“Aim to write a book, readers would want to carry in their memories forever”


says Manjiri Prabhu, founder and director of Pune International Literary Festival and an author of several novels, in conversation with Varsha Verma. Manjiri Prabhu has always tried to do something different in the literary world. While, she became the first author to pen down astro-detective novels, she also founded the Pune International Literary Festival (PILF) to celebrate the written word. Here, she talks more about her love for the literature.

Varsha: As founder and festival director of PILF, let us know about PILF and how it has been doing till now? What is the role of PILF in the literary world?

Manjiri: PILF has been started with the vision to engage, explore and experiment with all forms and genres of the written word that will inspire you to fall in love with them …and light the lamp of knowledge. Now in its third year, more than 250 authors and creative personalities have participated in the last two years, making the festival a remarkable success. We have the mission to offer an exciting and interactive platform in Pune for writers, publishers, media, film & TV writers and readers and creating a star position for Pune on the international literary canvas.

From last year, as a social responsibility of PILF, we began highlighting an important social cause. Like in 2014, our social theme was ‘Environment Protection through Animal Welfare’ and our focus was on adoption of street dogs and save the tiger. Maneka Gandhi inaugurated the festival and did a one-hour session which was life-changing for some. This year, the theme is ‘The global image of India’. Every citizen should work towards upholding the core moral values of society, contribute to the social and environmental welfare of the country and be a global ambassador for India. This year’s social cause includes Safety, Security, Cleanliness, Tourism and Empowerment.

Varsha: When is the next PILF scheduled and what new can the visitors expect?

Manjiri: This year (2015) the festival will take place from September 4-6, 2015, at YASHADA. More than a hundred authors and creative personalities will participate and there would be discussions, workshops, and an interesting exhibition on the queen of Crime – Agatha Christie, in celebration of her 125th birth anniversary.

Few of the proposed authors will include Sudha Murthy, Rajdeep Sardesai, Shashi Tharoor, Ashok Chopra, Kathryn Hummel (Australia), Piers Moore Ede (UK), Neil Hollander (France). It will also include workshops on Ad-filmmaking by Ashmith Kunder, making very short films (of 3 to 5 minutes) – Siddhartha Jain, iPop TV, Haiku by Kala Ramesh, Writing for children (for Teens) by Leela Gour Broome, Reading Your Mind by Nakul Shenoy and many more….

Varsha: Astro-detective is a new concept. How did you come up with this new concept?

Manjiri PrabhuManjiri: For me the journey with Astrology began at a very early age. In my Mom’s stomach to be precise, like Abhimanyu. My Mom was the first lady Astrologer of Pune, way back when I wasn’t even born. She is a pioneer, a teacher, a consultant and the perfect ‘guide’ for the many frustrated, helpless people who sought some hope through Astrology. To them, she is the anchor, their support, affording them guidance, without losing sight of the Science. I almost took Astrology for granted for all the growing years of my life. But a striking incident changed the gravity of the Science for me. I particularly remember an occasion, which actually formed the base of my novel The Cosmic Clues and triggered a serial. My mother used to regularly look at horoscopes at that point. A film director from Bollywood, approached my mother. He said it was very urgent and he needed to consult my mother privately. My mother, despite being busy, agreed. When he visited her, he asked a single question: “When will I have a child?”

My Mother stared at his horoscope for a long minute. Finally she glanced at him and said, “You want the truth?” The man was a little nonplussed. ‘Of course!” he said. “Well then, you have a son. It’s just that you can’t claim him as your son,” she explained calmly.

It was as if a bomb had been dropped. The man paled, his eyes darted from one end of the room to another. He was afraid, someone may have listened. But then, he nodded and confessed that she was right.

This incident made me realise that Astrology is a tool unlike any other. With a totally untapped potential, it had to be exploited in the right manner – especially in solving a crime.

And that is how I used it as a crime-solving tool in The Cosmic Clues and The Astral Alibi. Sonia Samarth (the main character in the book) is the world’s first Astro-Detective, thanks to my mother, who provided me with the best of authentic horoscopes for the novels.

Varsha: Also tell us about your other books?

Manjiri: I have written eight books including one non-fiction book on the image of Indian woman in Hindi films. That is a conversion of my Ph.D. thesis on the same subject. My first two novels published by Rupa Books, titled A Symphony of Hearts and Silver In The Mist were romantic novelettes in the Rupa romance Series. The book on Hindi film is titled Roles- Reel and Real.

My next books are – Gypsies at Noelle’s Retreat a book for YA (Young Adult) audience, based in France, published by Times Group Books.

It introduces India’s first teen girl detective Riva Parkar. It is the first one in the Riva Parkar mystery series. I am working on the second in the series titled Gypsies on the Eurail. The Cavansite Conspiracy – a romantic suspense novel published again by Rupa. The story taking place in 48 hours simultaneously in four continents, revolves around a precious mineral stone being stolen and a murder connected to that.

In the Shadow of Inheritance has been published by Penguin India. Actually this is the first novel I wrote at the age of 18. The story is very dear to my heart. It is receiving very good response all over India.

Varsha: What has been the response to your books so far?

Manjiri: Pretty good. I get emails from all over India and from all corners of the world. Especially as the two astro-detective novels were published in the US and distributed worldwide, I have readers in many unimaginable and unknown places. They send their candid remarks and appreciations to my stories wi thin the novels. They also like the Indian milieu, descriptions of Indian culture, food, festivals, lifestyle and all.

Along with mystery I think love for Astrology is the common bonding factor for all my readers across the globe. For my other books published in India, I get similar responses and frank opinions as well. I like it when readers get involved in my writing and spare time to respond personally. It boosts my morale to write more, to write better and to give them something they like.

But to admit frankly, most of the popularity today at least in the publishing industry is an outcome of hard-hitting, well-targeted and professionally managed marketing strategy. I fall very short in all this and don’t ever think I can be a part of it.

Varsha: Describe your journey as an author and what are your future plans?

Manjiri: I have always wanted to be a writer since my early childhood. I grew up reading Enid Blyton and later Agatha Christie and many others. At some point, I even imagined myself as Enid Blyton reborn, till I came to know that she was still there when I was born!! I wrote my first story at the age of seven, though I was first published as late as in 1994. I feel that I don’t create my books but every book that I write creates me anew. I learn a lot about myself, life and the world around us through the process of writing and creating imaginary characters.

I am very happy when readers connect with my thoughts, my characters and plots and sail smoothly through them. I enjoy this process of creating memories in others minds and think that’s what a writer and a creative person does. I plan to continue it with writing as many books as I can. Already I have completed two novels and both are very unique in their subject and approach. The first one is titled ‘Snowflakes in Summer’. It is a futuristic fantasy and takes place in a world, centuries from now.

The second one is titled The Trail of four. It is based in Salzburg, Austria and is again an international mystery story.

Varsha: As a writer, what do you aim to achieve when you start writing?

Manjiri: To write a good book…a reader would want to carry in their hearts and memories forever.

Varsha: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing a book? Why?

Manjiri: Firstly, to actually begin writing the novel, then to create believable characters and finally to end it in a unique manner for the readers to remember it forever. The second challenge is to devote time to it, without falling prey to other distractions, since writing is a solitary process. And thirdly, the most difficult part, according to me is getting it published. Honestly, writing a book is a lot easier than getting it published. Almost everyone wants to write these days and try their hand at it, but very few get published and fewer get recognition. I feel blessed that I am one of those chosen ones.

Varsha: What writing/ publishing advice do you give to aspiring writers of any age?

Manjiri: Write from your heart, write what you want to read but can’t find in the market, write because your heart tells you to, not your head…just write!

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