Set in Kolkata, Sutapa Basu’s The Cursed Inheritance is a mystery novel which tells its readers that the past and the present can never be separated, no matter how hard one tries. In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, the author explains what draws her to explore historical elements in fiction and how they can teach young readers about the heritage of their nation.
Q: What inspired you to set foot into the mystery genre with The Cursed Inheritance?
A: As a reader I have been fond of reading mysteries and historical fiction. It was natural of me to veer towards these genres when I began to write. My debut novel was a psychological thriller and one of my anthologies, Out OfThe Blue, is a collection of thrillers. But this cozy mystery is different. The inspiration for this book is an inanimate object that has been a living, breathing entity for me. The main protagonist of The Cursed Inheritance is the heritage mansion. This house has been growing gradually in my imagination for a long time. In fact, when I saw the grand, zamindari mansions and havelis that dot the lanes of North Kolkata, I tried to imagine all the tales that they would tell me if they could. Therefore, I have been weaving this tale around my fantasy mansion for years and it is only now that I set it down in words.
Q: Your previous books have dealt with historical subjects and this one also places great emphasis on history, from the motif of Sarkar Bari to the use of Egyptian history. What interests you in this area?
A: History has always fascinated me for it is the story of times past. When I studied it at school, I was always dissatisfied because I never came to know the complete tale, only facts and figures. But as I grew older and came across narratives based on history, I found my genre. Fiction based on history makes the past come alive. Reading and writing historical fiction gives me an opportunity to compare the past and present. It tells me the causes of modern events, shows me how similar the past and present is and sadly reveals how humanity continues to commit the same mistakes over and over.
Q: At the end, the protagonist, Anahita, decides not to go ahead with the sale of her ancestral house and put it to a nobler use. Do you intend to send out a message for the younger generation with that point?
A: It was a conscious decision for I believe very strongly in the idealism of the youth. As we grow older, we become cynical, lose our convictions and carry too much negative baggage. Young people retain their values, beliefs and have a positive approach towards all problems. They have the courage to go out and change the world. I always root for that youthful outlook that says, ‘All will be good, if you are good.’ By showing Anahita retain her ancestral house and put it to use of the community, I wanted to reflect her youthful spirit and determination. The Cursed Inheritance is a tale of youthful audacity and victory that says that the empathy of youth always wins the day.
Another intention of profiling the old mansion and its world was to expose young readers to the heritage of their country. Today, most young adults are so absorbed by western ideas and distractions that they are clueless about their own country, its history and heritage. It is a universal phenomenon of the modern, multicultural world. My aim is to lure this generation away from their screens into the world that surrounds them and has existed since before they were born. I believe communities that remain grounded to their past find their true potential. Whether born in or outside the country, the young Indian generation must find their roots to discover its true identity. Heritage is a legacy and through stories like The Cursed Inheritance I have sought to ensure it endures.
Q: Why did you decide to set the story in Kolkata?
A: Kolkata is a city of contrasts and stories lurk in every nook and corner. I felt The Cursed Inheritance could not have a more enchanting setting. I infused regional elements typical to the city into the narrative. The mansion in the story is easily identifiable as similar buildings pepper the streets of Kolkata and most of them have intriguing tales and histories attached to them. Whenever I saw one, I would try to imagine the people who had lived in it over the years, maybe centuries ago. I would wonder what secrets it held.
Other than the cuisine and tantric practices in the region, I have described the chaotic traffic, the crowds and the poverty that haunts Kolkata’s streets against the backdrop of the grand Howrah Bridge that fills its skyline. The hand-pulled rickshaw, an icon of the City of Joy, also finds mention in my story.
The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.
For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.
When spookiness gets real in a horror writing workshop
Debutant author Sid Kapdi talks about getting out of his comfort zone for ‘Scare Me If You Can’, finding interesting ways of bringing out the horror element and discusses how challenging it is to scare readers.
A thrilling rollercoaster which promises a screamy ride with mysterious prophecies, sinister sequences, and brutal revenges is what ‘Scare Me If You Can’ (published by TreeShade Books) can be best described as. We spoke with author Sid Kapdi to understand what it took to create this intriguing world for the readers.
Q. How you began the journey of professional fiction writing? What prompted it?
I have always loved story-telling and my day job involves just that, though of a corporate and technical kind. I wanted to extend it further and write fictional stories for a while, but due to other priorities, I had been suppressing the urge. Meanwhile, in one of my WhatsApp groups consisting of my schoolmates, some of us used to create episodes involving our friends as characters. Though we used to write in any random genre, my friends found my horror stories quite scary and prompted me to go professional.
I did not know where to start, so I researched a bit on FB groups and publishers’ websites. I also started attending lit fests which helped me to increase my network. On the side, I began writing short stories and later decided to go for a novel that had short stories. I was lucky to have met the right people to guide me at the right time and that is how the journey began.
Q. How did you choose to debut with a horror-thriller novel? When did you develop an inclination towards this genre?
In my teens and early twenties, I was fond of reading novels by Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook, John Grisham, and Jeffrey Archer.
Fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat thrillers have always fascinated me. I knew that whatever genre I choose to write in, my stories would be pacy and action-oriented. By nature, I have been known to be witty and funny, and my amateur writing in college days always reflected these qualities. However, I chose horror as it was outside of my comfort zone. I found that making readers feel scared is far more challenging and I had never done it before.
Q. What led you to decide to write a piece of work where horror becomes a reality? What sort of research went into it?
As I mentioned earlier, I did not have much of a background in horror. But I knew that I was creative, could think of interesting ways of bringing out the scare and was good at making it sound real. I read the works of the horror greats such as Stephen King, Neil D’Silva, and Dean Koontz and found that horror writing involves the use of powerful verbs and much more show rather than tell, as compared to other genres.
Though many of my stories have a backdrop that is familiar to me and places I have visited before, I did need to do my research around say, a crime scene, a poultry farm, a butcher shop, and so on.
Q. How did you weave the intriguing elements in the plot: the horror-themed resort backdrop, an advanced horror-writing workshop, and 10 stories? You decided it beforehand ?
The ten stories came first. I was good at writing short stories and I wanted to take advantage of that. Hence, I made the outlines of the stories first, each on a different theme – romance, interview, chat, animal cruelty, sexual abuse, and more. What I needed was an interesting backdrop wherein I could blend the stories such that the backdrop becomes as important as the stories. Once I was able to zero in on the main plot of a horror-writing workshop, I found that either a haunted hotel or a themed resort would enhance the horror effect.
Q. Was it a conscious decision to base the stories in different Indian cities? As the horror quotient rises with each story, tell us about the challenges you faced?
The setting of each story in a different city and also different state, came up when I was deciding the names of the characters or participants in the workshop. I wanted to have as much diversity as possible. Working backwards, I updated my stories to align with my thought of different cities and I also set up the names of the characters within each story accordingly.
I knew that many of the readers would not be very keen to read horror, especially from a new author. Hence, I decided to vary the scare quotient such that the initial stories would have more of a thriller element rather than horror and the ‘scariness’ would increase with each story. The advantage of this was that the readers got hooked at the start and they did not feel the horror rising as they kept going along. The challenge was to arrange the stories in the right order, I had to even replace a couple of stories at a later stage since they did not fit into my idea of the scare factor.
Q. Can you give a glimpse of the twists and turns in ‘Scare Me If You Can’ the horror buffs can look forward to?
The horror buffs are in for a treat when they read ‘Scare Me If You Can’. Some of the twists that the readers can expect are – traumatic experiences faced by people which later get attributed to past-life events, pranks played on each other turning out to be real, the discovery of dead bodies at unexpected locations and furthermore shocking discoveries behind their deaths, cheating leading to unimaginable consequences, and so on. The biggest twist is that a character from one of the stories turns up in real and wreaks havoc on the workshop participants.
Q. What sort of feedback have you received from the readers so far?
The feedback has been very positive and encouraging. The best part is that many of the non-readers of horror are appreciating the book. Also, the unique backdrop and the theme of the novel have been the clear winners. Besides these, the readers have loved the visually appealing descriptions articulated in simple language.
Q. Any horror novel you would like to see it get adapted into a movie?
I would certainly like to see my novel being adapted on screen. On a serious note, I would like to see ‘Maya’s New Husband’, the debut book of my favourite horror author Neil D’Silva to come alive on screen.
REDESIGNING OUR WORLD TO MEET 21ST CENTURY CHALLENGES
How can we rethink the world’s systems to prepare the planet and its people for the future? Let’s find out
What does it mean to redesign the world now? Is it about a new world order where the powerful and wealthy nations’ geopolitical aspirations are propagated and promoted for dominance, trade, finance and minerals, one where the military is at the core? Or is it about a design to ensure a better world for all, with access to opportunities and assured safety, security, peace and justice, along with the potential to democratize education, health and prosperity? Is it about climate change and the better health of our planet and all its species? Or is it about something utopian, romantic, aspirational and ideal but unrealizable? Or again, is it about a more real and just world that can be created in a few decades? The answers to these questions depend on whom we ask and whose interests are at stake.
The redesign of the world means different things to different people. We all have varied backgrounds, with differing understanding, perceptions, values, wisdom, needs and aspirations. In general, political pandits and elites who discuss international issues will emphasize global geopolitical power, American leadership, China’s rise, the military, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, global conflicts, etc. Economists, academicians and business people will look at the new design from the viewpoint of international trade, growth, GDP, GNP, foreign direct investments, employment, manufacturing, services, etc. There are many people out there with varied expertise and experiences, and differing views on what the world needs. A great deal has been discussed and written by domain experts on our challenges and the solutions. However, most of them have taken a narrow view of the trials facing the world. Redesigning the world is complex and difficult to distil into a simple format or formula that can be easily digested, accepted and executed.
We first need to understand and appreciate the design after World War II, in the context of what worked, what did not and what needed to be resolved. As we have seen, the world’s design, conceived after World War II, had five main pillars—democracy, human rights, capitalism, consumption and the military. At that time, the world was bipolar, with US democracy and Soviet communism being the two warring ideologies with conflicting priorities. This era was focused on nuclear proliferation, industrial espionage, counterintelligence and mistrust between the two superpowers.
Seventy-five years on, it is clear that we enjoy world peace, democracy and freedom. We are making tremendous progress mainly because of technology, infrastructure, energy and communication. Democracy has won. Unfortunately, because of populism and divisive politics, narrow interests and exclusion of people from the mainstream, large-scale distortion of facts and erosion of institutions, democracy is under high stress in many countries and they face an uncertain future. Democracy is still a work in progress and needs much more reform to take it to the next level.
Human rights are well-accepted but not delivered, policed or practised in many countries. There are persisting issues affecting inclusion, equality and justice, especially for minorities. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, colour and economic situation continue to divide communities and create tensions leading to violence. Capitalism has worked well and created substantial growth and prosperity. It has reduced global poverty and created wealth. However, wealth distribution is heavily concentrated in the hands of a very few, thus further dividing people and societies. Consumption has been carried too far and benefits only a few. Overconsumption in some areas has affected our climate, forests and environment to the point where human civilization’s survival may be at stake. The military machine diverts too much of our precious resources from the cause of social development, spurred on by false fears of nuclear war and border disputes. Global discussions and dialogues can resolve most of this. Any significant redesign of the world must address all these issues head-on.
The design of the post–World War II world is now obsolete and a fresh approach is needed with a new social, political and economic architecture. We have accomplished a lot, but we could have done much more. We got derailed with our old command-and-control mindset, dominance, military establishments and violence. We continue building warheads and not health systems. We worry about markets and financial systems while we ignore people and poverty. We think top-down and not bottom-up. We do not seek to find sustainable solutions that benefit the poor. We divide people by categorizing and labelling them with our preconceived notions. We build boundaries, not bridges. We design policies to benefit the rich and ignore the hungry and homeless. We promote lies and suppress the truth. We spread hate and hide love. We use religion to separate and not unite.
Now, with hyperconnectivity, we have a global opportunity to change all this quickly. Distance does not matter, nor do time zones, and the opportunities to network and collaborate in the cyber age are limitless. We have new technologies and new tools to work with. We can now deploy innovative models for development and build more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable communities. This is an opportune moment to review and reflect on redesigning our world and taking it forward on a new trajectory. Young people in this world have a lot at stake. They are conscious of climate change and the possibilities of technology. They are progressive with no hang-ups from old-fashioned mindsets. They want peace and prosperity for all. They are willing to share and sacrifice. To redesign the world is to call for action, especially for the youth. It is a call for them to unite and demand a better future for humanity. It is a new vision that they can act upon and use to become empowered.
The excerpt is from the book Redesign the World: A Global Call to Action (published by Penguin Random House India).
BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK
Redesign the World: A Global Call to Action
The world was last designed seventy-five years ago, about the same time that Sam Pitroda was born. This design has outlived its utility. Hyperconnectivity and the Covid-19 pandemic offer a unique opportunity to redesign the world. The proposed redesign of the world has the planet and its people at the centre; it is built on the foundations of sustainability, inclusion, equality, equity and justice so that everyone on earth can enjoy peace and prosperity. It is not an idealist or utopian vision, but one with humanity at its core. This book is about reshaping the world to meet the future challenges of our planet and our people.
Through the Rotor Disc
Sundaram Krishnamurthy and Sudha Krishna
As helicopter pilots in the Indian Air Force, we always glimpsed the world through a rotor disc. For many of us who flew before and after the 1971 war, our world view was shaped by our experiences and training. This book hopes to chronicle the journey of a few helicopter pilots and ground crew in Air Force Station Kumbhirgram in creating history as we helped change the course of the Bangladesh war in 1971. It is a retelling of our experiences, hundreds of places we landed and the valiant soldiers and civilians we ferried. After having flown the helicopters in every nook and corner of the country we realised that pilots do not steer helicopters, destiny does.
Boria Majumdar and Gautam Bhattacharya
1971 was the year that changed Indian cricket forever. Accustomed to seeing a talented but erratic Indian team go from one defeat to another, a stunned cricketing world watched in astonishment as India first beat the West Indies in a Test series on their home turf, and then emerged victorious over England in England. Suddenly, the Indian team had become a force to reckon with. This book is a thrilling account of the 1971 twin tours. Against a canvas that features Pataudi, Wadekar, Sardesai, Durani, Viswanath, Engineer, Solkar, Abid Ali, Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan and Sunil Gavaskar.
equALLY: Stories by Friends of the Queer World
Ramkrishna Sinha and Srini Ramaswamy
This book by Ramkrishna Sinha and Srini Ramaswamy is a first-of-its-kind anthology of powerful personal stories by individuals who have stood up and spoken for the LGBT+ community and created safe spaces at home, schools, colleges, workplaces, and in society. It features 45 authentic stories of influencers, corporate leaders, parents, teachers, teenagers, and celebrates life experiences, perspectives, and sentiments of their journey to ‘allyship’. Each tale is an inspiration, a motivation, and a reminder that there are people across the country for whom the aspect of an individual’s identity and existence is imperative.
KABIR BEDI UNPLUGGED
Told in contemporary non-linear style and penned in just six months, Kabir Bedi with immaculate writing lifts his recollections to the level of literature.
The lives of Indian film stars are interesting material for books. But film stars rarely write authentic autobiographies. Their true-life stories and the hours spent behind the camera remain a mystery and at times indistinguishable from gossip and fabrication. Usually, in their accounts, they are not big on acknowledging other movie greats, co-stars, filmmakers, or screenwriters; reluctant to give credit where credit is due and reticent about their romantic life. And memoirs mostly ghost-written are soaked in boastful self-praise, partiality, and vanity. They remain a marketing tool at best or shoddy media handouts at worse. A film star’s chronicle of events usually does not portray the past in a clear light.
But Kabir Bedi is different.
In the global business of entertainment where each participant brings a unique set of talents, Kabir Bedi has no equal. His amazing professional career has spanned all three forms: film, television, and theatre on three continents over more than three decades, and that matchless exposure of Bollywood, Pinewood, and Hollywood naturally lends itself to an extraordinary life worth reading about. Packed in about 300 pages Kabir Bedi’s autobiography has the inspiring history of his family and the exciting story of his successes and challenges as a global film and television star as also his spiritual journey. He walks us through his life from being a young radio producer at All India Radio, an advertising filmmaker, top model, theatre actor, film star, to a globally recognized celebrity, and much more. It’s fascinating to read about his landing the lead role in the smash hit Italian pirate series Sandokan (the most successful TV series in Europe). His exotic on-screen look was revolutionary and legend has it that Italian audiences were thunderstruck by his performance.
The aftermath of the incredible success of Sandokan described in detail in the book is probably best experienced with Kabir Bedi in Italy, Switzerland, or Spain now. And back in those years, the streets were jammed with fans at Via Veneto of Roma, workers of the FIAT factory quit work to seek his autograph and several young girls screamed, “I want to have your baby!” In his trip down the memory lane, Kabir Bedi writes about relocating to Santa Monica, Los Angeles to seek a future in Hollywood as the first established Indian actor with a fan following in Europe to boot. He describes his life in Hollywood that must have been particularly difficult because he had no model to follow. Yet he comes across as a man determined to create his destiny even when there was no path in sight. After initial years of intermittent success, he did manage to crossover to Hollywood and starred with Michael Caine and Omar Sharif in Ashanti, and Roddy McDowell in Thief of Baghdad. And on American television, he acted in a bunch of popular series like Highlander, Murder She Wrote, Magnum P.I., Dynasty, and The Bold and the Beautiful, the second most-watched television show in the world, seen by over a billion people in 149 countries.
Kabir Bedi’s autobiography has anecdotes about the James Bond film Octopussy, where he played Roger Moore’s antagonist Gobinda, and his notable sixty-five roles as both hero and villain on the Indian silver screen including Khoon Bhari Maang, Main Hoon Na, and Mohenjo Daro. In between, he vividly recounts his classic encounters with the Beatles, Princess Diana, Hollywood legends, heads of states, philosophers, spiritual leaders, and many iconic personalities of our times.
The most important parts of Kabir Bedi’s life story are his emotional attachments and relationships and he doesn’t shy away from presenting a sincere account where he bares his soul. Deep beliefs about love, life, and happiness and little bursts of personal philosophical insights appear across the pages. Honesty suffuses this book as the author processes his feelings over past affairs in his own words and at times it seems invasive to read the passages, even with the author’s approval.
Writing about his break up with Protima and then love affair with Praveen Babi, Kabir Bedi notes, “Our open marriage may have seemed like a good idea at first. In the end, it only caused me greater anxiety…. It had led to a lack of intimacy between us. I didn’t feel the love that I wanted, the caring and sharing I needed. Nor was I able to give it. The old magic had gone. I was feeling alone, empty and dejected.
Parveen Babi filled that void. She was a ravishingly beautiful actress with fair skin, long black hair and dark, mesmerising eyes. Until then, I’d always thought of her as the girlfriend of Danny Denzongpa. He was a good-looking Sikkimese actor, two years younger than me, a year older than Parveen. In the years ahead, he would become a highly successful villain in Bollywood and be nominated for many Filmfare Awards. Parveen began her rapid rise to stardom during their four years together. Her living openly with Danny, wearing jeans and smoking in public, had given her a bohemian image in India. But, morally, she was a conservative Gujarati girl. While the rest of the Juhu gang talked about the ‘free sex’ preaching of Guru Osho, she believed in sexual fidelity. It’s what I was looking for when I fell in love with her.”
This memoir filled with iconic photographs gently reveals Kabir Bedi’s secrets of success—genuine charm, disarming intellectual sophistication, a spiritual inheritance, and his most attractive asset—smashing good looks. The striking black and white photo that appears on the cover of the book was shot in the late 1970s when Kabir Bedi was in his early 30s by Terry O’Neill, one of the world’s most collected photographers with work hanging in national art galleries and private collections worldwide.
Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Life of an Actor also brings out Kabir Bedi’s talent as a great writer. Told in contemporary non-linear style and penned in just six months Kabir Bedi with immaculate writing lifts his recollections to the level of literature. It is informal, engrossing, glitzy, respectful, exhilarating, amusing, sentimental, sensual, and spiked with real compassion. Without a doubt, Kabir Bedi’s autobiography is the uncontested champ of the film star memoirs.
Bhuvan Lall is an author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Break of Dawn
Khan Mahboob Tarzi, translated by Prof. Ali Khan Mahmudabad
Penguin Random House, Rs 399
It’s the searing month of June, the rebellion against the British has just begun and Awadh is up in flames. Hindus and Muslims have joined hands to overthrow the foreign rulers and set India free. Some Indian rulers have started to enter into alliances to fight the foreigners, while others have thrown in their lot with them. A young soldier Riyaz Khan saves a group of Britishers from fellow ‘mutineers’ and escorts them safely to Lucknow. In this group is Alice, who falls in love with him and eventually becomes an informer for the rebels. Khan Mahboob Tarzi wrote the novel on the centenary of the uprising. Its English translation is done by Ali Khan Mahmudabad.
Death in Colaba Bay: A Colonial Bombay Mystery
Rupa Publications, Rs 195
Three young girls go missing from a prominent ‘native’ Bombay school. Their families are frantic with worry. Tara Bai, a young widow and heiress, with strong social connections, is an alumnus of the school who agrees to help the grieving parents. Police officer Arun Rao is assigned to the case. Soon, one of the missing girls is found dead on the shores of Colaba. It has uncanny similarities to older cases from Central India involving the royal family of Jaiwar. A chance encounter at the home of one of the victims brings Tara and Arun together who unmask the murderer.
Opinion7 months ago
South Block’s mistakes will now be corrected by Army
Sports10 months ago
When a bodybuilder breaks Shoaib’s record
News1 year ago
PM Modi must take governance back from babus
Spiritually Speaking9 months ago
Spiritual beings having a human experience
News11 months ago
Chinese general ordered attack on Indian troops: US intel report
Sports10 months ago
West Indies avoid follow-on, England increase lead to 219
Legally Speaking11 months ago
Law relating to grant, rejection and cancellation of bail
Royally Speaking8 months ago
The young royal dedicated to the heritage of Jaipur