January 12, 2023
Giselle Mehta has Masters’ degrees in International Relations and English Literature. For 10 years, she was an officer in the Indian Revenue Service. Thereafter, she made the shift to personal independence and the stimulation of a creative life.
Her diverse interests and immersions shape her fiction. It reflects the passions and animations of an ever-evolving persona.
Her debut novel ‘Blossom Showers’ was on the bestseller list for fiction with the Landmark chain of bookstores in India in 2011.
Kishoo Barkur with Giselle Mehta
Signing event at Crossword Bookstore, Kemps Corner, Mumbai
Signing event at Title Waves Bookstore, Bandra, Mumbai
Book signing event at Crossword Bookstore, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad
‘Vectors in the Void’ is her second novel.
On each and every one of its many levels, ‘Vectors in the Void’ is a brilliant work of creative writing in literature. From a purely technical point of view, Giselle Mehta's use of characterization, setting, research, conflict, point of view, narrative voice, symbolism, foreshadowing, allusion, and every other literary device in the handbook is flawless and awe-inspiring.
Zara’s birth on a turbulent day during the Indian Freedom Struggle foretells an eventful life. The Holocaust and the Second World War in Europe reach her as a schoolgirl in Murree, pre-Partition India’s picturesque hill station with lasting consequences, turning a teenager into a mature woman. The births of three nations- India, Pakistan, and Israel touch her trajectory.
Zara moves on to a prudent marriage in the changed setting of Independent India. While Business and Swatantra Party politics engage her, external events cast their shadows. The Sino-Indian conflict leaves a family grappling with loss and mystery… Later, the Proclamation of Emergency spells terror and suffering.
She negotiates tumultuous family dramas. The contrasting needs of twin daughters are a tightrope walk- one of them being beautiful and brilliant, the other sickly and artistic. When equilibrium is in sight, an unexpected communication conveys a shocking truth. Connecting with a celebrity in London could revive a precious bond, or shatter a fragile family...
Zara and her family brim with compelling inclinations and adventurous impulses, audacious hope and autonomous choices, charting their routes to personal significance.
This is a compelling saga that ties together diverse events and elements, races and places, in a masterly display of story-telling art…
Here is an interview of the author by Kishoo Barkur, exclusively for daijiworld.com.
Kishore Peter Gonsalves hails from Barkur and writes Short stories, Scientific Articles, and occasional poetry with a pen name Kishoo Barkur. Dhaktya Devachim Bhurgim and Rupnnim are his published books. Written songs for Konkani Albums. Rupnnim, his collection of short stories bagged award from Karnataka Konkani Sahithya Academy. Bahuvachana Publications has published his translated novel from Konkani to Kannada written by Jnanapeetha Awardee, Damodar Mauzo. He is the Trustee of Kavita Trust, served as its Secretary and currently serving as its President. He is one of the Director of Daijiworld Media Private Limited and heads its franchise at Kishoo Enterprises at Udupi.
• Congratulations on your second novel, 'Vectors in the Void’. It was quite a wait for me since your debut novel 'Blossom Showers'. It took around a decade or so for you to finish the second novel; was it an unplanned sabbatical or an elaborate decision? In my opinion, 'Blossom Showers' itself came out at a later point in your life. What was it that brought out the novelist in you?
Thank you, Kishoo. Novels that I write take their time because they possess a big breadth in the range of things they cover. In fact, the hardest question for me to answer is when someone asks me what my books are about. I pack in so much on multiple issues between two covers it is hard to furnish a simple reply! This necessarily demands research and a meticulous thought process that fuses all of it together. I also cover longer spans of time than the average novel which translates to longer writing time. The aim is always for a one-of-a-kind work that grips its readers.
It is true that I arrived at writing fiction after a rather roundabout journey. It was always an aspiration, as early as my high school days. Real life took me on many competing routes that offered their own stimulation through the multiple activities of my university days, being a young officer in a highly responsible government job and simultaneously handling the demands of family life. It was only after I quit government service in the year 2000 that reviving my literary dreams and creative impulses became central to my persona.
• Being a master storyteller, incorporating a stunning composition style; you manage to employ almost all kinds of techniques in your narrative of 'Vectors in the void'. I particularly find it hilarious when you use this technique of people bitching-around to drive home a few points. In this novel, each chapter is split into two parts, starting with a general aspect of any of the characters followed by an intense first-person perspective of the protagonist. We've observed this was done in 'Blossom Showers' on a smaller scale (with italics) and feel that it has blown into the full scale in 'Vectors in the Void’. Was it essential to the composition of the new novel?
It is heartening to be described as a master storyteller with a stunning composition style. It is discerning of you to take in the numerous techniques that underlie the novel’s distinctive style. To the extent possible, I try to be different in the way I approach each novel. “Blossom Showers” had three protagonists over different points of time who each told their stories in the first person. “Vectors in the Void” has a single protagonist over the whole long period so this device of internally splitting a chapter was fashioned to bring in a balance and explore other characters’ circumstances and viewpoints. If you think about it, this mirrors the big picture of life and the external world, which runs parallel with a particular individual’s deeply personal lens on things.
• How do your novels start to shape up? To what extent did the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns impact your writing process?
I lurch forward, by and large, from chapter to chapter expecting a certain internal momentum to build up. If certain areas feel sketchy to me, I focus on where I enjoy more clarity. I stand firm in the confidence that travel/ new information/ encounters of life/ a fresh burst of imagination will flesh out the content. In the long haul, disconnected pieces fall into place and acquire coherence.
I thought I had more or less put a full stop to writing the novel in 2019 but certain family obligations stalled the onward process. This was followed by the pandemic which retarded my creative life with competing demands on my time. It was only in the latter part of 2021 that I revisited my manuscript for some fine tuning and revisions of content that led to publication.
• As I mentioned, I was waiting for your second novel and was expecting something along the lines of Blossom Showers, but 'Vectors in the Void’ surprised me with an unexpected plot. Though this book has lesser pages, it is intense and much more non linear, complex and power packed. What is the strategy behind the plots of your novels?
I like to be different with each book. If my debut novel centred on local terrain, ‘Vectors’ does the opposite, by tying together diverse events and elements, races and places. I personally haven’t come across another novel where the same individual is impacted both by the Holocaust in Europe, the Partition of India, the Sino-Indian War and the Emergency, but that is exactly my protagonist Zara’s tempestuous tale, and much more. The story is narrated at two levels: the effect of happenings in the world outside and equally the dramas of family life.
My writing style is to keep things interesting for a reader by shining the spotlight on lesser known facts of history or even contemporary times. This is conveyed not as heavy information but as part and parcel of settings and situations. The world of emotions and human predicaments enjoy pride of place in driving the pace. The intention is for pages to turn while also giving readers facts to absorb and insights to chew over.
• Is there a story behind the title of this book?
I thought it would be interesting to throw together two contradictory concepts, the nothingness of the void with the vector’s dynamic of movement, and apply them to the complexities of being human.
• Why Zara?
As a novelist I have been invited to preside over seminars on literature, especially those analysing the work of women writers. I noted a common trend in the papers presented that stereotypically viewed female characters in fiction as weak and victims of patriarchy. This may be the case, but I felt the need to simultaneously portray a woman with a strong and interesting persona, adventurous in spirit and leading life on her own terms.
• I see the beauty of your language as poetry in prose. Have you ever indulged in composing poetry?
This is a compliment to cherish!
My first book was "Aerial Roots", a collection of my poems. My fascination with writing fiction was too strong and I moved on from writing poetry. But its influence continues in the way I instinctively craft my lines to carry a certain cadence, for words to possess a smooth flow if they are to be read aloud.
• I particularly get this feeling that some of the characters relate to the people that I know or heard of from Mangalore. Did you have real-life influences in your mind while shaping a few of your characters? How much influence did your Mangalorean roots have on the premise of the novel?
There are no real life prototypes for Zara and her family who are unique in their fictional landscape, trailblazers rather in advance of their time. They might be closer in their make-up to people from wherever in the world in the range of their pursuits and passions. Only the Member of Parliament and his talented wife who are very occasionally mentioned may be identified with real-life people.
That aspect of my roots which influenced the novel was my awareness of migrations out of the hometown to different parts of pre-Partition India, like the city of Karachi which forms the novel’s earliest setting.
• I felt hints of elaborate design in 'Vectors of the Void'. I believe that there are either natural or designed stories. Natural stories are just that, they naturally occur to the author and get written by themselves. Designed stories are when the author designs a story around a grand idea that they want to convey. What is your opinion on the topic, concerning 'Vectors in the Void'?
It is actually a combination of both kinds for me. At first, one is only concerned for a story to move, but as it shapes up, an author might be lucky to find a running thread those ties up the pieces. I’d personally leave it to each reader to pick up whatever message feels meaningful to them. If it is felt to be a grand idea, then the author has achieved an outcome beyond a simple design.
• You cast a vast net around a very intricate and captivating storyline, consisting of complex characters painstakingly zeroing in on the climax, psychologically engrossing the readers with all their traumas and turbulences, paired with some philosophical undercurrents throughout the novel. However, I feel that both of your novels have this “then they all lived happily ever after” kind of fairytale climaxes. Quoting from your novel, “not even grand opera comes close to our poignant personal dramas”. Why choose such feel good endings?
Some readers might see them as more open-ended than “feel good” conclusions, mirroring life’s flow with sequences of tough and good times. They might be a point on the pathway where my characters pause to smell the roses and feel optimistic. They contain Eureka moments of wisdom, an appreciation of personal strengths to deal with varied circumstances. But it is equally an individual reader’s freedom to gauge prospects of the upbeat and pleasant for my characters.
Your view that I have “cast a vast net over a very intricate and captivating storyline” which is “psychologically engrossing” lingers pleasantly for me, because that is exactly what I endeavoured to do. I hope readers feel the same way, enjoying the construction of characters and progress to the climax that you mention. Thank you for your excellent commentary on my writings with its exhilarating compliments, Kishoo, which have allowed me this opportunity of articulating the world of a novelist.
• Thank you for agreeing to this interview and for the time. We expect many more power packed novels like these from you. All the best.