We are in conversation with a very interesting and beautiful personality, Reenita Malhotra Hora, who shares with us some interesting facts about her latest sensational novel, Operation Mom. She also talks about her taking keen interests in multiple things and much more. Have a look!
- Let’s talk
Team WordBite (TWB): Tell us something about you which very few people know of.
Reenita Malhotra Hora (RMH) : About three years ago, I went to my boss at RTHK Radio 3 and pitched an idea for a story-telling show on the weekends.
‘What is it exactly that you want to do?,’ he asked.
‘Well, I have always loved Ira Glass’s This American Life on NPR. I want to do my version – This Asian Life.’
‘That’s like the most successful radio show in America! You do realize that NPR has huge budgets that we can’t afford here at RTHK.’
Like that was going to stop me.
‘I still want to do it!’ I insisted. My boss knew me all too well.
‘Be my guest, as long as you can pull off a one woman team,’ he said. ‘But you’d better come up with something really damned good!’
A few months later, the show came to fruition under the title Asian Threads. Having always taken storytelling for granted, I had no idea how difficult it would be to string together a half hour docu-story series on a regular basis using music, voice, interview and narrative to seamlessly craft a single story. It was harder than anything I had done in print and certainly responsible for the grey hairs I developed along the way.
Last year it became an award-winning show. The New York Festivals International Radio Programming awards (or as I like to put it the Oscars of Radio) awarded the ‘Girl in the Green dress’ episode the gold award for programming in current affairs category.
But that’s not the part that everyone doesn’t know!
I got to go to New York for the award ceremony. I walked the red carpet and got to make a thank you speech. And guess who presented me with my award? The producers of This American Life!
Was that coincidence or a Gift from the Gods? Hardly anyone knows that but all I can say is that it was one of my biggest me moments ever!
TWB: “….….come tap my storehouse, I have many tales to tell!” This is what your website tells about you in the end. Your passion with Ayurveda, then now you work for an English language radio in Hong Kong. You also I dabbled with a wide range of media gigs. You earlier books were based on Ayurveda and now your latest book is a Young-Adult fiction. Being a multi talented personality, what is the reason behind liking and indulging in these diverse choices?
RMH: I have been telling people recently that I can rely on no one to keep me entertained but myself! Last summer, a good friend in San Francisco actually gave me a talking to.
“You have to stick to one genre,” she insisted. ‘How else are you ever going to master it?”
I guess there might be some truth in what she said but to me it’s a matter of discovering life, the world, different ideas, stories, genres…..and of course keeping myself entertained and engaged as I do so.
TWB: Can you give our audience a little sneak peek about the Hong Kong protests? What role are you playing in it?
RMH: Oh gosh. I am merely a bystander I have been really taken up with the protests not just because I am a person who truly values liberty but because like many others, I am a foreigner here riding on the coat-tails of a society that brings me success – materially and career-wise. I think that all too many of us live on the highs of success but forget to acknowledge that it is built upon the kind of freedom that we take for granted in our own countries.
It really gets to me that the kids out there are out there not to disrupt the law and order but to simply ask China to revoke its blatant breach of contract guaranteeing their rights. And the kids out there are barely older than mine – which make it all the more real and relevant. The real turning point for Hong Kong is 2047, these kids will be in their prime then…they know this and it’s why they are taking action now.
I go out sometimes as a journalist to cover the event, but often as a lay person who simply wants to be there to offer support. It’s peaceful…but history will show you how all events are peaceful until they are no longer peaceful. I have not been out lately because my husband is out of the country. With my son at home, I can’t risk falling prey to danger myself. Even that is something that many find laughable but you never know when a crackdown could come.
TWB: Now coming back to your book, why should one read your book? Anything that you want to tell a potential reader that the blurb of “Operation Mom” doesn’t tell him?
RMH: Oh my goodness, do you like to laugh? If so then Operation Mom will hit your funny bone. I think that many of us Indians take ourselves too seriously and cliched as it sounds, laughter really is medicine for your mind-body. The BBC has done huge amounts of research on how it helps the aging process, supports fitness and keeps couples together.
I grew up reading very serious novels, most of them classical British literature. It wasn’t until I moved to the United States many years later that I discovered the American sense of humor – so basic, so subtle and so able to lighten your mood on any given day. So I knew I wanted to write a humorous novel.
And then there is that whole element of predictability and safety in India. You don’t find stories where the daughter is setting the mother up – usually it happens the other way around. You don’t find stories which expose you to a variety of ethnic situations strewn around Mumbai – all ripe for comedic interpretation. That’s what I wanted to do. As a Mumbaikar I feel like I have many affinities – to the Punjabi way of life, to the Parsi community, to places like Swati Snacks and Worli Seaface…these all found their way into my book.
TWB: Is there a story behind the story of Operation Mom?
RMH: No story as such. The story is fictional but the scenes and settings are taken from real life. The George Micahel anecdote is take from my life – I stalked him in my teen years, without thaid of the internet or social media, mind you!
I guess here is the story – a year or two before I wrote the book, I was chatting with my brother’s friend at a party and somehow, we got talking about the whole George Michael episode. The guy listened with rapt amazement as I gave him the details of how I stalked the pop star through his cat. He said to me ‘That would make a great chic flick, you know!’
I was intrigued but know nothing about film so decided to turn it into YA chic-lit instead!
TWB: Any issue regarding Indian publishing or readership which you strongly feel about and why?
RMH: Yes – as I mentioned earlier, there seems to be some reluctance to ‘step-out-of-the-box’ so to speak. Publishers are looking for ‘what sells’ and are reluctant to put the effort to promoting books themselves. This really gets me. As authors we need to focus on our craft yet we invariably end up investing way too much time in being salespeople. It’s not a great idea.
TWB: Why did you choose to write something on this particular genre?
RMH: So it happened without planning. And not with this book either.
As far as the world is concerned, my Young Adult Crossover story, Operation Mom – how I got my mother a life and a man is my debut novel but truth be told, my entry point into this genre was with another book, The Chronicles of Arya, that is due to be published by Om Books International very shortly. It just so happened that Operation Mom though written after that was published before.
The Chronicles of Arya is a fantasy fiction story about an eleven-year old boy in San Francisco who falls though a crack to find himself in Ramayana land. He brings with him the very last copy of the ancient epic which Ravana, the king of demons, want to destroy so he can rewrite history from his own vantage point. A coming-of-age story, this is about how Arya must come to terms with death and demons (and not necessarily the kind you are expecting to see) in order to truly accomplish his hero’s journey.
There was a point in my life when I was living in San Francisco, that I became obsessed with the literature of the Sundar Kand. I would drive over to UC Berkely to attend their Sanskrit classes just so that I could read the book. It coincided with a period when my son was quite young and fascinated with super heroes, specifically Hanuman. The act of recreating the stories of Hanuman, how he is still walking the earth and how to interpret the verse from the Ramayan to make sense of how a vanar can fly….these were all impetus for me to write the story, my first YA story.
TWB: You dedicate your spare time to diverse activities like writing about the dysfunctional nature of life and living, stand-up comedy and of course my day job. Can you elaborate?
RMH: Like I said earlier, if I don’t entertain myself, who else will? I love stand up comedy – watching it, doing it, using it as a testing ground to assess whether a story or an idea will work for an audience or not.
To be honest, in this age of ADHD, it is really hard to grab someone’s attention and entice them into having a conversation with you, let alone reading your book. And this might sound crazy but I also find many author presentations boring. So if I am invited to speak as an author, I make mine as lively as possibly – it’s more of a standup comedy show than a classical book reading. At my Hong Kong book event, I decided to totally liven up the audience by getting into a pre-teen mode myself and then I invited one of the characters, Dr. Mirno to make an appearance. You can see a video of Dr. Mirno here.
And attached please find a selfie with her from my HK book event.
TWB: Who was your inspiration in this writing journey?
RMH: Definitely my late grandfather, Gopal Krishan Vij. He was an avid reader, writer and story-teller who respected nothing more than the power of the written word. He encouraged me to write from a very young age. And he gave me some of his own fascinating stories too…that he had penned, asking that one day I publish them too. That day is yet to come but it is a huge debt I must repay.
TWB: Amidst all those positive replies and fan mails all throughout the days when your book was being appreciated, was there any bit of advice that you got from anyone, for your work, which you have emulated thereafter?
RMH: When I wrote Operation Mom, I did so for an Indian audience. Not that this particular storyline couldn’t find readership outside of India But my agent told me that they were specifically looking for Indian stories and characters. Fine to contextualize but in retrospect I would have done it differently. My fellow writers in my critique group here in Hong Kong have advised me that my stories must be written for an international audience even if they are Indian stories. So context, conjecture, narrative…all needs to be borne with the idea of the reader outside India. I agree and have taken the advice to heart.
TWB: Can you give us a little sneak peak of your upcoming books? What are you been working on?
RMH: Next on the pre-teen fiction side is The Chronicles of Arya published by Om Books International. And on the adult fiction side is Money-Smart – The Indian Woman’s Guide to Building Wealth, a badly needed how-to on investing and growing your money published by Hachette India. It’s wisdom that is spouted daily on my finance radio show, Money For Nothing on RTHK Radio 3 but catered specifically for the middle class Indian woman. Then I am also working on The Ayurvedic Diet to be published by Harper Collins. This one is a diet/cookbook based upon the health principles of Ayurveda. I am almost done with the manuscript. When it is complete I go back to my next YA fiction novel which is yet to be named. It is a coming-of-age story about at 17 year old boy from Mumbai – set one summer in Devlali.
TWB: When was the last time you did something for the first time? And what was it?
RMH: Almost a year ago, last December, I organized at city-wide Scavenger Hunt to raise money for RTHK’s annual charity, Operation Santa Claus. It was huge. Took a month to plan and very stressful but huge amounts of fun and wildly successful.
- Rapid Fire
TWB: Your favorite Book(s)
TWB: Your favorite Author(s)
RMH: These ones are really hard to answer. I am going to defer you to a blog post:
TWB: Describe yourself in three words
RMH: Mexican Food Addict
TWB: Thank you Reenita for this interview, we wish you a great life ahead. J
Watch Book Trailer,