Pinki Virani, the award-winning author of three controversial non-fiction books that dealt with issues as diverse as sexual abuse of children and Mumbai's fragile social fabric, is back - this time with a fictional tale of contemporary Indian history.
"My new book Deaf Heaven is about the oral contemporary history of India - narrated by a sutradhar (storyteller). It is a new format that I have experimented with for the first time," Virani told IANS in an interview in the capital Friday, a day before the release of the book.
"I have not come across this literary device in Indian fiction before in which the spirit of a dead narrator tells a pan-Indian story - its crises and realities - through a set of characters bound by six degrees of separation over a life changing weekend," she said.
The journalist-cum-author's latest offering has an intriguing plot. "Swaraswati, a Bengali librarian with a cleft lip, whose words cannot makes sense to people in life because of the deformity, dies on a Thursday amid her beloved books in the library," said Virani, narrating the story.
"Her body is discovered on Monday. In the meantime, her spirit, freed from life, begins talking to people -- a common cast -- that includes her sister Damayanti, wife of a superstar; Tisca, a heroine spurned by a rising star; Qudsia Begum, a Bangalore beautician and wise mother; Czaerandhari, a former maharani and SMS addict; and Nafisa, a hard talking journalist.
"They are from all across the country. The dead Swaraswati narrates their stories, conflicts and crises that underlie progressive modernity in India."
The characters that the spooky sutradhar Swaraswati talks to include three men -- a wily bank employee, a father and brother who leave a woman bleeding.
The book published by HarperCollins is being released just days before the country witnesses a total solar eclipse, which Virani has used as "a flashpoint -- a day of change".
"It is such a coincidence that the characters in my book make their life changing decisions on the day of a total solar eclipse on a Monday. And India will see a total solar eclipse July 22," Virani laughed.
Born to Gujarati Muslim parents in Mumbai, 50-year-old Virani has a degree in journalism from Columbia University. She shuttles between Mumbai, Delhi and Pune.
Pinky Virani earned wide acclaim for Bitter Chocolate - a book on the sexual abuse of children in middle and upper class Indian homes.
However, before Bitter Chocolate, she authored two other non-fiction books - Aruna's Story recreated the real-life story of a nurse from Karnataka who was raped and left in a coma in Mumbai, while "Once was Bombay" looked at the near collapse of the city "ravaged by communal and social strains and terrorism".
"Deaf Heaven is a departure (from my earlier work) in the sense that I have tried to make contemporary history approachable to readers and manageable to understand. I tried to provide solutions and wanted every tax paying Indian to be a part of those solutions," she said.
"Being a Bombaywali helped," Virani said, along with the fact that "we are seeing so many different forms of terrorism like religious terror, language terror and Naxal terror".
"My profession -- editor of a Mumbai eveninger -- helped me probe the faultlines. The book is a progression from Aruna's Story which was about a collapsing city and its working women. This book is about collapsing India," Virani said.
Virani is currently working on a stand alone novel to be called Bloody Hell.