What secrets lie behind the silences of Bombay’s silent films?
Join Michelle in conversation with Tejaswini Apte-Rahm about her book ‘The Secret of More’, as she learns about previously unrevealed secrets that lie behind the glitz and glamour of Bombay’s silent film era. ‘The Secret of More’ looks at Bombay of the 1900s through the rags-to-riches story of Tatya, whose life is intertwined with two parts of Bombay’s beating heart – the textile mills and the silent film industry. How does he spin his story from one industry to the other? Does he fall or fly in the City of Dreams?
Tune in to find out!
Books mentioned in this episode:
Produced by Aishwarya Jawalgekar
Sound edit by Kshitij Jadhav
‘Books and Beyond with Bound’ is the podcast where Tara Khandelwal and Michelle D’costa uncover how their books reflect the realities of our lives and society today. Find out what drives India’s finest authors: from personal experiences to jugaad research methods, insecurities to publishing journeys. Created by Bound, a storytelling company that helps you grow through stories. Follow us @boundindia on all social media platforms.
Welcome to Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Kundera. I am Michelle D'costa. And in this podcast, we uncover the stories behind some of the best written books of our time and find out how these books reflect our lives and our society today. So tune in every Wednesday to enter a whole new world with a new author. And a new idea. Yes, and after three years and 2 million listens, we are back with a fall factories and five with hard hitting questions and life changing books. So let's dive in.
Hi, everyone, welcome. I am really excited to speak to Tejaswini update ROM, who is the author of three books and has lived in places like Serbia, Israel, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar and so many more. I'm doing this episode solo because I have known Tejaswini for a long time now. I actually interviewed her years ago for my blog for her short story collection. And I'm so glad this time we get to speak to her about her novel, The Secret of more, which is actually the Bombay book, because I'm always on the lookout for the next Bombay novel. And actually coming across Tatas journey from gilda out to a bungalow in Peddar Road, from a textile paddy to the proprietor of a studio in Bombay silent film industry from obscurity to fame. And, you know, I actually got to see so many relationships unfold in the book, intricate details of Bombay in 1900s That actually came alive in the book. So I'm going to find out about Tejaswini real life inspirations, her relationship with Bombay, and why the 20th century why the silent film industry. So welcome pages really, thank you so much. Thank you for having me. Yeah, a beautiful book brings the light the 20th century of Bombay, of some really curious to know what made you pick this time period? Well, it was a really dynamic period of the city's history. And I think it was a period when the city was moving very rapidly from tradition to modernity, in terms of its social context, its business context, and the technical innovations that were happening at the time. And it's fascinating from where we stand, because the early 20th century was really the time when the city as we know it today was being formed. And that's why I focused on the textile industry and the film industry, because both these industries were a sort of commercial backbone of the city, then, and now as well. Yeah, I actually that was my follow up question that you know, out of all the industries, why did you pick especially the world of textiles and the silent film industry to actually focus on that? Yes, journey. So could you please elaborate a little bit on why these two industries flourished at that time? So both these industries are absolutely central to the history and identity of Bombay, I think it's easy to forget, nowadays, how central the textile mills were to the city. So basically, in 1899, when my novel begins, the textile industry was already booming. And it was Bombay's most important industry, it was the only large scale employer employer of labour in the city at the time.
Hard to believe perhaps now how important it was, but basically, Bombay's Mills accounted for 50% of the spinning and weaving capacity of India. So it was a huge industry. It was the backbone of of the city's finances. Its the way its social and political context developed. All these things were hugely impacted by the textile mills of the city at the time. It's the wave of this boom in textiles that might direct that that begins work at Multijet her market in Bombay, which was the largest wholesale textile market in Asia, particularly during the First World War there was a further boom in Indian textiles and fortunes were almost made overnight because no cloth could come in from British mills. So, there was a focus on cloth made in India, very high demand for cloth made in India. So it was a dynamic industry that profoundly shaped the city. And by the way, it continues to shape the city today in the guise of millstone into malls. And as far as the film industry is concerned. I think that's more obvious from where we stand in terms of the cultural and social importance it has on the city. Yeah, absolutely. And I think this journey of not just data but Bob
Be comes alive in the book. And we do know that your grandfather was a very big inspiration for that. So could you please tell us a little bit more about that? How much of him is in the character? And how much did you leave out? So it was my great grandfather, my grandfather. So basically, the idea of writing the novel came because I was researching his life and times, and I was writing his biography. And he came to Bombay with nothing much in his pockets. And he made his fortune as a selling agent of textiles in the early years of the 20th century. So this this key aspect of my fictional characters, certainly based on on my great grandfather, and also he participated in the silent film industry at the time. He in fact, became a financier of other sci fi games, and was one of the founders of the Hindustan Film Company, which produced many of our key silent films. And today, of course, 5k is known as the father of Indian cinema. So it was a very momentous
era in which he participated. And I was fascinated by that whole era, and how quickly films seem to take over the popular imagination. And so I thought that was also a great set of points to take off from to create a fictional world. But apart from these very basic bare bones, points of my novel, everything else in the novel is, is fictional. Yeah, that's really, really, I would say, interesting to know that, you know, if the starting point was from your great grandfather, but then it took off into this completely fictional world. And, you know, to just even understand how colorful Bollywood was back then. Right? Like, we do know that the Indian cinema is quite varied, right? You have Bollywood Tollywood kollywood. And so many more nowadays, but your book actually focuses on how about Bollywood get it? Right? So why do you think Bombay became the center of the film industry back then? Or did other places flourish to never other centers of filmmaking? There were studios in Madras and Calcutta, for example. But interestingly, even then, has now it was somewhat of a badge of honor to have made it in the Bombay film industry. why that was? So is a question mark, why it was specifically Bombay, that seemed to be the endpoint that you were aiming for in your in your film career. But I think why why Bombay? I think the answer lies again, in the textile industry, and the enormous prosperity that came with it, basically, Bombay was the place where capital was easily accessible. And it was also a place that was fairly cosmopolitan.
And when you have these two things coming together, easily accessible capital, and a cosmopolitan, cultural and social background, I think it's inevitable that it leads to
new enterprises and a sort of fertility, it creates a fertile ground for, for creativity. And I think you'll see that in many of the big
metropolis is of the world, whether it's New York or London, which are not only financial centres, but centres of
creativity, as well. And there is a reason for that. Yeah. And I think that's why Bombay has become the sort of, you know, City of Dreams, as they call it, which is not just the film industry, or not just the textile industry, but overall, people moved to Bombay, to, you know, fulfill their dreams. And it my grandfather also had moved to Bombay from my load, you know, years ago, in search of work. And then my father moved, and now we are here. Right. So I think this place is known to welcome strangers in a way that other places don't.
What I liked is you've noticed covered the glitz and glamour of Bombay, because we do know that that side of it exists. But there are also some problematic themes that you've covered, for example, child marriage and 13. And we do know that yes, as part of, you know, the historical context, it fit back then, but then I often wonder, you know, how can you right or sensitively portray these customs, you know, that seemed really jarring towards these days, especially, you know, in the 21st century, you know, amid smoke culture, could you please share with us, what was your process like writing? So, as far as the social customs are concerned, a lot of it was rooted in extensive interviews I did with family members, older family members, and that research I did quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, many of those family members have passed on now. But they were the older members of the family who still had first hand memory
Is of many of these things.
And I did hours of oral interviews, tape them, transcribed them.
And of course, I also did a lot of library research on
women's lives at the time, for example, reading the autobiography of Parvati by a tablet, who's written about her life as a Hindu widow.
Things like that. And but I have to say that it was not only about focusing on these kinds of jarring social customs, I took a more holistic approach to the lives of women, I tried to see what was the daily life, like, and for that, I relied heavily on two wonderful sources, basically, go to guides for housewives on how to live, and how to run your household basically. So this particular one that I'm referring to was written in 1932. And there was another one written in 1914, both written in Marathi. And they gave a wonderful depiction of what life must have been like at the time, right from, you know, literally choking out the day in the life of the ideal housewife, right from waking up, and heating up water for the menfolk of the house to have their bath, right to the evening, when it was time to clean the oil lamps and lights them. And every every single thing in between, including recipes, and how to fast for certain festivals, what food to make for other festivals, and all that. And this gave me a really holistic view of what women's lives were like at the time. And one thing that really came home to me during the research was the feeling that we shouldn't take our current liberties for granted. Because I was amazed at how much how many of these things which are really jarring, are very much within living memory.
You know, it's not that long ago that girls were married of at the age of 12. Not that long ago that their education was stopped. They were just pulled out of school, when men could take second wives when women didn't have decision making freedoms about about their own finances. And so that's something that that really hit me hard when when I was doing this research. That yes, that a lot has changed. But how recent? All these things were? Yeah, it always feels like you narrowly escaped that right? Or at least that's, that's how I feel. And I just love the extent to which you've done the research, because I mean, not, you know, many writers do this much research, especially for a fictional piece of work. But when I went through the bibliography in your book, I was really surprised at it. Oh, and so you know, just adding to what you've said about how women left back then, you know, as a woman, myself, reading about how male centric the signing film industry could be. Right? I want you to share one instance from the book where you felt this big contrast between the roles that were offered to men and women in the industry, or, you know, just even how they were treated. Yeah, I mean, the the character of Camel was a very interesting one to develop. She is
She basically comes into the picture, when
that there decides to start hiring female actors. And the background to that is that initially, in silent films, there were no female actors. There were only male actors, and some of them would take on female rooms, and dress up as women. And that was considered to be the correct way of going about it because it was not considered proper for women to act in films. But gradually, that began to change. And slowly studios started hiring actresses. And the first actresses in Indian firms were in fact, not Indian. They were Anglo Indian, or they were Jewish, or they were they were foreigners. And so you had people like
Ruby Meyers and patients scooper. These were the kinds of names you had at that time.
And the very first actress the Indian the first Indian actress to act was comme la vie go play, who in fact worked with other type five kids well.
And so we meet Kamal in the novel at a point of time when Tatia is still not convinced about hiring actresses. He has a he is a character who is in
equally conservative, and he doesn't feel it right to hire actresses in his company. But times are changing. And as a businessman, he sees he really has no other option because other studios have started hiring film actresses, and they must hire at least one actress to begin with. And that's when como makes an appearance. And to build up a camels character, I
researched the lives of female actresses at the time. And I built her up as a sort of composite of real life experiences,
from acts of actresses at the gym. Yeah, and I think, you know, throughout my reading experience, I kept imagining, what if I was covered, you know, how would I have reacted what I would have done because imagine being the first woman, you know, to enter the industry, I mean, that's, that's sort of like setting an example for the rest. Right? So I really, really loved her character and and not just, you know, the portrayal of women. I think, overall, the way you've painted the picture of Bombay, right, and especially talking about, you know, Bombay novels, there's so many books that have come out now, even more recently, right, like Tallulah monkeys, monkeys may have Namita, poodles, borderless, or even Jedi, Pintos, educational theory, all set in Bombay and offering a very different insight into this place. I want to know, how is your book stand out from the others? What was your vision whenever it
I think the the vibrancy of the city at that very specific historical juncture, that is what really fascinated me at the time, and how much changed within just five decades. I think that was my jumping off point. And perhaps that is the one thing that stands out for me, if I were to distinguish my novel from some of the other recent novels on the city, and the fact that the characters were navigating a very rapid transition to modernity. Apart from that, I think, what really fascinated me was the mythology of the city, or you mentioned it earlier that it is seem to be the City of Dreams. And I think that is the overarching mythology of the city that it has the potential to make your dreams come true. And the fact that it is a city that invites ambition and a hunger for more, which is central not only to its lived experience, but also to his mythology, this is endlessly fascinating for me this drive that people in Bombay seem to have an ambition to constantly do more and gain more, which is of course reflected in the title of my novel The secret of more. And not only that they want more, but that they are willing to go the extra mile to get that much more. And this is something I felt was a wonderful leaping off point for creating a character who comes into the city as a migrant, and has this constant hunger for more and even in popular culture. The most obvious form of that mythologizing is through film. So whether it is Shahrukh and Yes Boss or foreign actor in luck by chance, or you have Amitabh and Divar, there is the sense of an outsider coming in and creating a rags to riches story, just like that there in my novel. While writing it I sort of tried to analyze what is it about the city that has created this methodology. And I feel first of all, there is the feeling that you can come in and make it big, purely on merit. It doesn't matter where you come from, or who you are a feeling that Bombay doesn't really care who you are, it only cares about what results you can produce. It just cares about what is the bottom line on your balance sheet. So there is a very strong feeling that you can make it purely on merit. Another element is the visuals of the actual city, I had a great time creating the visuals of my novel, because it's a very rich city with the kinds of old colonial era buildings it has. And of course, now the new skyline there's a great deal of opulence on display, which often crowds out the more mundane reality of the majority, we're very little to do with that opulence. But that's the myth of the city. And thirdly, the fact that it's not an old city, it came about because of the British. So it's very new compared to other Indian cities, where there's a sense of the Ancient of long and complex histories. And so part of its mythology is that it is filled with new possibilities. So all these things that there's this feeling that you can rise on your own merit, the opulence of the visuals, the fact that there's a feeling of newness, all these things were,
for me very fascinating, and which I wanted to really delve into and see what story emerges. What fictional story emerges by playing on this Michael
He that this is the place where your dreams can come true. It's not just that cat who has these dreams, everyone in the novel has their own version of wanting more. So in fact, yes, Casey's the central character, his version of wanting more is primarily about making it bigger as a businessman. But apart from him, every other character in the city has their own definition of wanting more, whether it's more power or more money or just wanting to spread your wings and fly. Yeah, no. And I think nowadays in Bombay, we just crave for more space
has become so cramped, I think that's something that's a running joke about Bombay these days. But But yeah, I totally agree. You know, because I think for all these reasons, Bombay has been called the city of dreams and, and what I really like is see, no matter which, you know, which writer writes about it, no matter how many times it has been written about, there's always something new, you know, to learn about one way, there's always a new lens that we get to see and like you mentioned about rags to riches, which is actually my next question, because, you know, we do have a lot of tropes in literature. And I noticed that the most evident trope in your book is, of course, rags to riches. So I wanted to do why pick this angle, and think that this has been overdone in stories, especially to do with migrants. Yeah, I mean, there was always the danger, that one would fall into some kind of cliche. But on the other hand, I was I wasn't too worried about falling into cliche, because I haven't come across another novel, which focuses on this particular aspect of the city's history, in terms of the textile industry and the silent film industry. So I wasn't too worried about falling into that trap, though, I was aware, of course, that it can't just be any rags to riches story, it had to be very rooted in the history. And that is what would make it different. Right, right. Absolutely. Yeah. And I also think that you know, so many different aspects of Bombay coming, you know, come alive in your book, for example, from the movie sets to you know, traveling in trains all over Bombay, to the parties to the bustling, Charles. So I want to know your all of all the various visual scenes that you've written, which was the most memorable and fun to write,
I think the most fun to write about was when that
is beginning his first film.
And he walks onto the set, which has been erected by his director of Halle row. And he finds that everything is green, differentiate, everything has been painted in different shades of green,
including the costumes of the actors. And the fact that they look like what he calls pink ghosts, because they have this pink,
thick makeup on their face, even though the male actors have lip color. And they have
they heavily made up black dapped eyebrows, and he's absolutely shocked, he thinks that a ballerina has gone crazy, and that all his money is going to go down the drain.
And he says, What the hell have you made what what is the spectacle you've created? And Valyria then has to explain to them that it's a technical matter. And that green will photograph as different shades of gray. Because at that time,
early film was not sensitive to a wide spectrum of colors.
And so, a certain colors would photograph as some completely different color and green and green photograph the best because it created different shades of gray depending on what shade of green you use. So that was a really fun scene to write, that has complete bafflement that that what he was seeing and pallida trying to appease them and saying no, no, this is a technical matter what you see now is not what you're going to see on screen.
Yeah, I totally love that especially because the contrast for a reader in the 21st century is so different right? Right now literally, we have you know, AI generating images for us. And back then it was just you know, we were limited to certain colors really fascinating. Before we move on to other questions, and this quiz is about Bombay, and it's going to really explore our fascination with the place one Bombay street food you can't live without a poly Puri B, what about C mass carbon?
If you hadn't given me multiple choice, I would have said power budget but it's not in your essay pani puri, okay. Nice. One season of Bombay, you missed the most a monsoons, B summer, C winter. Winter, I miss winter the most because it's just
Still nice cool atmosphere without getting too hot though monsoon is it has its own magic I think Bombay monsoon see much nicer when you're not actually experiencing them say that or drew directly like I think the Bollywood monsoons is it you know it's ideal to watch on screen
or to live as long as you're safe and dry at home. It's a wonderful season. Absolutely. And
the reason I did winter is because a lot of people think that you know, winter doesn't exist in Bombay. But it does and it does. It's very interesting. Yeah. One Bombay word that you have never used a upon. V. Jackass. See B do. Oh, I've not used any of these ever, though. I love hearing the Bombay
I don't think of any,
any, any situation when I would have used any? Yeah, that's all Okay, awesome. One Bombay board, that you have a strange relationship with a crow. Be pigeon, see kite.
I would say kite. I have very strong memories of watching the kites from my window. Because I grew up in a high rise building in Bombay on Peddar road, and I would watch the kites for a long time, I would stand at the window and watch them circling around. And sadly, the most of them have disappeared now. Oh, really? No, actually. Yeah. You know, I like I just share a very funny memory. So we were working out of the Bach bound office recently, and it's an element point. So we have access to a lot of guides, we can usually, you know, hear their shrill
voices. And you know, they're just circling around. And it was so funny. It was, towards the end of the day, we were, you know, talent to leave work. And just then there were two kites just sitting near the window peeping in almost as we'll try to find out what is bound up to it. Yeah, it was really funny and scary, because we had never seen a kite this close. You know, so I do. And after that, you know, I just read up on kites. And I realized the tides population is actually increasing, you know, apparently, just like the crow population, which has been rising rapidly in Bombay, the tides have also increased a number. But yeah, oh, that's very good to hear. Because I remember, I remember the sky being just filled with kites when I was very small. And in recent years, I've noticed that just doesn't happen anymore. So but that, so that's very good to hear. Yeah. Cool. Okay, so that brings us to the end of the fun quiz. Now, back to our questions about the book, you know, what I really loved about it is, of course, you know, we all love reading the acknowledgments page, because we do come to know that, you know, it's not a solitary job, there are a lot of people that make a book happen. And you actually thank your husband, who's your first reader, he actually critiqued your early drafts, you know, so I'm really curious to know, what were the suggestions that he gave you? And did you actually incorporate them in the book, um, I usually do incorporating suggestions, not all of them, but many of them I do. They were not, I can't remember specific suggestions, because they were not sort of huge structural suggestions, but they were more like, if you're saying this about a certain character, then it takes you in a different direction. And unto actually trying to say this, you know, some very subtle things like that, which in the end, make a big difference. So when he's very patient, when he reads my, my draft, I think he read the whole book two or three times at different stages of, of writing it. And it's, and I know that he's going to be absolutely honest, in his reaction to it. And so when he likes it, it gives me also sort of the sort of confidence to then send it off to the editor to continue working on it in the same direction.
Because I know he's going to be honest, and I think it's really, really important to have that one honest reader to give you feedback. Somebody who is going to be kind, but not going to be dishonest. So he I know that he wouldn't say that he likes it. When he actually doesn't he's not going to say like suggest, because he doesn't want me to feel bad. He'll still give me his opinion, but he'd do it in a in a kind way and in an encouraging way. And I think that's invaluable for any writer to have that kind of reader. Yeah, that's really sweet. And you know, I'm tempted to ask by any chance did you're likely to meet in Bombay Is there a Bombay love story here? No, no connection to Bombay at all. We met in London. Ah, okay. Oh, I was just I was fishing for a very long story, but yeah, well, that's very sweet. To know. And you know, I want to know, see, apart from these suggestions, see, because the book has been, you know, in the making for me
yours, right? There was several drafts, there were a lot of things that you've changed over the years. So I wanted to know, which is that one scene in the book that made you very uncomfortable to write and what I mean, the uncomfortable is something that that kept, you know, bothering you, despite moving or shifting drafts.
Hmm, it's an interesting grid. Well, there's a scene right at the end of the book, when he went back there wants to
relate his life story, he's already a very old man. And he wants to relate his life story to his children. And he, he doesn't have the words to do so.
And when he he falls asleep that night,
it comes to him, all those words come to her watch the things that he wants to convey to his children.
And then when he wakes up, he's forgotten. And in fact that that sense of frustration is something that I have experienced myself that often when I'm puzzling over a particular
point in a story or, or, or in any piece of writing, sometimes I feel that the answer has come to me overnight while I'm sleeping.
And invariably, when I wake up, I forgotten what it is. And it's incredibly frustrating when that happens. So I don't know whether the answers actually come to me at night, or whether I've, I've just felt that it came to me at night and I forgotten either way, it's a very frustrating experience. And, and that's the frustration he feels when he wakes up, he doesn't remember anymore what, how he wanted to convey these thoughts to his children. And very soon he even forgets what it is he's trying to recall. So the thoughts that he has overnight, initially, we're, I think, a couple of pages.
And my editor, who's an excellent editor at LF Fujita, she said that, you know, this is this is a bit too long, either cut it out entirely, or shorten it considerably. And somehow that particular scene was very important to me, and I struggled a lot with, I didn't want to eliminate it completely. But I struggled a lot with cutting it down, because it's an important part of the book.
Because he is, he's getting old, he's pretty much on his deathbed.
And there's an urgency to convey to articulate to his children what his life has been like.
And part of that urgency is a crushing feeling of loneliness. Because if you can't articulate to another person,
what you have felt and been through there, nobody else knows. That very vital part of you. And that creates a crushing sense of loneliness. And that's what he feels at that point of time. So this was a very important part of the book. And yet I could see, I could see my editor's point that you can't make this kind of thing too long. Otherwise, you lose the reader. So yeah, that was one example. And but when I did cut it down, I was I was very happy with the result in the end. Yeah, no, I think that that was one of the most painful scenes to read. Because because as you said, See, if you can't express your story, that's sort of like, you know, and I also wanted to add that you sort of immortalized Tatiana story in the book, right? That's, that's one reason why we write books to sort of preserve the stories and I think that it came across, right, when you're not able to express that beat, or really beat you to the letter medium or whatever. I think you just feel like the story is going to be lost with you. And I could relate to that, you know, because I also get ideas. I'm just nocturnal animals. So I usually get ideas beyond one on one for TPM. And what I often do is now because you know, we are in this generation, where you have the phone, you're always at your fingertip, I usually just message myself and write down notes. And sometimes if I have like, fallen asleep, and then an idea comes to me, I even wake up and then I write in the messages. But then of course, if that disturbs your sleep pattern, it's not healthy. But yeah, I think this fear of, you know, just sleeping on a good idea is quite relatable. You know, so another thing that I really really liked in your book is, is the fact that you know, it could actually become a movie. I'm actually waiting for the time when this will be adapted, because I just felt like I was living the life of Katya or camel or any other character in the book. So for our listeners, could you maybe describe one of the most visual scenes in the book? Probably, you know, the mansion of the prince. Yeah. Oh, yeah, that's a good one.
Yes, I mean, when I wrote I would love to see this
come alive as as a film because I wrote it as
As a very visual book, in fact, when I wrote it, I would visualize the scenes in my mind as if I was watching a film. And then I would write down what I was seeing in my mind's eye.
And I do tend to take a lot of cues from films that I really like in terms of how they are structured and how one scene cuts to the next. I think there's a lot to learn from a well structured in terms of
narrative arc and the pacing of scenes and
and of course, how to how to bring a story alive with visuals. It's difficult to pinpoint one particular scene which is they literally wrote the whole novel like that, but as you said, the residents of the royal family they said the one you're talking about yes, so I actually modeled that people who live in Bombay might be interested to know a little bit of trivia about their model that building on the village visa high school or by the road
with its beautiful domes. Do you know the school I'm talking about?
Today striking building on federal Yes, yes. Like I like I'm actually a visual person, like I have photographic memory. Sometimes I don't remember names, but I'm very sure that I would have seen the building. Yeah, you would have it's very hard to miss it as these beautiful domes and stone building and beautiful doorways. So i i
That was that was the building I had in mind when I visualized
the house the residents of the royal family. And so when you enter the room where
that does daughter Durga
becomes friends with potential erotic who's a very beautiful and well educated intelligent princess. This is the room where they first have their
proper meeting, the first proper meeting they have and then that the room in which their friendship develops, and it's full of very opulent furniture, upholstered with a pink fabric.
There are floor to ceiling
glass windows looking out onto the rather wild garden at the back of the house.
There are porcelain figurines. On the table there are
rich li bound leather bound volumes of books in the bookcase. And the walls are covered with cricket paintings. So basically scenes of cricketers playing in bucolic surroundings in England. And the point of creating this particular room with these particular visuals was to signal that this is a royal family that is very western X ray Europeanized.
And, of course, their guy finds that the princess Evangelii Raji was only a year or two older than her. She has had a very different trajectory. In her life she is she writes about
on horseback wearing trousers, she is about to start attending St. Xavier's College, she's already travelled to Europe, several times she's fluent in English. So this is a very Europeanized with royal family.
vastly different to their guys own very traditional Maharashtrian family. And she
she realizes that even though her her own father has all the money in the world.
Their lives are completely different from the royal family's life, which is in a league of its own in a way.
Yeah, and it's not just the contrast, you know, but I think in general, Bombay's interiors and exteriors can be a whole episode. You know, for example, like you know, the British old architecture in South Bombay, you know, versus the more recent buildings in the rest of the city. I think that itself shows the kind of you know, I would say variety
of architecture and people culture everything right, like you said, you know, it's influenced the Maharashtrian very
traditional influence versus the westernized ones and you can see it everywhere. In Bombay. So I really, really loved how you narrated that and literally it was like a tour. It was like a personal tour
that you took us through through this mention. And you know what, what I really, you know, loved about not just, you know, this narration or about the book is that it is so calm. It is so patient
You know, so the book is actually 450 pages long. You know, and it was very anti Mumbai in that sense, because, you know, Mumbai is known for being this super fast city. And you know, there's this really famous dialogue where a Mumbai car who travels in the local train says that, you know, are you really waiting for the train to stop to actually get down?
Like, just just get out already, you know? So so the thing is that, you know, MOBA is known for being super fast. And so I really admire your ability to to slow things down, and to actually focus on each moment that makes up that Yars life and the other characters lives. But but more about the intention, you know, I want to know, what was your intention behind actually focusing on every moment? I think that I it. First of all, it's a great point you made, I've never really thought about that. Before that the slope, the Well, I wouldn't say that the novel is slow paced, because there's a lot going on. A lot happens in each chapter. But within each chapter.
It's not it's not a frantic pace of narration. And of course, as you said, Bombay sort of makes you think of a frantic peace. Movement. Yeah.
But I think Bombay was different than, and even at that time, I think if somebody from a village had come to Bombay, at that time, they would have thought that oh, my gosh, why is everybody in such a rush. But from where we stand, it was a very slow pace of life. Because there weren't, I don't think there were traffic dams, for example, there weren't so many things to do, people lived fairly insular lives within their own families and their own communities, there was no going out for the fun of it.
In particularly for the, in the lives of, of women, in a traditional household like that is shown to be in the novel.
Women just didn't go anywhere, they were at home, their lives revolved around the kitchen, and the children and their husbands. And if at all, they might all go as a family to a wedding, or they might go to the temple. And that was about it. And even then women had to take permission from their husbands about where they could go. And so when, when you're when you're at home all the time, then of course, the pace of life is completely different, it's much slower. And then there was the slow pace of things that had to be done in the kitchen, for example, things that we just take for granted today, like you go out and buy a packet of salt. That wasn't the case at the time, you had to make salt from scratch. So you bought, somebody would go out and buy the sort of raw, unclean salt. And then you had to clean it and grind it at home.
By first of all, you got rid of the dirt and the little rocks and pebbles in it by soaking it in water over three consecutive nights, so that all the impurities would sink down to the bottom of the pot, then you would pour off the clean salt water and the job I repeat the process three times. And then you would have to boil all that water away so that you are left only with the salt. And then you have to dry roast, roast the salt till it's completely dry. And then it can be used. So you see how even something as as simple as salt, which we just take for granted today that it says
had to undergo this very slow, painstaking process of cleaning,
grinding, roasting all that till it was ready to use. And that's just solved. And you can you can see how slow and painstaking it must have been to create all the other spices and other things in the kitchen. And so the whole pace of life, I felt was something to be
I don't want to say savor because I don't think there's anything very romantic about having to make your own salt. But I felt it was some it was a piece of life that need needed to be honored in in its own in its own context that that this is how it was. And so I wanted to show it in that way. This is how people live their lives. And once once you really get into that you can't show it in any sort of frantic way. If you're going to be true to the story. If you're going to be authentic to the history, then then I think by default, it must turn into
a very slow pace of narration. Yeah, no, I totally agree. And yeah, this is something that while reading your book, I realized that you know this
This urge for us to constantly check our phones. But because of the pace, because of the length of the book, I was totally immersed in it, it was almost like time travel for me, where I didn't feel this urge to actually escape and return back to the 21st century, because all we do is check reuse, you know, to eat and you know, what is the next thing that's coming up all of that? It's very frantic, right? But your book had the sense of calm. And this is a thought that has come to me that, you know, I felt that, you know, because patience is something that is very, very difficult to come by these days, especially me, I can speak for myself, I've become really impatient because you know, nowadays, if something doesn't buffer, if let's say there's, you know, the connection takes time to click or whatever, right, we just, we just get impatient. And I just thought that watching a silent movie is a really good remedy, because I think it will just teach people to relax and savor things as it comes. And I do think that your book brings alive the silent film industry in in a very unique way, especially if the I didn't know a lot about the Bombay silent film industry. That was it was really fascinating for me to research that. And on the note of
calmness and slowness. I think what I really enjoyed in delving into that history was to live in the moment with those characters. And when you live in the moment, automatically, things slow down. Because there isn't the urge to
as you said, nowadays, we are always coming out of the moment by going and doing something else or checking out other living their lives on social media, we are we are
constantly running away from this particular moment that we are in. I don't know where that Well, I don't know where the urge to do that comes from. But I think it's very damaging. And I'm constantly fighting that myself. I'm fighting that urge myself as much as I can.
And, and, but these characters the way they live their lives in the moment, because there's nowhere else to run off to. There's nowhere else to escape. There's no distraction, there is no distraction. They just do what they do. And I thought that was it was wonderful coming for me to live their lives with them in the book while writing it. Yeah, I can imagine because reading it also had a similar effect. And I actually had a small quiz, just dedicated to the silent film industry, because I loved it that much. So so the first one will be could you ever write a silent film? What would that look like?
Oh, how interesting.
Wouldn't it be interesting to film this book as a silent film? Oh, yeah.
That occurs to me now, it would be interesting. Yeah. And you do like, for example, the audio is so important, right? You know, and especially, we are on a podcast. So with the audio medium is something that we all have gotten used to these days. I'm just wondering, you know, whether you've ever thought of writing something with no dialogue? Absolutely. If it was a film, it would just have background music, but no dialogues. What would that be like? That would have to be a script rather than a story or a novel. Yeah, or the editing would be just telling right by the way there's no dialogues and and tilting Bollywood has changed. From then to now. Do you think volleyball could actually make a good silent pool? nowadays? I don't see why not. You must have seen that amazing Hollywood film The artist which won the Oscars a few years. Yes. Quite recently. Yeah, I thought that was so amazing. And actually when you see a silent when there are several silent films available on on YouTube, when you see a silent film, you actually forget that there are no dialogues because it's made in a way that you don't need the dialogues, you don't need the audio element.
And so I don't see why, why that can't be repeated. Yeah, and you get so absorbed in it, you really focus on what the character is trying to tell you. I think it's just a whole immersive experience that we don't have yet right. And as a writer, I find these title cards very fascinating because so much is said visually, and then you just have this title card of one short sentence, which sort of
helps you to leapfrog into the next visual scene. And I just love the way the visuals and these very brief words on the title cards how they play off feature then created this very absorbing narrative where you where you completely forget that there are no dialogues. Yeah, true. So my last question in this section would be any silent film that you absolutely loved and you'd love to recommend to everyone
where the artist of course, but on YouTube, I would highly recommend these clips of made by the National Film Archives of India.
It's quite an old compilation made in this 60s, I think of a compilation of the other sci fi keys, all silent films, many of which were, in fact produced by my great grandfather in the Hindustan film company. And most of the clips are, most of the clips are lost. So these are the few surviving fragments. And they are absolutely fascinating. I would, I would highly recommend this. Oh, lovely. I'm gonna check them out. For sure. Okay, um, so this brings us to the last round in the interview, it's called the rapid fire round. So you can reply in one word or one sentence. If you had to write your next book on another city, which one would it be?
Suva in Fiji, capital of Fiji, where I used to live. Oh, nice. Okay. I read that you love the idea of the annual bad sexing fiction award in the UK? If you had to come up with a bad dash award for India? What would it be?
Ah, yes, I think the bad grammar award. I've seen so many books which are edited for the and just, you know, you wonder what the editor was doing. There's so many grammatical mistakes. Yeah. And it's heartbreaking. You know, as an avid reader, name three things on your writing desk that stay at all times. There's my mug full of different pens and highlighters. There is my mobile phone. And my diary. Very, very boring. But that's that's about it. Yeah, no, I was just wondering because the mobile like for me the mobile is like the biggest source of distraction. So you know, I whenever I write I try my best to just lock it up somewhere. But I'm just, you know, in all the fact that you can write having the phone beside you. That's really cool. Yeah, but that's probably because not too many people phone me.
If at all, they might message me, but nobody really phones. Yeah, like, I mean, nowadays, it's just a notification on us. Yeah. And you keep refreshing it like wondering as or something.
Like, two characters from your novel that you wish you knew in real life. I wish I knew the guy that has daughter. I think we would have a lot to talk about. And I wish I knew
that to himself. Because I would like to delve even further into into really what makes him what makes his ambition tick.
Yeah. Okay. One thing you learned in boarding school that still stays with you. When you say boarding school, I could I could literally ramble on for hours. This is difficult because I had the most amazing time in boarding school. Okay, the one one thing, let's say one habit that has stuck with you over the years, the one habit that has stuck with me is
writing down the tasks I need to do in my diary, and finishing them that day. Oh, really? You're doing? Yes. Oh, yeah. Okay, awesome. What's next for you?
I want to say,
some sort of contemporary fiction, because I'd like to take a break from the intensive research that went into the secret of more,
but I have a strong feeling that the research is gonna pull me in again. So maybe, again, more historical fiction. So I can't wait to see that. I think I think no matter what, what work you create, you know, it takes time. It's done with care. It's done with thought, you know, even with your short stories, or when I interviewed you, for my blog, there was a sense of depth. That's something that I hadn't seen in other collections. back then. And I think it's the same experience with your book. So I really can't wait to see what you come up with next. Thank you so much. I also can't wait to see what I come up with next. And the moment is just it's everything is, is swirling about confused cloud in my head. So we'll see what comes up. Yeah, no, I do hope that to get clarity and that we get to see a new book soon. But really, thank you for this conversation. I had a lot of fun. Thank you, Michelle. And let me take the opportunity of saying that I've been a fan of your bounce podcasts for quite a while. So it's really nice for me to do this with you to do this interview with you. Oh, thank you. Thank you, that means a lot.
So here we are, were the end of yet another journey into the many worlds of Books and Beyond with bound. I'm Tara Karneval. I'm Michelle D'costa. And this podcast is created by bound a company that helps you grow through stories. Find us at sound India are all social media platforms. So tune in every Wednesday if you live, eat and breathe books, and join us as we discover more revolutionary books and peek into the lives and minds of some truly brilliant authors from India and South Asia.
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