31 January 2008

Interview: Sonja Chandrachud

Taking fancy to fantasy

Sonja Chandrachud, whose new book on the wizard world –The Potion of Eternity, released in Pune recently says how J K Rowling’s Harry Potter has opened doors for several other fantasy writers.

“One of the best things that emerged out of the success of J K Rowling's Harry Potter is that it has allowed several writers with similar interest and capabilities to explorer the genre of fantasy,” says Sonja Chandrachud, whose book, The Potion of Eternity – ‘a hilarious haunting adventure’ as she calls it, released and made it to all leading book stores recently.
Having traveled to several parts of the world, Sonja says she didn’t feel the need to ‘Indianize’ her story. “These names and places just came to my head and they seemed right, so I went ahead with it,” she says, adding that she was looking at a certain universal appeal for the book.

The story line is a rather simple, one that is filled with powerful scorcerers, yogis, vampires and witches. In that sense, anyone who is familiar with The Lord of The Rings or Harry Potter won’t feel timid to go along with this little escapade. So what’s it about? The Wizard Organisation Worldwide(WOM) finds its magic potion –one that promises eternity to the children of wizards- contaminated. Count Drunkula Von D’eth is entrusted with the potion and he goes underground with his large crazy family to conoct the Antidote and brew a fresh lot the Potion. But things aren’t easy, considering he’s up against some serious black magic and an enemy right in his house, all trying to pinch the potion from him. On the home front, things are worse, what with him having to contend with his hot-headed Indian tantrika wife and her sharp-tongued, revolting mother-in-law.

Within the genre of fantasy, this isn’t a terribly novel plot and neither do the Count’s enemies comes across as defined but it still has its strengths. For one, this is a wonderfully racy book, a quick read. Secondly, the author succeeds a great deal in creating interesting characters like the well -meaning but harried Count, his loyal but irascible Indian wife, Sinistra, who walks out on him angrily when she cannot cope up with the pressures of his job and handling her Twins. The most inspired bit of characterisation here is that of her mother-in-law Hag. “All the characters that you see in the book are inspired from my own life. I have twins in real life and even the mother-in-law’s character is hunderd per cent real,” she says laughing.

Coming back to her choice of genre, she says, “I have always been drawn to the genre of fantasy and let me say that it has always existed even before Harry Potter. J K Rowland herself was inspired by Eva Ibbotson’s book, Secret of Platform 13. Eva also wrote WhichWitch, a story about a Whizard looking out for the right witch to marry. Then there have been writers like Rold Dahl who have also dabbled in the genre. Indian itself is a treasure trove of these kind of stories,” she says.

Fortunately for her, publishers Penguin liked her manuscript when she approached them. “You have to play it by their rules –wherein you cannot call them once you submit your manuscript, they will get in touch if they like it. But things worked out well for me. No changes were suggested at all and the book has been marketed quite well as you can see,” she says.
But for the average person, looking to get their book published, she agrees it’s still a struggle in India. “We have no literary agents here, so it’s always difficult. My husband was there to support me, so I could go ahead and work on a story. But in any case, eventually, I do see myself turning my writing into a full-fledged career,” she says.

In fact, Sonja has already started work on the second part of what looks like a series now.
Based in Pune, the author had a rather interesting book reading session, preceded by a dramatised performance of the story at Crosswords recently. The interest that the event elicited clears shows how interest in the world of wizards is at an all time high among children.

14 January 2008

Shakespeare, Bill Bryson

The Good, Bard and the Ugly

Author: Bill Bryson
Publication date: 2007
Publishers: Penguin
Price: 325
Pages: 196

The obvious question that comes to mind for a new biography on Shakespeare is "Why one more?"

After all, this Elizabethan playwright is, without a shred of doubt, the most studied, researched and debated man in the whole of English literature. In fact, Bill Bryson provides some interesting statistics in this regard in this slim, compact book of his.

So admittedly, the author himself understands that writing another book about Shakespeare can easily slip into being an exercise in sheer indulgence. Which is why he spends considerable time building a case on how even though there's a staggering amount of literature in regards to the Bard, most of it is clouded in mystery and confusion. And that begins from the legitimacy of Shakespeare’s spelling itself!

In fact, his surmise is that the more one gets to know about Shakespeare, the more enigmatic he gets. Naturally then, critics and biographers have been tempted ever so often to fill in the gaps using creative conjecture.
Says Bryson, "Even the most careful biographers sometimes take a supposition that Shakespeare was Catholic or happily married or fond of the countryside or kindly disposed towards animals --- and convert it within a page or two to something like a certainty. The urge to switch from subjunctive to indicative is, to paraphrase Alaistair Fowler, always a powerful one. Others have simply surrendered themselves to their imaginations. Forced with a wealth of text but a poverty of context, scholars have focused obsessively on what they can know."

The book briefly looks at Shakespeare's childhood and then goes on to talk about his rise as a playwright in Elizabethan England. Bryson observes how the Bard couldn't have been born at a more fortunate time in history, a period when theatre was gaining popularity like never before. It was just the right time for the prolific Shakespeare to unleash his creative talents.
Bryson, though he keeps the tone of the biography uniformly unsentimental yet vivid, goes into too many period details in these sections. These might be useful to serious students of literature but personally; I found these parts excessively detailed and a bit mundane.

The book, however, throbs back to life in the later sections, particularly a chapter where the author discusses and analyses Shakespeare's works and makes some incisive comments.
There are two important elements that Bryson talks about here. One, he candidly recogonises that Shakespeare can lay no great claims to originality in the themes that he tackled.

Says Bryson, "His success was not, it must be said, without its short cuts. Shakespeare didn't scruple to steal plots, dialogue, names and titles---whatever suited his purpose. To paraphrase G B S, Shakespeare was a wonderful teller of stories so long as someone else has told them first. But then, this was a charge that could be laid against nearly all writers of the day. What Shakespeare did of course, was take pedestrian pieces of work and endow them with distinction and very often greatness. His particular genius was to take as engaging notion and make it better yet."

Also Bryson's biography, at least in a cursory sense, looks at Shakespeare's heavy contribution to the English language. "Most modern authors I imagine would be delighted if they contributed even one lexeme to the future of the language. His real gift was as a phrasemaker. "Shakespeare's language," says Stanley Wells has a quality, difficult to define, of memorability that has caused many phrases to enter the common language. Some of his phrases like foregone conclusion, salad days, cold comfort, with bated breath and many others are so repetitiously irresistible that we have debased them into clich├ęs.”

Interestingly, the author also considers the condition of 'neologism' that he believed Shakespeare's writings suffered from.
He says, " Shakespeare maybe the English language's presiding genius, but that isn't to say he was without flaws. A certain messy exuberance marked much of what he did. Sometimes it is just not possible to know quite what he meant."

But out of this churning of words, the language itself evolved and Shakespeare aided it in a big way. Unlike other playwrights who stuck to archaic, old English, Shakespeare was quite ahead of his times.

On the whole, Bryson's book is a quick, elegant read that offers some insightful points about the Bard's life. Not all of it is interesting but certainly a refreshing new release on literature.