New Delhi: She’s quite a citizen of the world, having lived in places as diverse as Kano, Antwerp, Singapore, Rochester, Mumbai, Bengaluru and now Hong Kong. Author Shobha Nihalani says she doesn’t write to a pattern but that has not come in the way of her churning out five hugely successful novels — with more to come — that have mystery and conspiracy as the common theme.
“There’s no particular pattern, but I am either thinking about the story, or writing it down whenever I have time. It could be a chapter or a page or a character development,” Nihalani told IANS in an email interview from Hong Kong, where she is now settled.
“I don’t have a 9-to-5 job, per se, but I do work part-time in our family-owned company as a book-keeper. I am also a housewife which involves family and social responsibilities,” she said.
It is perhaps this diversity of existence that has led Nihalani to deliver to the literary world works like “Karmic Blues” (her debut novel that was first published in Danish), “The Silent Monument” (also translated into Danish), two of the “NINE” trilogy and now “Unresolved” (Hachette, pp 286, price Rs.350).
“The common thread in all these stories is that they are based on mysteries or conspiracies. ‘Karmic Blues’ carries references to past life regression, ‘The Silent Monument’ mentions conspiracies surrounding the historical facts of the Taj Mahal. The conspiracy of ‘NINE’ refers to the oldest secret society, the protectors of powerful knowledge. And in ‘Unresolved’, I have implied that there are influential people who kill those who demand transparency using the RTI Act,” she said.
How did Nihalani get started as a writer?
“It was the love for the written word. Back in the 1980s, as a teenager in Mumbai, I would accumulate newspaper snippets of well-written, entertaining articles. In addition, I had a little notebook and wrote down quotes or phrases that were so beautifully written… I had to save them.”
The snippets, articles and the notebook entries — all helped in Nihalani’s role as a writer.
“Later, when I studied in Antwerp for my bachelor’s degree, one of the requirements was to write an essay for an economics course. I chose to write an economic assessment of India during British Rule. A family relative helped me gain access to the Fergusson College library in Pune.
“While I researched, I also spent many long hours completely lost in the dusty volumes of Indian history inside that architecturally beautiful library. It was one of the most memorable times of my life. I guess that’s when the seed was planted to become a writer,” Nihalani explained.
How did her global journey come about?
“My parents loved to travel a lot. My childhood and growing up years were spent in six cities in four different continents. It was only after marriage that I planted roots and settled down,” she said.
What then has she gained from her global journey? “There are many snapshots of memories that have enriched my life,” she replied.
In Kano, in Nigeria, she has “memories of bloody feudal wars between ethnic groups”.
“In Bengaluru, travelling to school on the cycle-rickshaw in the cool mornings, spending time with neighbours as we would cycle around the colony. In Singapore, I was finding it difficult to adjust to school life and spent most of my time reading books”.
“Next stop, Mumbai, this was the city where I finally felt I had developed roots and made some good friends. There was the laid-back college life. Bunking was part of the scene which meant sitting with friends at Marine Drive, eating street food, discussing the philosophies of life and the changing trends,” Nihalani elaborated.
The most memorable part of Mumbai “was the monsoon… the smells, the sounds and the cool breeze. Also, from our high-rise apartment, I would watch oncoming sheets of rain forming curtains across the sea… it was a visual pleasure”, Nihalani said.
On moving to Antwerp, the one thing that really hit her was the quiet.
“The sparsely populated streets, as compared to Mumbai, were so empty, it felt strange. The lack of noise was so distinct, it took time to adjust. But then I slowly developed a liking for the solitude and walked for hours exploring the city.
“The changing seasons were so distinct it was a marvel to watch the trees blossom in spring and change with the passing months, turning into gnarled branches in the winter. There was many a ghost story that came to mind during the dark cold months. In Hong Kong, my journey took on a new turn with marriage and a whole new life developed from there on,” the author said.
What of the future?
“Definitely more reading and writing,” Nihalani concluded.