Sunday, October 26, 2014

Author Interview: Veena Nagpal: The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi: A Novel Of Then And Now

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 Noida.

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.

1. Your real name and pen name? 
Veena Nagpal
No pen name

2. Please share some of the best memories of your childhood
Somehow a lot of my fondest childhood memories seem to center round my father - cycling with him to watch him play cricket, listening to his rendition of Shakespeare’s plays, discussing with him life’s ups and downs...
As a family we travelled a lot by road - from Kashmir to Kerala, from Orissa to Bombay – and those are also some of my best childhood memories.

3. About your education
As a naval officer’s daughter, I went to school all over the country. I did my high school from St. Joseph’s Visakhapatnam. My name is still up on the school board as a gold medallist.
I graduated with English Literature as one of my subjects, from Loreto College, Lucknow.

4. What languages can you speak and write?
Sadly only two – English and Hindi

6.  What is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
That I think would be travel…
I seem to have an insatiable need to travel – must have been born with some gypsy blood!
I seem to come alive just seeing new places, meeting new people, vicariously experiencing lives so totally different from mine – and I don’t mean always visiting exotic foreign destinations…
It is so exhilarating e.g. to talk to toddy tappers, watch them climb tall coconut trees. See an elephant being captured, chat with a lighthouse keeper or a kite maker. Or just simply walk into the nearest slum wander down narrow lanes visualizing the lives, thoughts and ideas of people who live there.
Of course I’ve had my share of exotic experiences too. Once I’ve watched circus animals being loaded on a merchant ship, each elephant being strapped down hoisted up the ship’s crane and lowered on to the deck…

7. What hurts you most in this world.
Insincerity - people who can talk so sweetly to your face without meaning a thing, who can make tall promises with no intention of honoring them. They get my goat.

8. What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?
Pain. Constant physical pain – I have a back problem.  I can’t really overcome it, in the sense that I can’t make it disappear but with sheer doggedness I have learnt to live with it.

9. If you had to live a day of your life as one of the living or dead personality, who would it be and why?
Mother Theresa – she managed to make an impact every minute of her life.

10. What is your favorite genre and why?
Literary fiction. I like writing that not only tells a good tale but also gives an insight into another perspective, another life, another world. Writing that touches my heart and soul and leaves me with thoughts and ideas that stay with me long after I have finished reading.
at a function in Foyles, one of the largest book stores in London
11. When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
If by ‘writing’ you mean writing that has been published, I started only in my twenties, doing features for newspapers and magazines. 
I write because I need to find meaning in my life. I write because I just have to get something out of my system – some questions, some emotions that left unexpressed would otherwise just fester within me and make me ill.

12. Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?
Three novels:
My latest novel is ‘The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi’

The book is about a twenty-year old girl who, traumatized by communal conflicts, spontaneously regresses into memories of past lives spanning centuries. Memories so powerful they start getting automatically broadcast on television, blocking out all other channels.
Sucked into her reminiscences of power brokers manipulating love and revenge, murder and greed, an entire people finds itself at crossroads
My earlier novels:
‘Karmayogi’ published by Jaico and ‘Compulsion’ by Sterling.
My Books for children:
‘Tenderella and the FoFs’ published by Environment Education Promoters.
‘Garbie Garbyhog: The Worm that wanted to Fly’ published by Environment Education Promoters.
‘Smugglers’ Isle’ published by Hemkunt and
‘Adventures in Space and Time Travelers’ published by India Book House.

13. What are your forthcoming writings?
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.

14. What genres you write in and why?
I aspire to write literary fiction because that’s the kind of work I like to read – of course my editors don’t always agree that my writing fits the bill!
‘The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi,’ e.g. has been classified a Suspense/Drama.

15. What keeps you motivated towards writing?
You don’t need to keep yourself motivated to do what you love doing. You just do it.

16. If Writing a Book is taken as a project, what are the key essentials you take care of in Project Management?
a. Conceptualization – this would mean writing out a draft plot.
b. Characterization – Detailing each character, his/her physical and mental characteristics, his/her history.
c. Reworking the plot – by this stage the characters have chopped and changed and sometimes wreaked havoc on the draft plot to suit their own needs. While their needs have to be met, sometimes the needs of the plot may become dominant and a particular character may have to be altered even axed.
d. Writing a detailed chapter-wise synopsis.
e. Writing the book
f.  Keeping the book on the back burner for a minimum of six months.
g. Editing
h. Repeat the editing stage until I can’t stand to look at it any more.

17. What are your future plans?
As far as I can gaze into the crystal ball, I can only see myself writing – and reading and hopefully travelling. There is so much of the world I have yet to see.

18. What is, generally, your preference in reading – a paper book or ebook? And why?
I know, I know all about the smell of books, the feel of books but I have become a total convert to e-books. Basically because of the physical convenience – I can carry a whole library with me wherever I go. Holding the book I am reading is so much lighter – this matters when I want to read in bed. And really, once I get engrossed in the writing I actually forget whether it’s a paper book I’m holding or my kindle!
BUT – let me tell you a little secret - I still have my book shelves in my study where my old ‘friends’ reside and yes I do have my love moments with them when I touch, feel, smell…

19. What four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
Characters, Dialogue, Plot and the Beginning and Ending

20. How much real life goes into fiction writing?
I’ve heard a lot of people say you can only write well about things you have lived through and personally experienced.
To my mind if a fiction writer was to restrict herself to only what she has experienced it would narrow her field terribly. Fiction calls upon a writer to create a world that does not exist. The writer has to be able to ‘live’ any character in any situation, in order to create new worlds.

21. Is high level of imagination important to have for an Author?
Absolutely essential.

22. Your dream destination on Earth?
A room somewhere, far away from daily life’s care…
A room where I could be alone with my imagination – and a laptop!

23. Your country of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed.
I was born in Lucknow, India.
I’ve travelled a lot – Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Australia, Sardinia, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Venezuela, Turkey, United States, UK, France…

24. What best things you liked in these countries around the globe?
I have loved:
Amsterdam – for its old houses with their feet dipping into the canals criss-crossing the city, its flower markets, its cycle tracks, its buskars and its street performers and for Anne Frank’s house…
Istanbul for the Bosphorus beating at its shores, for its history so vividly alive at every nook and corner, its vibrant inclusive culture, the warm hospitality of its friendly people, its luscious fruits and vegetables…
Cappadocia for its unbelievable ‘fairy chimneys’ landscape and its tourist friendly services…
Miraflores in Peru, where people spontaneously burst into song and dance on the streets and artists are waiting to sketch your portrait in just a few strokes…
Kyoto in Japan, for its old world charm, its oh-so-gentle-polite people; Aqaba in Jordan for its crystal clear waters and for the ruins of Petra... and so many more places.
And I have loved – and envied – every place I have ever visited for the cleanliness of their cities.

25. Your favorite time of the day?
Nine in the morning to one in the afternoon – because that has always been my ‘me’ time.
My family has generally respected this simply because they have realized that if I don’t get it, I tend to turn into one irritable, crotchety, hard-to-tolerate female.

26. Your zodiac/ sunsign?
I was born on 23rd April.

27. Your favorite color and why?
Two colors – deep red for its vibrant dynamism and yellow for its bright cheerfulness.

28. What is the last book you finished reading? What is the current book you are reading?
Recently finished: IQ 84
Currently reading: Bring up the Bodies

29. Your favorite book and why?
Gone with the wind – for its two unforgettable characters, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.

30. Your favorite movie and why?
Sound of Music – for portraying so beautifully how zest for life can overcome the most insurmountable of difficulties.

31. Your favorite celebrity and why?
Amitabh Bachan. I am not a particularly great fan of his film roles. But I once heard Anupam Kher talk about an incident on some film set where everyone was disgruntled because it was very hot and the AC was not working.
It seems Amitabh was sitting in one corner of the room, wearing a blanket around his shoulders because the role he was to shoot for required it, absorbed in a book he was reading. When Anupam asked how he could bear to sit like that in the heat his smiling answer was “If you think it is hot it is, and if you don’t it isn’t”
I was bowled over. By the man’s humility, his detachment and his total focus on what he was doing.
I do admire his acting for the credibility he has brings to even the silliest role he has ever played.

32. Your favorite food?
Dahi - and all sorts of fruits

33. Your favorite sports?

34. What is the force that drives you?
Some inner force maybe – hard to define…

35. What comes to your mind when you think of India?
Color. Noise. Hustle bustle. Loud and large hearted people. Young people full of energy and enthusiasm. Raring to go.
And – hang down our heads in shame - the garbage and the filth everywhere.
I am so ashamed that some years ago I started the Garbyhog project for school children – personally going to schools, motivating children with AV presentations, giving them my Garbyhog book, and showing them a practical alternative to littering bio-degradable garbage all over – viz. vermicomposting.
A drop-in-the-ocean effort yes, but an effort nevertheless…

36.  Some quickies: Sun or Moon, Laughter or Smile, Morning or Evening, Coffee or Tea, Mountain or Sea, Long Drive or Short Drive, Silence or Conversation, Water or Fire, Air or Earth, Mars or Jupiter, Tulip or Rose, Red or Blue, Left or Right, Glance or Stare, Fame or Money, Boy or Girl, Day or Night, Tree or Plant, Love or Passion

Sun, Laughter, Morning, Coffee, Sea, Long Drive, Silence, Water, Air, Mars, Rose, Red, Right, Glance, Fame, Girl, Day, Plant, Passion

37. What three words come to your mind for each – Technology, Life, God, Humanity, Terrorism, Racism, Childhood Abuse, Love, Parenting, Old age
Technology – Smart, Future, Science
Life – Great, wonderful, beautiful
God – True, Humble, Me
Humanity – old, cruel, happy
Terrorism – Horrible, stupid, senseless
Racism – Obnoxious, idiotic, ridiculous
Childhood Abuse – vomit, toxic, ugly
Love – Forever, happy, lasting
Parenting – happy, loving, joy
Old Age – Lonely, Smiling, patient

38. First thing you do in the morning after waking up?
Fling open the curtains so I can see the world outside.

39. Last thing to do before sleep?
Cuddle up and thank God there is still love…

40. State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote

Signature line: An international voice rooted in ancient Indian wisdom
Tag Line: She’ll pull at your heartstrings she’ll set you thinking…
Best Quote:
“…every harsh word spoken, every such act or even thought doesn’t just disappear - it hangs around somewhere in totality and some day it boomerangs to haunt us.”
-         The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi
Veena Nagpal

41. The last line of your autobiography would be…
Now I look towards the future and smile…

42. The title of your autobiography would be…
Loved to Live

Links & other relevant details:
ISBN-13: ISBN 978-81-8386-119-9
Publisher: Tara India Research Press
Twitter handle: @veenanagpal

Any other links:

2. THE UNDER-2 MINUTES BOOK TRAILER of The Uncommon Memories of Zeenat Qureishi AT:

3. Author Website:

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