People from different cultural and religious backgrounds populate Shweta Bachchan-Nanda’s debut novel Paradise Towers. They reside in a building that shares its name with the novel and in this insular space, their idiosyncracies, eccentricities and vulnerabilies play out. The author, with indefatigable precision, observes and writes about these motley of characters, basking in their multi-facetedness, while refusing to take sides, all along.
In an e-mail interview with indianexpress.com, the columnist turned author talks about her debut novel, the reason for using stereotypes and the family member who has always been her biggest critic.
You dedicated this book to both your grandfathers – Dr Harivanshrai Bachchan and Taroon Coomar Bhaduri. Is there any literary advice from them that has stayed with you or that you employed while writing this book?
Unfortunately, neither of my grandfathers were alive by the time I decided I wanted to write a book. I wish I had asked them questions when they were around, but I was too young and it remains a regret to this day.
What stands out in your writing style in Paradise Towers is your immaculate attention to details. How important do you think it is for a novelist to fill in the details without making the readers feel that they are digressing or over-explaining?
This is my first novel and I have a long way to go before I can even begin to answer that question. I am still learning so much about what readers enjoy, getting feedback and re-assessing everything I have put down on paper I am sure my style will also evolve. I like getting under the skin of the protagonists of every book I read, it makes the whole story so much more personal. Therefore I tried my best to do that with my characters.
You have populated your novel with motley characters. And they are also from different religions and cultures. There is a Bengali girl who loves to read, a Punjabi couple that like their drinks et cetera. Do you think you were playing on stereotypes?
Absolutely! That’s what makes them identifiable. The idea was that everyone who reads the book knows someone like that in their life.
Was the presence of people from different cultures and religions a conscious choice?
The building is in Mumbai, therefore it is not unusual to find people from different cultures and religions living together. The idea was to try and be as true to the eco system of a high-rise in Mumbai. So, no the choice was not conscious just art imitating life.
You have been a columnist. Does being a writer require more discipline?
Oh yes!! Way more. I hope I manage to get that discipline.
You have always stayed away from the spotlight. Does writing give you the space to express yourself or is it a means of escape?
It’s a mix of the two. It’s a medium of creative expression as well as escapist.
Who have been your literary influences?
Jane Austen, Garcia Marquez, Bronte sisters, Dickens… And nothing beats the language and fluid acerbic wit of A A Gill.
Who among your family members has been your biggest critic?
My mother has always been truthful and honest about my work. I rely on her opinion as it will be unbiased.
Which is your favourite book?
Difficult to choose one but...Persuasion by Jane Austen and A Chronicle Of A Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
What is the book you are reading right now?
Beloved Delhi by Saif Mehmood and an anthology of Saki’s short stories.
What is the literary genre that you tend to lean towards more than others?
History, Detective Fiction.
Does any character from your novel have shades of you?
I would be hard pressed to say perhaps Shaana Roy.