Oct 8, 2009

Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

Shilpa Agarwal's Haunting Bombay immerses readers in a deeply saturated drama and literary ghost story reminiscent of the Bollywood films the Mittal family's driver Gulu adapts into his own adventures.  Set in Bombay, India, the story spans two decades from the end of World War II into the 1960s.

Each member of the Mittal family is vivid from the main protagonist Pinky, a thirteen-year-old girl uncomfortable with her place in the family and grandmother Maji, who keeps the family unit running smoothly and keeps all of its secrets secure to self-centered Savita, Maji's daughter-in-law bent on driving Pinky out and her seventeen-year-old son Nimish, who always has his head in a book and is too timid to talk to the girl he has a crush on.

"Pinky dreamt she was drowning.  She felt herself being pushed down into water, down, down, down until her lungs began to burst.  The only way out was to push her head farther in, to stop thrashing, to trust that she would not die.  But each time she grew afraid, each time she thrashed.  Each time she startled awake just as she was about to pass out."  (Page 111)

Pinky's mother dies during the partition of India, forcing her to become a refugee, but Maji takes her granddaughter into her bungalow, along with her son, his wife, and their three boys.  The mystery of the bolted bathroom door at night is resolved when Pinky in a fit of frustration unbolts the door.  Haunting Bombay is about the secrets buried within a family and the ghosts tied to those secrets until they burst through the bathroom door.

"Here it was, proof that she had once inhabited this place at the world's rim, before she had begun to bleed, before the women had gathered, their salty voices crooning the ancient tale of the menstruating girl who caused the waves to turn blood-red and sea snakes to infest the waters."  (Page 4)

Agarwal's poetic language is like a siren song, pulling the reader into the Mittal family's struggles with one another.  With the start of the monsoon season accompanied by the heavy rains, the ghost grows more powerful and the drama more turbulent.  Readers looking for a ghost story will get more than they bargained for with Haunting Bombay.  It's a ghost story, mystery, and historical novel carefully crafted to hypnotize the reader.

Shilpa Agarwal kindly took the time out of her busy schedule--at the last minute, I might add, because I am incredibly out of sorts with my own schedule--to answer a few questions.  I graciously thank her.

1.  Please describe yourself as a writer and your book in 10 words or less. 

Myself as writer: A researcher, thinker, poet, dreamer.

Haunting Bombay: A literary ghost story set in Bombay, India.

2.  Haunting Bombay features a ghost story; what inspired you to use a haunting to illustrate family secrets and how they are uncovered? 

Haunting Bombay takes place in a wealthy Bombay bungalow and opens the day a newborn granddaughter drowns in a brass bucket while being bathed. The child’s ayah (nanny) is blamed for the death and is immediately banished from the household.  The child and her ayah are silenced in the realm of human language – they have no voice or power in the bungalow – so I had them come back in the supernatural realm in order to speak the truth of what happened that drowning day.  I remember a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron that is something like, “Fear is what happens when you get closer to the truth.”  I wanted my characters’ journey to discovering the truth to be both frightening and enlightening, involving self-reflection, compassion, and sacrifice. 

3.  Do you have any particular writing habits, like listening to music while writing or having a precise page count to reach by the end of each day or week? 

When I was writing Haunting Bombay and my children were very young, I used to get up at 4:30 each morning to write because that was the only time in the day I had to myself.  Now I write while they are at school.  I always light a candle before writing, put my editorial hat away, and allow the story to unfold as it comes to me.  Later I go back and rewrite but I always like the first draft to come from a place of emotion and instinct.  My writing process is very organic.  I never write an outline because, inevitably, the story will take an entirely different direction than the one I’ve plotted out.   So I let the story flow, and however far I get that day is fine with me.

4.  Name some of the best books you've read lately and why you enjoyed them.

During my book travels these past months, I’ve met wonderful authors whose books I subsequently read, including Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais (Aimee Leduc Investigation), David Fuller’s Sweetsmoke, and Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander.  This weekend I spoke at an event with Judith Freeman, Ann Packer, and Jacqueline Winspear so Red Water: A Novel, The Dive From Clausen's Pier: A Novel, and Maisie Dobbs are on my current reading list.  There is something almost magical in reading a book after hearing an author speak about it, and in this process my own interests have expanded into new genres of literature.  I also recently read Kathleen Kent’s The Heretic's Daughter: A Novel which I thought was an engaging work of historical fiction.

For the rest of my interview with Shilpa Agarwal, check out my D.C. Literature Examiner page.

Thanks again to Shilpa Agarwal, Soho Press, and TLC Book Tours.  I have 1 copy of Haunting Bombayfor my readers anywhere in the worldTo Enter:

1.  Leave a comment about why you like ghost stories or describe a scary story you heard or told.
2.  Leave a comment on my D.C. Literature Examiner interview and get a second entry.
3.  Tweet, Facebook, or blog about this giveaway and leave a comment.

Deadline is Oct. 16, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST.


Blodeuedd said...

Sounds like a great book, and now I do wonder what is behind that door. I can never let go of a mystery.

blodeuedd1 at gmail dot com

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

It's fun to be deliciously spooked out sometimes!


A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I also posted this on my blog sidebar under 'Other Giveaways.'



Veens said...

Oh well, when we were young this was our fav pass time... in the nights.. all of us my friends and cousins would come close and each will start telling some tale they might heard from somewhere... I remember quite a few :D Scared, we used all sleep together :D

Enter me.

givingreadingachance AT gmail.com

Pam said...

I love ghost stories in spite of being easily spooked by them. Before my hubby and I got married, I remember staying at his apt. and I would often awaken in the night to see him sitting up and talking to someone I couldn't see. He told me, "don't worry. They don't want to hurt us." Whether they wanted to or not, it freaked me out!

melacan at hotmail dot com

Pam said...

I commented on your DC review.

melacan at hotmail dot com

Julie P. said...

I don't read a lot of ghost stories, but I like them. I guess it's because I enjoy all of the possibilities out there!


Linda said...

I don't normally read ghost stories, but I do like historical fiction of the early and mid 20th century. This novel sounds great.

trish said...

You had me at "Agarwal's poetic language is like a siren song." THAT is such a beautiful sentence!

Thanks for being on this tour, Serena! I loved the questions you asked the author. :)

Anna said...

I've been dying to read this one since you raved about it to me the other day. I love ghost stories because I like to be scared once in a while, and even if they aren't scary, I love the whole mystery about these stories.

Off to read the rest of the interview...

And I'll put the giveaway in my sidebar.

Diary of an Eccentric
diaryofaneccentric at hotmail dot com

Janel said...

I've been fascinated with ghosts for quite awhile. I love reading about true ghost stories and you can't be a nicely written fictional ghost story. Perfect reading for October.


Bridget said...

Just posted this on Win A Book for you. No need to enter me, though.

Staci said...

I would love to read this one!! Sounds fantastic!

J.T. Oldfield said...

I always liked the one about the girl w/ the green ribbon that is holding her head onto her body.

I tweeted about this!


Literary Feline said...

You've written a great review, Serena. I was really taken with this book too. And thank you too for the interview with the author. I am always curious about a writer's process. This is a book that clearly came from the author's heart.

Diane said...

Serena...This sounds like an amazing book. I love the cover as well. I'd love to win a copy:

bibliophilebythesea AT gmail DOT com


Mystica said...

The question of what is behind that door will haunt anyone who reads the interview/review.

Please count me in.



Mary Ann DeBorde said...

Mary D
zenrei57 (at) hotmail (dot) com

Very good review, I'd enjoy reading this! In fact, I've always loved ghost stories, I think they are probably my most oft enjoyed genre. Since the 60's, I've grown up with The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, gothic romance novels, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe reprints, and all the rest.

And, as nutty as this sounds, there is sometimes a 'cozy' feel to reading a good ghost story, especially on a rainy afternoon with a steaming mug of hot chocolate LOL

The victorian tales are probably my absolute favorites, because the early authors relied more on atmosphere, and a build-up through events barely hinted at.

Plus, it's fun to be a little bit scared when you know you are safe under the covers :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I like to be scared, but I would also like this book because I would like to read more about Bombay!

nbmars AT yahoo DOT com

Amanda said...

I love scary movies and scary books. I recently read Sokoloff's The Harrowing and totally loved reading it before bed and getting spooked. That might sound weird but I normally don't get bad dreams from spooky stories. I also love love gothic stories. Ones that don't frighten per say but are just spooky all around.

Thanks for the giveaway!

nycbookgirl at gmail dot com

Amanda said...

I posted a comment on the D.C. Literature Examiner's site. I love it when author's recommend books by other authors. Her book sounds right up my alley. I love haunting books. Thanks!

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I love scary books. The suspense keeps the pages turning really fast for me!

THanks for the giveaway.


holdenj said...

Wow, it sounds like a good book. I don't know any good ghost stories to speak of, but I'll never forget the first time I read Legend of Sleepy Hollow--that can be creepy.

Shilpa said...

Serena, Thank you for the beautiful review and I'm happy to know how much you enjoyed Haunting Bombay.

When I first began the story almost ten years ago, I hadn’t intended to write a ghost story but I realized that the child who drowned had to come back to speak the truth of what happened that tragic day. She begins to haunt the bathroom where she died, growing stronger with each passing day.

In writing these supernatural scenes, I put myself inside my characters, feeling what they felt. I wrote in the wee hours of the morning, before dawn, and found them conducive to eerie imaginings.

I wanted to create a narrative that was suspenseful but not (too) terrifying, one that balanced the darkness of the family’s secrets with the lightness of their humor and love - all set against the backdrop of Bombay.

I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. Thank you for posting.

kimikimi said...

I like stories that has a bit of fantasy.

kimikaio @yahoo.com (no space)

lilly said...

I do enjoy Indian fiction because it puts me in a special mood different from other genres. I will definitely have to look this one up.

Anonymous said...

I don't read a lot of ghost stories...but I like to hear them.

karen k

Amanda said...

I like ghost stories particularly around this time of year. I like children's gothy stories, ala Edward Gorey. :D


Hazra said...

I haven't read too many Indian ghost stories, and I'd love to read this book. I recently read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and it was a great read. I blogged about it at http://linktoink.blogspot.com/2009/10/sunday-salon-short-story-focus.html

Email: ahazraDOT88ATgmailDOTCOM

Sarah said...

I like ghost stories because they are based on real people who lived in the past, and I love anything historical. Please enter me in this great giveaway!

saemmerson at yahoo dot com

Sarah Emmerson

PorshaJo said...

Oh I can't wait to read this book. I love ghost stories for the creep factor, enjoy hearing about paranormal activities, and the historical ghost tales.


Andrea said...

When I was younger my family and I used to go camping. On these trips, they would always scare us with the story of la Llorana(the crying woman). The story goes that she went crazy and killed her kids in a river and now haunts the river searching for them. They used to mimic her screaming and to this day it still creeps me out.

Sue said...

I love to be scared ( a little ) so I'd love a chance. I think it goes back to girls camp when I was 12 and I had the best stories told at night. Thanks for sharing.

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

PopinFresh said...

It's fun to be scared, but what I love about ghost stories is how the characters react to the ghosts. Would they run away? Would they stay there? Would they try to understand the ghost, etc...


~ Popin

Jo-Jo said...

I blogged about your contest here.
joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com

Linna said...

I have ambivalent feelings toward ghost stories. I enjoy reading them at the moment but I hate being hauted by those stories and imagination afterwards. :)

linna.hsu at gmail dot com

buddyt said...

I have not read a good ghost story in a very long time.

I found that they tended to be much-of-a-muchness,so they have not been on my radar.

But I have been reading a few Indian writers and really enjoying there slightly different take on life and love.

I would like to get my hands on this one, so please enter me in the drawing.

Thank you.


buddytho {at} gmail DPT com