Debutante author Zuni Chopra is full of stories. Here, she talks about her novel, The House That Spoke, and magic and darkness.
The House That Spoke —that’s the title of Zuni Chopra’s novel. The 15-year-old author is the daughter of Bollywood film director, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and film critic Anupama Chopra. But the Chopra girl doesn’t need to rest on her parents’ laurels — even if the story is sprinkled liberally with her father and his family’s memories of Kashmir. The book has been published by Penguin Random House.
“We try to go to Kashmir once a year. It’s dad’s home,” says Chopra, adding, “As a kid, I never understood why the place wasn’t packed with tourists. It has such beautiful landscape. To me, therefore, it was like a paradise that only we knew about. Now, as I have grown older, I realised that political conflict is the reason why there aren’t too many people around. That made into the book.”
The House That Spoke, which is a magical fantasy, also captures the ordinariness of the lives of Kashmiris. And, though the book is set in present, some of the actions and scenes are dug from the Chopra family’s pool of memories. “I interviewed my family. I asked them questions about growing up in Kashmir and the joys of childhood. I wanted them to answer questions on how their daily life was — what they did in school, where did they leave their chappals when they came home, etc. They may be in Mumbai now, but every detail of Kashmir is etched in their mind clearly. I also discovered how they ran out barefoot in winter, picked up a log of wood, ran back into the house and tossed it in the fireplace. I have mentioned this too in my writing. At my Mumbai home, there’s a beautiful painting of my great grandfather put up alongside pictures of other relatives. I knew I had to include the painting in my book. So I would see things around the house and make notes. The memories are invaluable,” says the Xth grader.
The story of the home
In the book, the protagonist Zoon Razdan talks to objects and furnitures in the house and the inanimate objects too talk amongst themselves. So does she do something familiar?
“No! That would make me a wacko! But I know the attachment Zoon has for her house. I have a lovely house in Mumbai and my cousin’s lake house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is a little paradise too. We visit it almost every summer and the Bloomfield hills look so beautiful. The lake surrounded by cherry blossom trees and the perfect weather make it all so gorgeous. So I am in love with the house and of course the people in it. The aspects of the girl (Zoon) caring for a house and caring for the elements in it came from this home. I also wrote the book in the lakehouse home,” gushes Chopra.
And what about the similarities between Zoon Razdan and Zuni Chopra? “Well, I know people would automatically assume that I am Zoon. But I am not. I like my name and what it means, so I named the character. I would say that she is the kind of girl I would like to be friends with,” explains the youngster.
The magic in her tale
Chopra has always been drawn to magic. “I would love stories and telling stories that had magic in them. And, not even obvious magic, even Neil Gaiman-kind of magic would do. And, of course Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter-kind of magic,” Chopra says with a smile. She always told stories to herself and none of the stories ever took place in the real world. “I remember one of my prized possessions. It was a castle with a ‘secret door’ that you could tap open, which was with me for long. Dad finally gave it away to my cousin sister,” she adds.
The dark factor
Magic is incomplete without darkness. And The House That Spoke has ‘Kruhen Clay’ in it. Initially, Chopra based this character as an interview subject. “I would conduct interviews with darkness as a subject in my head and type out the answers. Slowly, it became clear how it will speak, and its body language. I made darkness more concrete by treating him as a human character,” explains Chopra.
She had also drawn rough sketches which resembled a snake. “But my dad and so many others pointed out that it was so boring. Then I made him a reflection of a warped human. He is made up of human ideas and emotions, but he has no idea of what they mean,” she says.
Full of stories, the 15-year-old is relieved that the book is out and she can go back to appearing for her exams. “I have got Physics exam on Monday. Wish me luck,” she says before signing off.