Download, share or listen online to Neelima’s sneak peek of her novella, ‘Unsettled‘.
Knock, knock, who’s there?
I am not a paranormal sort of person, so one day when a Yakshi, a female predator with her vampire aspect and white sari, her eyes that drink and siren voice knocked at the door in my head, I was surprised.
It made me sit up and take notice.
She sat down beside me as I wrote and showed me the lush green place where she lived. She led me through the rooms of the hundred-room house and she confessed that she was angry, with reason. After all, she is a woman and her grievances are real.
She told me to start looking at who I was. So I did. I come from a place with heritage written all over it. She was saying, See. That’s where I live! The hundred-room house. But of course! It was a large house that stood out on the path I passed it a million times as I came walking home.
Now you may live in a place your entire life but it’s when you start writing that the place acquires a voice.
Two and two equals five
When I started writing this novella, past conversations came to me in a rush like audio clips—a grand-uncle who talked about a scholar poet who visited the village five centuries ago; ghost stories that my maternal family shared with me; poems I read aloud when it rained outside.
It seems very romantic, but it isn’t really. Writing about an unsettled character can unsettle you as well, and to etch the Yakshi’s character I fell back on many of the mad women in the attic, misunderstood characters I so loved and understood. Thathri the Yakshi is beautiful, yet so tragic, almost Plath-like in the way she is trapped in the bell-jar of her memory. Thathri needed to be heard.
Like so many women she was demonized—a mad woman lingering in a tree, a tree spirit with allure and deceit branded on her every elegant gesture. She urged me to tell her side of it.
So I wrote the story in a month. I sat on it for a while, and then rewrote parts. The challenge was writing the story across different time spans. That’s when it struck me that time doesn’t really change much—Divya suffers in the here and now and the Yakshi yearns over centuries. There seemed to be something timeless about this business of yearning and hoping for love.
The only thing that could save them both was the Scrolls of Love or poetry.
The journey to the scrolls
This book is not all female wizardry. In fact, it is my homage to poetry. A verse strewn on one page and another gives the text a kind of embroidered feel. The texture of love is the same—it permeates everything and yet it is so hard to define.
When the court poet in ‘Unsettled’ began his verse, the flow of the novella started for me. It’s when the voice of the character rings in your head that you know you are going in the right direction. The poems in the Scrolls were branded in Thathri’s mind and writing those lines is what I enjoyed the most on my journey with this book.
The Scrolls of Love are yours to find—they exist within. All you have to do is take a chance and read. Think outside genre, outside the convention. Just go read ‘Unsettled’ and see love and writing with new eyes.
Download, share or listen online to Zeenat Mahal’s reading of a chapter from her book, Haveli.
The title of Haveli comes from my ancestral home, my grandfather’s haveli, which still stands in Mian Mir, near Upper Mall, in Lahore and though it’s no longer the way it used to be when we lived there, it’s still a poignant reminder of those halcyon childhood days. Bi Amma is inspired by my fabulous autocratic grandmother.
The story of Bi Amma and her granddaughter, the last reminders of a by-gone age, germinated in part when I visited Bahawalpur two years ago. Bahawalpur is also a Nawab State which ceded to Pakistan in 1957. The last Nawab of Bahawlpur, Sir Sadiq, is still revered in the area. People are loyal to his memory though he’s been dead for nearly two decades. I visited the palaces and was fascinated by the craftsmanship in architecture, masonry and design. There is so much beauty that is still evident in the landmarks of the city. I patterned the fictional Jalalabad on Bahawalpur, which rests at the lip of Cholistan. The grandeur of the desert, the music and poetry of the place and its people was just so enchanting that I felt compelled to write a story around this little-known bit of history and culture of Pakistan.
Initially, I did not conceive Chandni the way she appears now in Haveli. At first, she was more mature, more introverted and intellectual. There were also several other sub-plots that I haven’t inscribed in this novella because when I started writing Haveli, from the first words, C. took over. I’d always envisaged her with green eyes and extraordinarily beautiful and that stayed—it’s a magical, romantic world after all and everyone is beautiful—and that’s the only resemblance she has to the first conception of Chandni. But as my fingers flew over the keyboard and C. emerged, the old and new versions of this story, parts of which I’d lived with for years, combined. I finished Haveli in a week. The finished version is very much like the first draft. I cannot say that about any of my other novellas yet. I’ve done several revisions with the others—even the ones that are not yet published—but I find it hard to give up editing.
But there was very little I could, or wanted to, change in Haveli. It’s a world that wrote itself. I hope that as you read it, you feel the magic that helped me bring it to life and I’ve given my readers a glimpse into another side of Pakistan.
Download, share or listen online to two authors discussing their books.
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Download, share or listen online to Parul Tyagi’s sneak peek into her novella, Love Will Find a Way.
Download, share, or listen online to a chapter reading from Love’s Labor, by Andy Paula.
Download, share, or listen online to a chapter reading from A Newlywed’s Adventures in Married Land, by Shweta Ganesh Kumar.