Published: 19th March 2017
The other side of Kashmir
Young author Zuni Chopra talks about her first novel The House that Spoke and being a perfectionist
Let it be known that the 15-year-old author, Zuni Chopra, is a perfectionist, albeit a self-proclaimed one. But she is aware of its shortcomings. "I am yet to accept that everything can't be exactly the way I would like it," she says, talking about balancing school, writing and the other pursuits of a typical teenager. She believes in prioritising and writing is at the top of that list, always an important part of who she is. The product of this prioritisation is her first novel The House that Spoke, which was launched by the founder of Reliance Foundation, Nita Ambani and Zaira Wasim of Dangal fame, last month.
The art of penning her thoughts on paper is not new to Zuni, who is a published poet, but the art of writing a novel is. Though the transition from poetry to prose was seamless, the fact that the Mumbaikar took a Stanford creative writing pre-collegiate course certainly helped broaden her horizon. It also helped that the story she wanted to tell was better suited for prose. "But prose is a completely different muscle, a different way of writing," she admits.
Untold Story: The House that Spoke is published by Penguin Random House, India
Zuni, who visits Kashmir once a year, says that this story is about Kashmir, but the Kashmir that people don't often see. "The world needs to remember that there is more to Kashmir than guns, violence and bitterness," she stresses. But we wonder, touching upon a sensitive subject like Kashmir, that too in her very first novel? No qualms or apprehensions? "I’m careful not to develop the arrogance to comment on the current situation of the place, because I don’t know it well enough and that is not the kind of story I want to tell," the young author explains. The story that she does dare to narrate though is of 14-year-old and her extraordinary house. Written in the genre of magical realism, Zuni chose this particular path because it is not a commentary on the current situation. "Enough people have done that and it has taken away from Kashmir," she states.
Speaking about the book’s protagonist, Zoon Razdan, one cannot help but heed the similarity between Zuni and Zoon. "This is going to sound narcissistic, but I love my name," she laughs, as she explains her choice. Any other similarities, we wonder? She assures us that though it’s her voice that comes through, "I never designed her to be me." For Zuni, the most striking aspect of Kashmir, aside from the blanket of snow that sits atop houses and trees, are the people themselves. "Their state is in turmoil, yet they don’t harbour any of those feelings," she tells us.