the inside. I used to write these all the time for friends through school and college. All sound practice for writing pithy stories for 30 second ads, I guess!

DAB: Tell us any personal favorite dreaded or bizarre “Oops” and “Downs” of the ad world?

IB: In Oops, a Client –ex-JWT Delhi people will know who I’m talking about—who said at the end of his annual briefing in our conference room: “That’s it. Now my balls are in your court…”
Another was a hoarding design “The restaurant has a bra attached…” Yet, another at a college’s annual day brochure, where the faculty was not amused reading: “4.00pm. Address by Faulty Members.”

But here’s JWT Chennai’s favorite story: Our senior accountant, a conventional south Indian gent, was perhaps influenced by the hep lingo used by young people. He once said: “The Manager is quite upset…today she took out my pant”. Only later we figured he was using a highly common phrase in ad agencies: “We had our pants taken by the client today”!!
And some horrific downs … We used to do ‘8-projector audio visuals’ in the 80’s, with a million tiny slides filling several Kodak carousels. Once in the middle of a crucial presentation, slides suddenly started popping out and flying away out of the over-heated projector, and we were jumping about bizarrely catching them, like we were in cricket practice!

DAB: What has been one life-defining commercial for you, as in an ad that changed the way you saw art, advertising or even the great Indian middle class?

IB: One amazing campaign that makes me proud of what advertising can do—and it truly affected the great Indian middle class—is the Tata Tea ‘Jago Re’ body of work. It told us to ‘wake up’ to corruption, to the way we use small time bribes to get past traffic offences, get admission to schools, get tickets etc. right down to yanking us out of our apathy towards voting. That was really big! At the same time, it was firmly locked into the basic brand promise: the tea that woke you up. It worked both ways; it affected our thinking, and it affected their sales. Fantastic!

A more light-hearted example is the sparkling brand work on Pepsi. Remember ‘Nothing Official About It?’ What a brilliant way to appear more cool, un-boring and youthful, while hijacking attention from the competition who had won costly ‘official’ sponsoring rights to a major sports event! I also think Pepsi’s “Mera number kab ayega?” was so bang on: reflecting a terrific insight into a typical Indian anguish, as we endlessly wait, wait, wait for something to happen. Pepsi’s advertising catch lines invariably went right into our everyday conversations, even newspaper headlines.

DAB: Tell us about creative hierarchy in an organization as flat as an ad agency.

IB: Hierarchy in ad agencies is something that happens through the professional respect you earn –no matter how old or young you are. Do some truly outstanding work: and you are the one on top; on top of everyone’s mind. That’s what really matters! Ad agencies are not only great at generating brand names for products, they are also proficient in generating fancy ‘nearly-there’ titles to denote hierarchy. So these are handed out sometimes to retain talent within the agency; to individuals who produce good work, yet have no leadership skills to actually become a ‘head’ of any sort.

DAB: You’ve won several awards in advertising. What drove you?

IB: Honestly speaking, there’s an unbeatable high that comes from hearing “Sales are suddenly up since our campaign broke…here’s a superb letter from the Client…” This feeling far outlasts the other kind of high from doing something that upped the bar and drew a ‘wow!’ from the ad community. And while I have no Cannes Gold to boast of, I became the envy of millions when I won another kind of gold: the 22 carat one—a whole kilo of real gold for writing in 15 words or less why I liked shopping at Vivek’s Department Store. The cheesy, winning rhyme I wrote was entirely due to my training as a copywriter!

DAB: How cathartic was writing this book?

IB: I think most humorists doing spoofs are invariably writing the real truth, even if in an absurd or comic style… and so too with this Book: it’s written on behalf of all those who have to suffer weird colleagues, boring clients, eccentric divas, moronic bosses, needless time wasters… So yes, it was cathartic! The thing is it could have easily got very cynical—that’s one thing I’m not, and hopefully it’s more of a laugh-along than a ouch-that-hurts!

DAB: What made you quit advertising?

IB: Well, one trigger was this: my leave record was in shambles, and the second biggest passion of my life, travelling—was being compromised. An unbelievable opportunity came along: would I like to review eco-friendly hotels all over India, which means free travel, free stay, free food and unlimited adventures? YES! So I did the unbelievable: quit JWT—for 29 years my home, my life… But the last month was the toughest: I was at a 3-day Pepsi shoot with Shah Rukh Khan (incidentally the first-biggest passion of my life, if you wondered about it a few seconds ago!), and I thought, am I mad to give up this amazing advertising life?? Plus there was also this half-written Book on advertising that my two sisters were after me to finish…

DAB: Real Time Working professionals, and not just those in the news, are braving it, every second, everyday. How are you coping with the present?

IB: I keep in constant touch with what’s going on and also do the occasional creative workshop, teach at management institutes. But there’s NOTHING to beat the joys of a travel writer! So far I have been to over 60 hotels: magnificent palaces, humble beach shacks, cozy Himalayan hideouts… met many inspiring eco-conscious owners. I have enough notes on the funny side of travel for another upcoming Book!

DAB: Did you ever read any soul stirring books about advertising?

IB: As a trainee in HTA Delhi, I read From those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbour by a famous copywriter named Jerry Della Femina. The most soul stirring books on Advertising have been The Copy Book filled with essays of advertising greats that makes you think the copywriter has the BEST job in an agency, and A Smile In the Mind where every single page of this wittily written and illustrated manual can make you a better creative person. “Cutting Edge Advertising” by Jim Aithchison is also fabulous. But my favourite one that actually led to writing this Book… is The Joy of Work, by Scott Adams. I keep on re-reading it and laughing. It set me thinking: what if Dilbert was in an ad agency? That’s why I roped in (Don’t go Away… cartoonist) Paul Fernandes—we simply had to have those quirky illustrations! I dream of the day when I give Scott Adams a copy of my Book. Till then, I’m wondering how to reach one to SRK…:).

Indu B: Ex Vice president and Creative Director at JWT, Indu today reviews eco-friendly hotels all over India for traveltocare.com with her humor columns appearing in leading publications like The Sunday Hindu, Sunday Express, TOI, Deccan Herald, India Se (Singapore) and idiva.com. Her writings are featured in four anthologies of short stories. She recently won a prestigious travelogue contest by the Lonely Planet magazine and is often invited as guest speaker at Humor Societies, Book Clubs, Business Schools, and International Seminars at Muscat and Dubai.

Order your copy by mailing us at talk@dialabook.in or calling us at 09650-457-457

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Lilting Murder Mystery in a Girls' Boarding School

India edition (left)
US edition (bottom)

“All my life green chutney sandwiches have stood for hope,” proclaims Charulata Apte, the central heroine of Nayana Currimbhoy’s Miss Timmins’ School for Girls, the mystery thriller that makes a prominent debut in USA and is on bestseller lists in India this month.
CUT TO the “Kashmir of Maharashtra” in monsoon and mist soaked Panchgani. Then, if Kashmir is the Switzerland of India, it isn’t difficult to imagine being in the Alps while in Panchagini, rationalizes the 20 year old schoolteacher Charu in the novel.
When Charu Apte (who gets nicknamed APT by her students), leaves her family abode from a Brahmin middle class household in conservative Indore, to move to Panchgani to teach Shakespeare, the cultural shock is apparent. More so, because she is teaching at a boarding school that is still an outpost of the British empire that observes quaint traditions and Anglo Saxon rules, even though they are in the Rock and Roll seventies and thirty years after India’s independence!
For those having grown up on a diet of Mallory Towers, Swami & Friends and even Sweet Valley, the growing pains, sexual awakening, friendship, mystery, Bald headed suspects, dark rainy evenings and TUCK will be familiar territory, except these references are mere pivot points that lead off into entirely Gothic and unexplored proportions. This is a social drama and murder mystery!
Miss Timmins' School…lingers like the flavorsome buttery Shrewsbury biscuits the running metaphor throughout the story. Chapter titles lose relevance, as the story seamlessly and soundlessly moves into climax. Mighty ruminations and commentary on sex, taboo, elitism, and the convent bred chauvinism versus Hindu Indian patriarchy within a larger than life storyline offer nuanced characters and unique sketches of the boarding school milieu. Midnight Feast Material!!
Nayana Currimbhoy, the New York based author has indeed churned out one wholesome yarn of a thriller that has love, mystery, gloom and humor in Miss Timmins’ School for Girls.
In Conversation with the Maker of Miss Timmins’ School for Girls
Nayana gets talking with us across the seven seas as she gears up for her Delhi book launch on 11th August. She tells us about her 500-page page-turner that is already riding high on the Indian bestsellers list.
Nayana Currimbhoy
Arundati Dandapani: This is your first novel. What prompted you?
Nayana Currimbhoy: Turning 50 prompted me! All these years, I wrote other things. But In my head I was always stuck with ‘I want to write a novel.’ At 50, I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, it’s now or never. And so I started writing at night, after the family was asleep. Then the characters started coming out of the box, I knew they would not go back in again. It took me five years to write.
“She felt soft and crumbly in my arms like a Shrewsbury biscuit”
Me: Why is Miss Timmins’ School for Girls set in Panchgani?
NC: I went to a boarding school in Panchgani, It is a little hill station in the Western Ghats that is shrouded in mist in the monsoons. So, the setting is real. I suppose it was a standard Anglo-Indian boarding school, I suppose. All these little Indian girls doing Scottish Dancing and eating porridge for breakfast. When we were young we took these things for granted. I have now been in New York City since 1981. And have not been back to Panchgani for a large part of it. Looking back, you must admit it was deliciously bizarre.
“In the staff room the teachers talked of the girls, and in the classrooms the girls talked about the teachers. It was the safest and most satisfying of topics.”
Me: The nearly all female cast— is this representative of your experiences, or was it a conscious decision?
NC: It’s purely because it’s set in a boarding school. My heroine is a 21 year old teacher. But I gave Charu a big life outside the school, where she falls into the company of these charming young hippies from Bombay. One of them is Merch the mystery man, who is a central character in the book. And then there is Inspector Wagle, and Shankar.
“A woman could rise to the top in her forties. But only if all the “ifs” fell into place. If she had a good marriage with a strong man, if she had borne a good son, she could be forceful by forty. And if she was clever and political, she could become a matriarch at fifty... for me there was even less hope, i could end up like the spinster aunts with polio and the impoverished widows in white saris living frugally on the outer edge of the family, peeling potatoes and minding the red chillies drying on the roof. Either timid or bitter."
Me: This is a complex thriller: a leisure Thriller, more-than–just-a-crime story. What ingredients did you bring to your craft?
NC: You have hit the nail on the head! I never thought of it in quite that way. I set out to write a thriller, but it became a leisure thriller along the way. Perhaps because it is my first novel, I stopped to smell the roses along the way. I just wanted to tell a good story. To have someone dream in my novel.
Me: A lot of Christianity has been woven into this story, you’ve quoted heavily from the Bible. One of the prime accused keeps saying, it is preferable to “fall in the hands of God, than in the hands of Men.” Why?
NC: I wanted to make it Gothic. Every morning we had Scripture studies. Moreover, the Bible and Shakespeare are such wonderful texts, in a purely literary sense. They are just such good texts for gothic murder mystery. I got into Macbeth and decided to nest the theme of my story to it.
"The inspector dropped his voice a little, so I would understand he was making an off-the-record remark. “It is their own white matter,” he said. “We should not poke our heads into it. “Far white,” I could not resist replying, tilting my head with a winning smile."
Me: Please shed light about the elitism and Anglicism in the seventies of India. How were you affected by this theme?
NC: Actually Panchgani was set up by the British, for the families of civil servants to take respite from the heat of the plains. Anglo Indian education I believe, did harm and well as good. There was, and perhaps still is, an elitism attached to the learning of English that goes beyond the language itself. We have such a deep and rich dance tradition, but in 1974, we were still learning Scottish Dancing. Can’t imagine Bharat Natyam classes at Miss Timmins’ School for Girls!
“There were 4 Anglo Indian staff members in our school. Miss Henderson, Sister Richards, Mrs. Cummimings and Ms De Young, who all ran the home section of the school. They were all descendants of British railway clerks who had married Indians many generations ago and were proud of their blood. Ango-Indians married each other, held on to their British names, and identified with the whites, not the Indians.”
Me: You must be a female Ruskin Bond!! What a typical monsoon story, with adventure, but a lot of strong female characters. Who do you think your style would be most like… or any writer whose style you particularly admire?
NC: I’ve been a reader all through my life. Fiction has got me through all difficult moments in life. I soak up the experience of all the books I read, always. I have enjoyed admired Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and all the great Indian authors. I am also very impressed by Mohsin amid and Aravind Adiga these days. Obscure names, people may not have heard of, but actually inspired my own are Daniyal Meeudin’s first set of short stories. Willa Cather’s My Antonia and A Donna Tarte’s About The Secret Room which really inspired my story.
Me: Two mother-daughter relationships have been exploited to the hilt. There is a lot of intimacy, physicality of mother-child love. How was this intended?
NC: I always saw both characters whose mothers are mentioned as a stark contrast to each other…The good and the bad. Although Charu is a very self-conscious girl, she is always confident about her mother loving her. That is her moral compass. However, the relationship between Prince and her mother is twisted, because of the circumstances, partly due to the character of both these women. I would say that this is one of the reasons why Prince is such a fragile creature.
"I felt sorry for her. Unless she produced some golden sons quite soon, she would remain on the bottom layer of the food chain forever. This was a part of the Hindu Joint Family Law, unwritten but sacrosanct. At its center was the great divide between being a daughter and a daughter-in-law.”
Me: Tell us something about the Forbidden Romance that springs between Charulata Apte, the middle class Brahmin girl from Indore and Prince, the hippie teacher of the hostel… is their sexual awakening a part of the teenage rebellion phase?
NC: When I walk Charu into this school, she is 21 years old, and has just finished college from Indore. She is from a middle class family, and it is 1974. She would be more comfortable walking on a deserted road on a rainy night with a woman than with a man. In her world, you see women holding hands with women, and young boys with their arms around each others’ shoulders. This is done naturally, for comfort, to feel close to your friend. Even with children, the taboo is to touch the opposite sex, not your own. Charu would not know even to suspect that Prince is gay. And then you have this overlay of boarding school rumors. All these young girls isolated by themselves. In our school, there was a rumor that the sports teacher had been seen kissing another new young teacher behind the pink curtain of the staff room. Everything is a rumor in that intense environment. The book is based on that – rumor.
“To have been kissed by a woman on a windy mountaintop was one thing. But for that kiss to have opened up my body like a faultline was another.”
Me: Have there been any negative reactions from factions about the grey shades of Christianity and sexuality in your novel?
NC: Well so far, no. There are those that love it, and those that do not. And that is only fair.
“I had just turned 21 and had never seen anyone’s breasts but my own. My breasts were small and pert, like apples on board, with a little cherry sitting on top, I thought. Through the translucent fabric, the Prince’s breasts looked big as ripe mangoes, with large plum-red nipples stretched wide. I wanted to brush my shoulder against them. But the moment passed me by, The Prince stalked off to her room without a backward glance."
Me: Are there any issues you wanted to highlight in your book?
NC: My main path was the story itself, the coming of age of Charu, against the scaffolding of the murder mystery. Of course issues crop up along the way, and there is love and laughter and tears. I believe a good novel contains an entire world.
For example, I loved Adiga’s White Tiger. It is fair to say that is a statement book, a polemic, and an excellent one. In some sense, I am anti-Adiga. Had I written the novel younger, I probably would have attempted to move from the particular to the general. But for now, I just want to tell a story. I want you to pick up the book and not put it down.
Me: Timmins’ School certainly holds promise as a Film. Do you see it as, maybe something along the lines of the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock?
NC: You mean Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Wier? What a lovely thought. We even have this rock that crushed the marriage party in Panchgani, as in my book!
But for now, I am excited about my second novel, also set in India.
Me: How was your publishing journey?
NC: Like a dream, really. I spent five years writing the book, but I would say I enjoyed every minute of it. And then a friend introduced me to my lovely agent at William Morris in New York. She sold it to Harper Collins. And here I am. I am thrilled that it sold in the U.S. and in India.
Me: How well is Miss Timmins doing?
NC: Quite well, thank you!
Nayana Currimbhoy airs on National Public Radio on the Leonard Lopate show 1 - 1.20 pm on Monday August 8th. She will be on Oprah magazine listed as #4 on the "16 books to watch out for this summer." In India, where the book has been out barely a month, it is already a best-seller and will launch on August 11, in New Delhi!