Interview with Author Kusum Choppra
by Kusum Choppra
(Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India)
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Maybe jack of many trades, master of none? Born and bred in the Far East, now a passionate Indian, Journalist–turned-author of 4 books; tilted at windmills in BEYOND DIAMOND RINGS and challenged patriarchy in NIRBHAYA & OTHERS WHO DARED; patriarchy has perhaps stifled most of the potential of our civilization. But current trends impel me to warn women to: “Capitalize on Feminine Strengths.” Think like Women. Something precious is being earned here. Let us work together to preserve it. DO WE WANT TO BECOME FEMALE MEN?” For more, visit my website and my Facebook pages.
2. What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Apart from its warmhearted cover, perhaps the fact that the lead protagonists are 60 and 70 years old, making it unique in English literature in India. I hope that it will spark off the birth of a new SILVERS genre in Indian English fiction, catering to needs other than self help/management manual and religious tracts. Usually the focus is on young lovers; here it takes another route altogether with an old people focus, talking about their lives, their likes and dislikes, their music, their ideas, nostalgia, desire to resurrect their families and reconnect with old friends and all the issues that arise in that context.
Instead of the old people lurking somewhere on the sidelines, in Silver Dreams, it is the young people who are sidelined by their elders, whose old age romance plays out to inspire them to aspire for such in due course. Plus, the past that I have dredged out, about how the indentured labor system created by the British has created communities of PIOs as far off as the West Indies and South America, different from crops of NRIs everywhere.
3. Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
Definitely, and some have, that I know of. This book was written with the intent of generating a social mood receptive of the needs of the Silvers. That turning grey or 60 is not the end of the world, or of normal human emotions. Small beginnings are being made by individuals to bring together elders in social settings or in retirement communities. But acceptance without frowns is far away still.
The book also touches on the acceptance of intermarriages in the diasporas in different parts of the globe other than USA and UK. Generally it is an attempt to create a more open society, in which everyone can breathe free – with a Second Innings focus as a happy option for lonely persons.
Fortunately, several of the persons who have reviewed Silver Dreams on www.amazon.in seem to have grasped what I set out to do – as indicated in their reviews. Perhaps there is a latent liberalism, so the ideas propagated are accepted. But it means a lot of personal effort in setting up meetings for discussions etc.; these days, publishers avoid any form of marketing. So the onus falls on writers; that is be tough.
4. Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers? Define some of those.
In this book, I have used a whole lot more Hindi than ever before. As a rule, I favor dialogue over prose and write just the way people speak. In Silver Dreams, I have introduced a lot more Hindi dialogues, plus a number of snippets of vintage Hindi songs, popular when I was growing up. When I fell in love with them, I promised myself that one day I would write a story with a sprinkling of those. Silver Dreams is the fulfillment of that promise to myself. Readers seem to be enjoying them as much as I did in selecting them for insertion.
5.How do you select the names of your characters?
My system may sound unique or crazy to readers. Most names have meanings. Plus, counting numerological values is a numerologist’ reflex. So I do that count of names that match the personality of the character I create; otherwise hunt for another name. Makes matching names to characters and book titles a major exercise.
6. Are your characters based off real people or did they come entirely from your imagination?
The influence of whatever goes on around is evitable for writers, from the time they learn to observe and understand. Yes, real life may influence some characters. But there it ends. The story takes its own course. I believe that bolder characters take control of the story away from the writer, who is merely the hand holding the pen or typist at the laptop. But Kinnary and Rana are wonderful persons. I don’t know how they, their actions and speech came to mind, but they are endearing souls who deserve a sequel.
7. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
That varies for different books. For the MASTANI historical, 20 years in research, combing repositories of old documents, haunting universities, libraries, historians across Maharashtra, M.P.,Gujarat, National Archives etc. was followed by 3 years of collating material, drawing up the plot and penning the book.
Normally it would not be that long. If one has planned on one’s future Writes, research is concurrent. Anything related that comes to hand can be filed away. I do it all the time for the next 3 books.
Silver Dreams’ research focused various types of flowers, my protagonists’ favorites, the different locations in the book, from the Himalayas to West Indies, plus the concept and history of Indenture that plays a role in the book.
8. What was the hardest part of writing your newest book?
To stop writing that book, as incident on incident kept popping in the mind; but one has to consider book length in these times, right?
Two: Getting into the skin of Kinnary, the lady the book revolves around. Perhaps I have not really felt that old or wise yet, but needed to get into her skin to bring out all her emotions and the witticisms she comes out with so naturally.
9. What has been your favorite writing journey and what did it create?
My favorite writing journey created my latest book, SILVER DREAMS. Perhaps because there was no great burden in it, as there was in the Partition book, Nirbhaya and Mastani; instead it shows so many ways of tackling life and it spreads a lot of happiness.
The story just flowed out to me, whenever I put my head on my pillow for over 6-7 months, except for a three week bloc. The way phrases and incidents would just pop into my head, waiting to be written, brought many smiles to my face during those months.
10. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
One has to accept them, good, bad, indifferent. Obviously some are disappointing, especially if the book is dismissed in 2-3 lines of banality. But in depth reviews are a pleasure to read. Check them out at the Silver Dreams page on FaceBook or www.amazon.in .
Positive ones are an indulgence to go back to. Perhaps it is the negative ones that have to be taken seriously. For, they may hold some potential for improvement next time round. Nevertheless, sometimes, they do hurt… but then, so does facing the mirror. ***