A Conversation with Author Manna Bahadur

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A writer, poet, scriptwriter and painter, Manna Bahadur dons many hats. Her first English Novel ‘The Dance of Death’, published by Penguin in March 2012, received critical acclaim and was cherished by book lovers across the continents. The author has a flair for writing in English as well as Hindi. Her Hindi publications include ‘Dhhop-Chanh’, a book of poems, published in 2009, ‘Neelanjana’, a novel, published in 2007 and ‘Aks Mere Jazbaat Ke’, a book of poems, geet and ghazals published in 2006 by Saransh Publications.

A popular face on Doordarshan from the late Seventies, she has written and compered various programs including ‘Saptahiki’, the highest TRP grosser, and was a News Caster in Doordarshan for a short while. She has also penned TV serials and documentaries.Originally from Patna, the author currently resides in Faridabad.

Interview

When was the first time you thought of becoming a writer or any other significant event that shaped you as a writer?

Life is an unpredictable journey. Just when one feels in command, it disrupts the very base, shaking up all our faith, belief and dreams of a future. I had never thought of becoming a writer. Although, Urdu poetry fascinated me a great deal. I would collect beautiful verses of Ghalib, Mir, Zafar, Sahir and while enjoying the depth and style of their beautiful expressions, I could feel poetry sprouting its tiny roots within me when I was ten/twelve years old. By the time I started competing with other students of various colleges and Universities, I had honed my craft well enough to win every Poetry competition that I participated in and receive invitations to recite along with famous poets. It was encouraging to find my short stories winning awards too. But once college days were over, I took voluntary retirement from writing and began dabbling in colour, brush, canvases, holding solo exhibitions.

Later, I joined Doordarshan as a presenter. My career zoomed up, bestowing best presenter award and I was entrusted with most of the important shows. However, just as I thought I had found my niche in life, everything came crashing down and I found myself standing at a dead end. This happy phase lasted for just 13 years, as I lost my voice completely. It was at this juncture that my writing prowess worked like a balm to my wounded aspirations. I tried turning my handicap into my strength, learnt to use a computer and resumed my unfinished literary saga with a lot more conviction and faith in my skill than ever before, with blessings from my relatives, friends and Ma Saraswati.

What inspires you to write?

The different facets of human psyche, the people around me , the experiences that I have gone through, the little everyday happenings that make up life, the ever changing yet static beauty of nature, an inspiring word, sentence or a couplet that I may have read, or just a simple historical fact that has been ignored for too long. I am forever in awe of a vast horizon that accommodates the entire universe. It goads me to expand my imagination and fish out various ways and themes to spin stories around and weave poems …

You have published your last two novels in English, and both have been received well. How has the transition from Hindi to English, been for you?

The transition was interesting as I would often get stuck with a Hindi word that has no parallel in English or vice-versa. When you write Indian stories, some dialogues can convey right meaning and ethos only if it is spoken or written in the local language. I felt tempted to use it, but then one can’t keep mixing the two. So instead of resisting the urge, I tried to convince myself that as long as I conveyed the essence in the right spirit, readers would accept and understand. Luckily for me, both the novels ‘The Dance of Death’ and ‘The Curse of Nalanda’ have received rave reviews. Even the short story ‘Mr. MP’ that I wrote for the latest satirical anthology by Readomania ‘Mock, stalk & Quarrel’ has been widely appreciated for its humour and lucid portrayal of an election scene in a village in Bihar, my home-town. I enjoy writing both in English and Hindi with equal ease.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before starting a book?

My research normally goes side by side as I write. I pick up just one basic truth or a reason to begin a novel. After that what direction it will take, what situations will arise, which characters will forge their way in, what challenges the plot will throw etc. is never pre-planned. It is these challenges that I enjoy tackling as I write. I like to go with the flow. However, if I have to describe a place or a period or some basic truth, then I try to find as many facts as possible on the subject, make notes and use the relevant portions to make my narrative and descriptions look authentic.

What is your writing process like?

I have no fixed writing process, but I let my imagination go wild when I am writing. I am rigid only about the basic theme, rest of it keep running in my mind like a picture, I simply keep connecting them. I like to be by myself while writing with some good music playing in the background.

What is your favorite childhood book?
I wasn’t much of a reader in my childhood as I was an outdoor person with lots of friends and all kinds of games. However, I distinctly remember ‘The Diary of Ann Frank’ and the deep impression it left on my mind. I enjoyed reading Sharat Chandra and Bankim Chandra too.

Tell us about your experience writing and publishing ‘The Curse of Nalanda’.

‘The Curse of Nalanda’ was my second thriller after ‘The Dance of Death’. I thoroughly enjoyed getting into the skin of each and every character of the book. Somebody narrated me the story of how and why Nalanda was set on fire. It fanned the fire within me and I started researching all about Nalanda. Being a Bihari, I have been to Nalanda many times. Its topography, constructions, the area in general is crystal clear in my mind. All this helped. Normally I give the first name that comes to my mind to characters in my books, but since I was writing about a 5th Century story, I researched for a convincing name of that period. I have smiled, laughed and cried with the characters. I get emotionally attached to them. Their worries become my worries, which troubles me too till it is solved.

Publishing ‘The Curse of Nalanda’ was a beautiful experience. Dipankar Mukherjee the founder director of Readomania was looking for a story based on Nalanda, and my manuscript reached him in the nick of time. He liked and published it, thus resurrecting Nalanda’s glory and its painful past for the present generation to understand and appreciate the rich legacy of education that our country possessed so many millenniums ago. Readomania takes good care of manuscript’s shortcomings, and gives it the right cover and finish.

Tell us about your other projects. What’s next?

I am trying to collect poems that I keep writing on chits, used envelopes, news papers, magazines scattered all over my house or lying hidden in drawers, compile them and publish a book of poems before penning another novel or may be a book of some humorous short stories.

How can the readers know more about you and your work?

Google carries a lot of details on my work, I am available on Facebook as Manna Bahadur, on twitter at #mbahadur3, otherwise email – mbahadur@hotmail.com.

Your message to the readers of thehappywomen.com

I love the name thehappywomen, it connotes self-belief, confidence, determination, inner beauty compassion and all the positive vibes that makes a woman complete, happy and special. Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to connect with all thehappywomen.

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Deepika Sharma
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Deepika Sharma is the co-founder and editor of thehappywomen.com. She is an author, blogger and someone who feels strongly about the issues that plague married urban women in India, as they struggle with family expectations and societal norms on one hand and their careers on the other. She is the co-author of the book, ​​’Indian Women and the Shaadi Conundrum’ which is a self-help book aimed to guide women and help them tide over the pre and post wedding hulabaloo.

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