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The curious case of Shweta Bachchan Nanda

The 44-year-old debutante novelist reveals the secret ammunition of a writer: the joy in voyeurism!

brunch Updated: Sep 29, 2018 22:59 IST
Swapan Seth
Swapan Seth
Hindustan Times
44-year-old debutante novelist,debute novel,Shweta Bachchan Nanda
Shweta Bachchan Nanda is a very fine sculptor of character. Ever curve in her characters is chiselled with minute detail and grave thought. Make-up and hair: Racinda Martis(Abheet Gidwani)

“You come to this place, mid life. You don’t know how you got here, but suddenly you’re staring fifty in the face. When you turn and look back down the years, you glimpse the ghosts of other lives you might have led; all houses are haunted. The wraiths and phantoms creep under your carpets and between the warp and weft of fabric, they lurk in wardrobes and lie flat under drawer-liners. You think of the children you might have had but didn’t. When the midwife says, ‘It’s a boy,’ where does the girl go? When you think you’re pregnant, and you’re not, what happens to the child that has already formed in your mind? You keep it filed in a drawer of your consciousness, like a short story that never worked after the opening lines.” —Hilary Mantel.

I hadn’t completed narrating this quote to Shweta Bachchan Nanda when she hit the buzzer button.“I know Hilary Mantel!” she bellowed.

Frankly, I would have been disappointed if she hadn’t. So what if 95 per cent of the universe doesn’t.

In a town where, largely, who you know tells others who you are, I must confess that I do not know Shweta. I have spoken to her twice. And met her once.

In good measure

But I follow what she writes. And what she writes tells one what she reads. And basis that I had an idea about Shweta. She was measured.

Vince Lombardi once famously said: “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

For about 18 years, she was a fantastic mother. She had her two children with her.

“I cringe every time anyone tells me that my equation with my daughter is one of friends. I am always her mother; I have enough friends and so does she. What we are, though, is definitely a modern reworking of the traditional mother-daughter role.” She once wrote.

Fantastic. Yet firm.

Shweta grew up watching her grandfather write notes on paper that she can still smell and an ink blotter that she always wished she could use to blot his letters (Abheet Gidwani)

And now with an empty nest, she clearly had to be measured with what she had. Her sense of fashion has always been on point. And her writing always made a point.

So, I asked her about M&S. I called it MNS. Referring to her newly-launched prêt label.

She was quick to correct me. “It’s MXS. MNS is a completely different organisation in Maharashtra.”

Since I have no idea about fashion, I let that snarky bit pass.I deftly moved on to the book.

Huston Smith once said: “The faith that I was born into, formed me.”

The Bachchan faith is words. It manifested itself in the poetry of her grandfather. It resonates in the delivery of her father.

Character was her cradle. She grew up watching her grandfather write notes on paper that she can still smell and an ink blotter that she always wished she could use to blot his letters.

Birthdays were poetry in the Bachchan household. The birthday child had a bespoke poem written by her grandfather and read out by him. Both her brother and she grew up to the voice of their father reading out poems written by his father.

Beyond the words

How many families have the richness of words as their family heirloom?

And then I accosted her with an accusation. I said, “You are a voyeur.”

She agreed.

I hate fiction. I have a very poor imagination and an absolute repulsion for the make believe. Which is why, I do not see movies with spaceships or warriors on horses or ladies with bonnets.

I don’t get them. It is a character flaw. And no aspersion on the fineries of fiction. The only exception I made was for Tony Parsons. I could identify with him as a father. His son was my son. I could empathise with the one syllable answers his son gave him. It then ceased to be fiction for me.

I felt much the same with Paradise Towers. Mrs Kapoor was me having my daily conversation with my mother (who, upon reading this, will call me and tell me that I do not call her every day).

“I cringe every time anyone tells me that my equation with my daughter is one of friends. I am always her mother; i have enough friends and so does she!”

Lata was Shobita, our neighbour’s maid. Dinesh was Ravi, our cook who had several things for Lata. Mrs Mody was the one Parsi spinster or widow that every building had. And Mrs Roy? Why, she is a doppelgänger of our 80-year-old maid, Sandhya. Complete with her “crisp white cotton sari, her long hair patterning a damp patch on her blouse.” And Mr Roy bought the fish for his home. Much like my father-in-law does.

All of this begged the question that Shweta’s mother asked her. As did I.

How does she know this when she’s never lived in a gated community leave alone a multi-storeyed building? No one that she possibly knows lives in a multi-storeyed building so one can also rule out insider trading on this transaction.

Many years ago, someone in advertising, said that creativity is all about “the ability to observe, absorb and connect.”

Steve Jobs also spoke about connecting the dots.

She said she’d tell stories to herself when she was a child. That was the currency of her household. She would look at things while being driven in a car to school. That’s how she concocted the fallen S of Paradise Towers in the building signage.

But who did she observe? May be a friend’s mother-in-law? May be her grandfather?

Clearly Shweta is a very fine sculptor of character. Ever curve in her characters is chiselled with minute detail and grave thought.

And this is where Paradise Towers breaks away from Shweta Bachchan Nanda.

It becomes everyone’s book. It becomes everyone’s album. It has an engaging and endearing egalatarianism to it.

In Anand (1971), Rajesh Khanna tells Amitabh Bachchan, “Zindagi badi honi chahiye. Lambi nahin.”

I think that is the real story of Shweta Bachchan Nanda as well.

And it is to be continued.

I am told. By her.

Shweta Bachchan Nanda is making her debut as a fiction writer with Paradise Towers. Published by HarperCollins, the book is due to release on October 10

(The author is a connoisseur of luxury and an ad guru. He launched his agency, Equus, and has some of the most prestigious corporate honchos as his clientele)

From HT Brunch, September 30, 2018

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First Published: Sep 29, 2018 21:53 IST