Hi, Mili here. And I am back with a new interview. This interview today is by a profound Indian author Veena Nagpal.
Meet Veena Nagpal, a small but mighty author! She fiercely guards her writing time but puts her family first. Her latest book is “The Indian Café in London,” her fifth novel. She’s also written “Radius 200” and other novels, plus four children’s books that teach about the environment.
Veena has a successful career in advertising and corporate communication. She loves to travel, try new foods, paint, and take care of her little garden in Noida, near New Delhi.
Mili: Our audience may already be familiar with you, but for those who might not know you well, could you please introduce yourself in your own words.
Veena: Eighty-one years old, I am tiny but fierce when it comes to guarding my ‘me’ time specially my writing time. I have this obsessive compulsion – I cannot not write. I have had five novels and four books for children published. I live in Noida with one husband and hundred and one plants.
Mili: What inspired the unique narrative style in your novel “The Indian Café in London”? Without revealing too much, I’m curious about the creative process behind blending these elements in your story.
Veena: Every writer aims at developing a unique style of his or her own. Thank you for terming mine, ‘distinguished’. When you ask how I came up with blending ‘such things’ I assume you are referring to the foodie facts and recipes.
I think that was just a natural outcome of my protagonist’s character.
A wannabe chef as obsessed with food as Akhil is, would definitely keep a food journal. Without it, my character would not have been true to life, and as I said earlier, for me, characters are the most important element of storytelling.
Mili: The narrative seems to shift focus between the three protagonists, Jamila, Akhil, and Puru, with varying degrees of character development. Can you discuss the decision to structure the story this way and how it impacted the overall reading experience?
Veena: For me characters are the most important element of storytelling – every other element is subservient to this.
I read somewhere that when you sit down to create something – a painting, a piece of music or a novel – the whole world sits with you. As you get immersed in your work, one by one every one leaves and you are alone with your work. Then you, too, leave. That is the moment when creativity happens.
With every novel I write, I spend months on research; but after that I like to leave my characters free to roam where their spirit wills. I wait for them to tell me their story. With The Indian Café in London, the three characters were literally telling me their story in their own words. I was just acting as a scribe.
I needed to show case the multiple perspectives that I was being fed, and I think the kind of parallel structuring I used, helped me do that.
Mili: Akhil’s character is praised as one of the best-developed in the novel. How does his journey from a somewhat timid individual to someone willing to challenge his strict father resonate with the themes of identity and self-discovery in the story?
Veena: Yes, The Indian Cafe in London, is a chronicling of self-discovery of all three characters. Akhil, being the protagonist, gets to showcase his journey more vividly than the others.
It’s never easy being the son of a military hero specially a General. For Akhil it is doubly difficult because of his ‘bloody bawarchi’ career choice.
But, sooner or later, a man has to grow beyond his father and find himself. ICIL is all about Akhil’s struggle to do that. Of course, he lucks out in his mentor, Khanu, who plays a major role in his growth. One Amazon reviewer, I remember, wished she had had a Khanu in her life!
Mili: The character of Jamila undergoes a significant change with an abrupt religious decision in the second half of the book. How did this change impact your perception of her character, and do you feel it was in line with her previously established personality?
Veena: A closer analysis, I think, will reveal that what seems an abrupt religious decision is, in fact, just a gradual realisation on Jamila’s part, of her true identity – that of a ‘Fauji’.
A typical ‘fauji’ kid, Jamila grew up in an atmosphere where discipline was paramount and religious lines were blurred.
Although a headstrong, ebullient girl, the circumstances of her growing years – a cuckolding mother and a father who died too early – left her floundering in uncertainties, unsure of what she wanted of life.
Though Yusuf’s entry in her life is as appealing to her as ‘chewing on her toe nails’, she is so physically attracted to him that it makes her vulnerable to his extremist views…
Until an oft read letter from her father, acts as the anchoring left foot of a Sufi dancer, and she regains her balance, realises her true fauji identity. So, no, her decision is not really so abrupt.
Mili: As we near the conclusion of our interview, could you share with us your top five favorite books and the reasons why they hold a special place in your heart?
Veena: I think we are living in very exciting times when literature is seeing so much experimentation and innovative thinking, in every aspect of storytelling. I have very eclectic tastes in reading, veering more towards literary fiction. It is extremely difficult to pinpoint just 5 books, but here goes:
All the Light We Cannot See and Gentleman in Moscow for the sheer pleasure of enjoying beautiful prose.
Flowers for Algernon for its gripping and thought provoking theme
Lincoln in the Bardo for its extraordinarily original rendering of a not so extraordinary theme.
The heart breaking Shuggie Bains.
Solar Bones for its brave experimentation in style; stream of consciousness with almost no punctuation, no paras no chapters – a single sentence running for 200 pages.
I have also thoroughly enjoyed A Man Called Ove, Eleanor Oliphant is absolutely Fine; Book Thief and oh, so many more.
Like I said we readers are living in exciting times!
Mili: Final question: Is there an author or a specific book that had a profound impact on your life?
Veena: I have always been a voracious reader and books have definitely played a major role in shaping me but no, I don’t think there is any one author who changed my life.
If anything did ‘change my life’, perhaps it was my mother admonishing a ten-year-old me to stop reading ’story’ books and concentrate on studies. Maybe that’s when I stubbornly decided that if I was forbidden to read stories, I’d write my own!
As we wrap up our conversation with Veena Nagpal, we’ve delved into the fascinating world of her writing, the inspiration behind her distinctive narrative style, and the authors who’ve shaped her journey. It’s clear that her passion for storytelling knows no bounds, and we look forward to more captivating tales from this talented author in the future. Thank you for sharing your insights, Veena, and for inspiring us with your words!
To read more about the book, click HERE.
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