(Disclaimer: Manreet is a dear friend, a lovely person and fabulous writer)
I met Manreet for the first time during the Mumbai launch of the first part of the Mehrunisa trilogy, The Taj Conspiracy. On a whirlwind tour of India for the launch events, Manreet was rushing from city to city, event to event. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to meet since, but I hope we can rectify it soon. The second part of her Mehrunisa trilogy is out, and like its predecessor, it is a page turner, and has climbed swiftly into the best seller list in India.
Here’s a synopsis of the book:
A short q & a with Manreet, on her trilogy, on writing and more…
Tell us something about your new book, ‘The Hunt for Kohinoor’.
The Hunt for Kohinoor is Book 2 of the Mehrunisa trilogy after the bestselling Book1, The Taj Conspiracy. It released in December 2013 and has already become an Amazon bestseller. The Mehrunisa trilogy is a crime-thriller series, features a kickass heroine Mehrunisa who has the knack for finding herself in the midst of mysteries.
The Hunt for Kohinoor is a spine-chilling ninety-six hour hunt through the world’s most dangerous terrain where history collides with gunfire – will Mehrunisa get out of this one alive?
One morning on her way to work, Mehrunisa gets a call that will change her life forever. The truth about her missing father is at her fingertips – but it will take her on the most desperate chase of her lifetime.
A chase that will pit her against hardened Jihadis plotting the deadliest terror attack on India, that will test her mettle against history’s deep secrets, that will teach her that the price of love can mean bloodied hands …
The Hunt for Kohinoor hurtles from from icy Kashmir to snow-clad Hindukush, from the sinister corridors of a military hospital to the warrens of Peshawar, even as the clock counts down to the impending catastrophe.
How long was this book in writing and how much importance do you give to research when you begin plotting your narrative?
All my books have a strong historical context woven into the narrative. Research, therefore, is crucial to my writing. For instance, in The Taj Conspiracy, I started my research with a simple question: what does the calligraphy on Mumtaz’s tomb say? Expectedly, nobody could tell me. But there were other questions: What language is used for the calligraphy? What is the significance of red sandstone paired with white marble? What is the purpose of the seven basement floors? … I realized that Taj Mahal, the iconic monument which is associated with India in everyone’s mind, is not really known to Indians themselves. Research and writing of the book took me 5 years. Needless to say, research in India is not for the faint-hearted, unless you want wikipedia dump!
I have spent a total of 7 years researching and writing the two Mehrunisa books.
This is the second part of your Mehrunisa trilogy. When you began writing the first book, did you think this character would go into a series?
I had not planned the series but as I mention, research was such a long-drawn affair that over the course of writing The Taj Conspiracy, I spent much time with my characters. I was having so much fun with them that I decided to take them on more adventures!
How did you think up Mehrunisa, what was your inspiration?
I wrote The Taj Conspiracy, Book 1 of the Mehrunisa trilogy, to rescue Taj Mahal from ignorant guides and benighted rumours and show it for what it really is – as the colour white contains all colours within it, this monument of white comprises multiple, diverse threads of a pluralistic India. I created Mehrunisa as a human metaphor for the Taj – strong yet vulnerable and of mixed heritage.
You have written books across genres. What are the specific challenges of writing a thriller? Do you think you will experiment with another genre post the trilogy?
I don’t think in terms of genres when writing. For me the most important consideration is how best to tell the story. The Hunt for Kohinoor is set in the tangled triangle of India-Afghanistan-Pakistan, against the backdrop of our shared Mughal history and the more contemporary history of Indo-Pak wars. History and politics are intertwined in the narrative – my attempt here is to rescue the contemporary narrative of the region from western journalism and highlight our deep historical linkages.
As with any genre, a thriller has its requirements: pace, plot, punch. The important thing for me is to tell an engaging story while being able to raise critical questions through the narrative.
Which has been the most emotionally fulfilling book you have written amongst the ones you have and why?
That question is the equivalent of asking a mother which child she loves the most 🙂
How do you see readers of Indian writing in English evolving in their reading preferences, do you find any trends emerging in terms of preferences for genres, content, style, etc?
The market for reading Indian writing with local stories/narratives has opened up tremendously. That’s great. However, I do wish we see a simultaneous evolution of discriminating readers such that ‘illiterature’ – a cogent term coined by Indian Express – does not overrun Indian publishing.
What is on your bedside table? Who are the authors you go back to over and over again?
On my bedside table: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Writers I go back to over and over: Mirza Ghalib, Punjabi Sufi poets, Marquez, Shakespeare
Now that the book has been released, are you happy with the way it has been received?
Absolutely! The book is getting considerable buzz and The Hunt for Kohinoor topped Amazon India’s bestseller chart recently.
I read somewhere that Priyanka Chopra is interested in Mehrunisa… Comment?
Yes, that news did go viral with media from Canada to Pakistan and Dubai in between, not to mention India, carrying that report. High time we had a historical-spy thriller film with a woman in the lead, no?
For more information please check:
About Manreet: http://bit.ly/ManreetWebsite
Motion Poster in action: http://bit.ly/THFKTeaser