Tuesday, 28 October 2014

"I think that no matter who you are, the greatest thing you have to offer to the world is your stories." - says Reenita Malhotra Hora in a heartwarming chat with Vanya's Notebook...

For the umpteenth time when I read the name of the book, I was confused! Operation Mom! I didn’t know what to expect. Then I switched to the author bio, when I read that I knew that the book is going to rock and trust me or not, what I experienced was much more than rocking! Reenita Malhotra Hora had made me fall in love with her writing style and the book once I read it and more often than not, I just knew that I had to know the inside story of the novel! Guess what? I succeeded! Here is a wonderful talk into books, Operation Mom and much more…
PS- Do not forget to buy the book!

Vanya’s Notebook- After all these years for you having been a part of the literary industry, I want to take the pleasure of welcoming you to the world of fiction!! How has the journey been for you?

Reenita—That's a loaded question! 
It has been a great rise but not an easy one by any means. Although my Young Adult crossover story, Operation Mom – How I got my Mother a Life and a Man is my debut novel, it isn't actually the first I wrote. In fact the yet-to-be-published, The Chronicles of Arya is actually the first piece of fiction I wrote. To say I found it challenging on every level is putting it mildly. Hail from a non-fiction/journalistic background, it was a major challenge to “get out of the box” and relax into a creative flow that is so badly needed in fiction. Up until then all of my writing had been extremely structured – there is a certain 'uptight' nature that befits journalism. It took me forever to break that mold and let loose.
Not to mention that initially, I was writing to a Western audience. Subsequently, I decided to direct my focus to Indian readers. But the bigger problem was that typical of first-time-novelists, I fell in love with every character. I found myself staunchly defending their existence in critique groups rather than be open to 'killing my darlings' to really bring the story to life.

Vanya’s Notebook- Your author bio says that you are the ‘Hora family concierge and fish taco connoisseur’ why is that? Any special moment you want to share with us regarding these two titles given to you?

Reenita— Yes indeed, rather than 'mother', 'parent', 'wife' or any other typically befitting title, the  most accurate has been 'Hora family concierge.' We are a small family with a large attitude. Everyone of us, my husband - Neeraj, my daughter -Ilya, my son - AryaVir and our dog – Dumbledore, has a unique personal agenda and when it comes to deciding who gets priority, it's always a question of “My way or hit the highway!” Just as the concierge is the caretaker of an apartment building complex or the guy at the hotel front desk who shows guests around and makes theater reservations, my job is to organize the Horas without dampening their egos! School stuff, family travel, work, social activities, logistics...if I started getting into the intricacies of what that means for each one of us, I'd be writing pages. What's interesting to note though is the origin of the word concierge. It's French - probably based on Latin conserves ‘fellow slave.’ Go figure!
As for the title of 'Fish Taco Connoisseur,' your question reminds me that my tagline is dated because since I crafted that one, I have turned one hundred percent vegetarian. In my days of living in California, I would often long for home. However that was easier said than done, the journey to India was long and not financially viable on a whim. So when we discovered Mexico, it was like chocolate for my soul. Crossing the border from Southern California  you'd suddenly feel like you were back home – with the way the people looked, how they spoke, their attitude, the way they hung their clothes to dry outside on a clothesline. It was in Ixtapa sometime in the early 2000s that I discovered my love for fish tacos. I have been a die-hard addict ever since, well until I recently turned veg. I don't plan to ever go back to being no-veg but I will say that the thought of fish tacos has the power to bring about a certain conditioned reflex.

Vanya’s Notebook- Having your book in hand, and after reading it I had a few    questions. To begin with, what was the thought you put in the book while writing it? I mean, did it come out of your mind all so suddenly or was it any journalism related assignment which made you think of it?

Reenita— No journalism related assignment at all. The story of Operation Mom just flowed because I was in a girly mood and focused on creating memorable characters whose quirks and flaws really defined their unique personalities. 
            I wrote the book over the course of a summer. Luckily I was alone for the most part that summer as in my kids were abroad in summer camp, chaperoned by their father.  I was working the morning shift at RTHK Radio 3 and that left me with the afternoons to write. I had huge amounts of fun writing the book and because I was so in love with the obuse-ness of the characters, the story came together very easily.
            The characters and settings are heavily inspired by my own life scenes so people who know me are always looking to relate a particular character to one of my family members or friends. And while there is plenty overlap with things that have been, as a fiction writer you have the luxury of twisting situations and characters into what you want them to be. It's a great way to immortalize those you walk you always wanted to take down the wild side or seek revenge on those who left you in the lurch somehow.

Vanya’s Notebook- I really liked the way you have written your book. It’s a very ‘girlish’ and a very perky language. Was it to add the ‘oomph’ factor to your book or was it the way you write?

Reenita— When I embarked on a mission to write a novel about being a teen in Mumbai, I thought, how hard could it be? But it was. My nephew was quick to remind me that my lingo was out of date and my teen references out of context. Then followed a crash course in contemporary Mumbai slang. Between that and a slew of my own young adult experiences, the story unfolded.
            When it comes to humor, I honestly believe that we do not have enough of it in our daily experience. And Indian writing in general also lacks humor. So that is certainly a matter of writing style that I continue to explore – although it is not as if to say that everything I write is humorous. Pervious to Operation Mom, I had written a series of first person stories for the South China Morning Post's Family Post tabloid. They were a wry, sarcastic look at the drama of my family members. I got a lot of great feedback from readers which is why I decided to write Operation Mom in a similar style but in the mindset of the young female adult i.e. “perky and girlish” as you say.

Vanya’s Notebook- I have been really happy to see that you do not stick to one genre and have experimented with quite a few. I mean, your books were Forever Young, Inner Beauty and Ayurveda after which Operation Mom came into being. Is there any specific reason to that or just like that?

Reenita— Truth be told my first books about Ayurveda came into being because of my job as an Ayurvedic clinician and business owner at the time. That's when I discovered...or more accurately, re-discovered...my love for writing but decided that I was type-cast. No publisher thought that I could write about anything but Ayurveda. But I always knew I wanted to write fiction so finally took the plunge. And other non-fiction genres too.  Yes, I do have interests beyond Ayurveda that I would like to share with readers.

Vanya’s Notebook- For your readers, I would like to request you to sum up the book Operation Mom in a few words.

Reenita— Operation Mom is the story of a Mumbai teen's quest to get her single mother dating
again. Now typically it's the mothers who are looking to set up their daughters and not the other way around, and certainly not through the online world. To top that, we traditionally, we look to get girls 'married' rather than 'dating.'
            In many ways I myself identify with the plight of Ila and her mom, Veena, but the wild and wanton Aunty Maleeka is heavily inspired by a crazy school mate of mine. She and Deepali, her younger reincarnation, buck the trends of the traditional Punjabi 'isms' that I have dealt with throughout my life and in many ways they are who Veena and Ila live vicariously through. Truth is, I think we all need a bit of Aunty Maleeka or Deepali in our lives!
            In many ways, the story is about bucking trends. I intentionally wanted to break some norms because I think that as a society we could be a little less uptight and might do well with a dose of 'taking ourselves less seriously.' Thing is if you are the mother of a daughter, or the daughter or a mother, at some level you are going to identify. And when it comes to the guys, they have all seen these crazy but dominant female flit in and out of their lives.

Vanya’s Notebook- George Michael of Wham!! I mean, seriously? You did that?

Reenita— Yes, 100% full disclosure! Anyone who knew me in my teenage years can attest to how overly infatuated I was with George Michael.  I mean to some extent that goes for every woman in my generation, anywhere in the world, but I was definitely part of the elite club of the super-obsessed. It actually got my own mother extremely worried because that's when it first hit her that I was a Type A, obsessive personality and in her books, that could possibly lead to a host of problems later in life.
            I stalked George in my teenage years – in an age where there was no such thing as the internet or social media.  That he was gay was of course completely immaterial back then – I barely even understood what that meant. If my buddies pointed out that there was no way he could possibly be biologically interested in me even if I somehow carried through my zany notion of meeting him (which I did), I took it as a personal affront.

The anecdote has made its way into Operation Mom (as fiction of course) and while George Michael may not define pop culture in the 21st century, I figure we could re-launch him into stardom by casting him as himself in the movie version. After all, we have an entire audience of eighties women who have spent days idling away to the tune of his hit ballad, Careless Whisper, once upon a not-so-long-ago!
            For fun, I have attached a picture of myself as a teen with George Micahel. That it got published in the Mumbai midday brought me something akin to teen fame. Of course my husband says that in looking at it, it's anyone's guess as to which one of the two is Reenita and which is George Michael!

Vanya’s Notebook- What about your future works? Something new or sticking to the safe genre of romance and chick lit?

Reenita— Is romance and chick lit really a 'safe' genre? That suggestion in itself makes me want to say “something new” :)  A friend of mine recently admonished me for switching and changing genres. “You have to stick to one or you'll never make your mark,” she insisted. Her words still haunt me but then as I tell everyone, there is nobody in the world I can rely on to entertain me but myself. And the entertainment is not going to come from just one genre.
            There is a lot I want to explore and say to the world. And a bunch of narrative voices to explore it with so, no I will definitely not stock to one genre. To better answer your question, here's what I have coming out in the next year:  a finance book  Money-Smart: The Indian Woman's Guide to Building Wealth and also a fantasy-fiction story for young teens called The Chronicles of Arya. Then I will work on an Ayurvedic diet/cookbook because I am such a firm believer in the notion of 'you are what you eat.' Once I am done with that, I will be ready to get back to fiction.

Vanya’s Notebook- You must have got many reviews and criticisms about the book. Did any affect you much? Which one, according to you was the best? And which one, the most critic one?

Reenita— Oh this is difficult. When you read great reviews of your book, you are just so happy to know that the reader is enjoying it!
            There was one review by Shubham Kumar on Flipkart that really delighted me. He called it “top-notch intellect” and said Albeit it’s a female oriented book but it holds good entertainment value for both the genders.” I was particularly happy about this because even though it is female-centric, I know that a lot of male readers will enjoy it because they will identify these characters with females from their life.
            Shubham also said “I feel that Operation Mom is a top rated season of a famous TV show. It’s finely divided into different episodes, with each one taking the story further. It never felt like I was reading a book. It was more of watching a TV program that would be telecasted on weekends.” Once you’re into the story, you feel like you’ve known the characters for quite some time. Whatever they say, whatever they do, is completely justified.”
            More and more, people reject reading in favor of TV. I know how I love binge-watching my favorite TV shows. How great is it then to bring people a book that make them feel like they are watching their favorite TV show instead!
            In terms of criticism, I was a little disappointed with one that mentioned that the content matter was a little “unorthodox” for schools. This is exactly what I mean about our uptight nature of our society and why people need to address and accept life as it happens...ideally served up with a dash of humor.

Vanya’s Notebook- Sorry to have bored you so much. As you can see, I speak a lot. So, not to further bore the readers with much of my talking, I would like to ask you to say a few words for my blog and of course, for your readers.

Reenita— I think that no matter who you are, the greatest thing you’ll have to offer to the world is your stories. We all have terrific stories submerged within the depths of our sub consciousness but that journey of discovery can be made only if you acquiesce to the currents of your sub consciousness and see where they take you, rather than fighting against them to stay ashore where life is safe because you've seen it before. But sometimes, it can be hard to dig in discover those stories, much less bring them to conscious realms and then disburse them to the rest of the world.
            This is probably why I take my role as a story-teller very seriously. Whether it is through my books or radio shows or public appearances, I filter those untold stories, not just the ones that originate from me but the ones that come from you too...the readers, the listeners, the players. So I encourage you to please stay in touch and bring me your stories too in any way that you would like. My website: Www.reenita.com or email me at reenita@reenita.com.

It was indeed a mind blowing experience talking to Reenita Malhotra Hora! Hope you loved reading it as well. We wish her loads of luck of her future endeavors! And if you want to know more about what I think of the book, do keep flipping the pages of Vanya’s Notebook, a review of the book and an article regarding the same is down there!

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