Every writer has a beautiful story of how they first began to write. What is your story, Manjiri? Did you always see yourself as a writer?
My beautiful story begins with my instinctive desire to create fictitious mesmerizing worlds with memorable characters like in Enid Blyton books. In fact, I grew up on such a staple diet of her books, that for me that was the real world. I could barely associate with Ganesh, Radha and Seema, when I was completely in synch with Fatty, Bets, Philip and Daisy. However, it is thanks to Enid Blyton, that I knew, at age of seven, that I would be a writer and I wrote my first manuscript (a children’s novel) soon after.
The Super-Dome of the future is not very different from our world. Divisive politics has tossed out tolerance and it has become Us versus Them. Altklugs and Lamebren – were they inspired by our present situation?
Certainly. The past, present and future of our world spells divisive politics. The hunger for power is an indisputable contender for all kinds of power games. No matter what our heights of achievements and discoveries, there is no solution to the deviousness of the human mind, to the inborn need of some to control others and the inherent bias towards everything in life.
In my opinion, when you listen carefully, science fiction novels carry a powerful subtext to them. What was the message you wanted to convey in ‘Revolt of the Lamebren’?
The underlying message is quite clear. Knowledge cannot replace emotion, power cannot replace love and perfection cannot replace compassion.
Revolt of the Lamebren is your tenth book. You have been a committed and prolific writer despite juggling other roles such as the Director of Pune International Literary Festival,
I do it because I cannot not do it! Writing is my cardinal passion – I have stories to tell, messages to share, characters who clamour to be released from my head, imagination to be turned into reality…what I am trying to say is that if you are passionate about what you do, you do it. No plan works better than action and no excuses work against the call of your heart. You just do it. Selfishly, actively, doggedly, sometimes even brutally and without the least care of what the world would think. You just have to believe in yourself and plunge into action. You just have to make the right choices for yourself.
You are popularly known as the ‘Agatha Christie of India’. I love how you travel to different places, research your setting and develop your story with that place as your backdrop. With science fiction, this entire process must have changed. How did you research for ‘Revolt of the Lamebren’?
For my destination thrillers, I visited the places that already existed but for Revolt, I created an imaginary destination and visited it again as a researcher. Though I had the unique privilege of making any changes I wanted. Still I admit that was the most difficult part of the novel – imagining what the world would look many, many years from now, researching the changes that may have taken place, discoveries that may have changed the lives of mankind…the research took a long time, because I had a lot of unlearning to do. Drop what I knew already and learn to think with a blank slate as researching was at two levels – technological advances as well as human behaviour. And gradually I realized that perhaps one tries too hard to imagine a world grossly different from the one now. A fantastic unimaginable world. But would it really be like that? The physical world perhaps…but human beings? Why and how would minds change? I realized that perhaps they wouldn’t. And thus, a bigger challenge emerged – creating a world with the brilliance of advanced technology, a perfect world but led by flawed humans. I thoroughly enjoyed the journey though. It taught me a lot.
PILF has established itself as one of the most important literary festivals in our country. How did the idea for PILF develop? What is your future vision for PILF?
PILF happened because of the need for a litfest in Pune. Our vision was very clear – celebrate the written word in all its forms, create a platform for writers of all levels and a hub of inspiring creative energy. My vision for future PILF is also clear – a better festival rather than bigger, concrete takeaways for all, a complete, fulfilling experience for speakers and attendees and a platform for journey take-offs for debut authors.
The beauty of language or the nitty-gritty of a plot – what would you choose?
Who is your writing mentor? How did this person influence you?
I have had spirit mentors in Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. I am largely a self-taught person and was quite a recluse until I became a festival director. Unfortunately, I have not had the good fortune of meeting a mentor.
If you could name only one
Difficult choice to make. Please let me name 3 books that influenced my writing although there are many – My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchel and Persuasion by Jane Austen.
You have successfully written in different genres. What is a genre that you can never see yourself write?
Mythological fiction. It’s just not for me But then, you never know!
What is one thing that you would like to change in the literary/publishing community?
The one thing, out of many that need to change is, nowadays, the priority to only publish and promote celebrities while lesser known mortals are left to fend for themselves!
Name one lesser-known writer whom you would hugely recommend.
As a writer as well as a Litfest Director, I feel that there are many talented writers in India today and I wouldn’t like to mention one. Through PILF we make it a point to give a platform to many