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April 30, 2009

Book Notes - Shilpa Agarwal ("Haunting Bombay")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Shilpa Agarwal's debut novel Haunting Bombay is filled with ghosts, and her lyrical touch for magical realism brings this book to life.

USA Today wrote of the book:

"In this intriguing debut novel, Shilpa Agarwal draws on the broader mystical culture that envelops India, where there is always a supernatural explanation for everything that happens, especially the horrific. Often, fingers point to the weakest members of the community; Agarwal seeks to give voice to the dispossessed through the supernatural."

In her own words, here is Shilpa Agarwal's Book Notes essay for her debut novel, Haunting Bombay:

Haunting Bombay is a literary ghost story set in 1960s India about the tragic death of child that has been repressed by a grieving family, and the courageous journey of an adopted child, Pinky, in that same family who untangles the mystery behind the death – all the while being haunted by the ghost of the dead child. At its heart, Haunting Bombay is a story about belonging and the power of utterance.

I wrote most of my novel in snatches over the past ten years, mainly before dawn. There is something about that hour that lends itself to a dream-like quality and an active imagination of all things supernatural. I often wrote in silence during the very early morning, hearing sounds and music in my own head but at other times, I turned to music for inspiration.

What follows is an eclectic mix of Bollywood and Hollywood, Indian classical and modern fusion.

"Pyar Kiya Tho Darna Kya" from the 1960 film Mughal-E-Azam by Naushad.

This blockbuster film lingers in the background of my novel which takes place in thirteen days during the same year the film was released. It tells the famous love story between Jahangir, heir to the vast and powerful Moghul throne, and his courtesan Anarkali. In the film, Anarkali confesses her love in front of the entire Moghul court, unafraid of the consequences, singing Now that I love, why should I fear? Depending on the legend, Anarkali is sometimes buried alive, other times banished but the ending is always tragic and the lovers are torn apart forever. I was drawn to this courtesan’s strength and her believe in love even in the face of her immense powerlessness. How does love make one fearless?

"Aayega, Aayega" from the 1949 film Mahal by Khemchand Prakash

The film Mahal is set in an abandoned Moghul palace that is inhabited by a man who realizes that he inhabited this very palace in a past life, and that in that life, he had lost his beloved. As the man stands in the bungalow, a haunting voice begins to sing, Oh my beloved, he will come. The man catches glimpses of a beautiful woman in an ornate garden at night but as he approaches, she disappears. Her voice whispers through the old palace, causing the chandelier to swing and curtains to billow. I discovered this ground-breaking supernatural film when my book was almost complete but include it here because it captures a sense of loss and longing, as well as the idea of a spirit haunting an old Indian residence.

"My Heart, My Life" by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was a Pakistani musician, a singer of Qawwali, the mystical music of the Sufis. His music is about devotion, the ethereal communication between humans and god. In my novel, I try to explore this essence of divine communication – not only in soulful prayer to god but in the way the divine resonates within a supplicant’s heart.

Soundtrack to The Others by Claudio Ianni

I liked how this supernatural film, set in a remote country house in England, showcases the relationship between a mother and her children. In my novel, the household (family and servants) are tied together by a child’s tragic death. The door to the bathroom where the child drowned is bolted every night at sunset yet there are strange sounds from within. The music in The Others ranged from innocent, childlike melodies to the rich, dissonant sound of distress during supernatural encounters.

Eternity by Philip Fraser

A beautiful CD of Indian bamboo that I listened to when I evoking one of the characters in my book, a seventeen-year old girl who sneaks out of her home every night to sit against the cool, gray bark of an ancient tamarind tree, dreaming of another life. Her desire is to be free of the family who holds her back, constraining her life. She leans against the tree lost in thought, unaware that the boy next door watches her, too afraid to confess his love.

"Fragile Wind" by Nitin Sawhney

The lyrics, half Hindi, half English are sung in voices that remind me of wind through trees, sometimes alone, sometimes overlapping, Beyond the dark lie the hopes and the fears. Innocent eyes watching as worlds collide. This song speaks to the message of my novel, a young girl’s search for the truth, the unearthing of her family’s deepest fears and desires as the living and the dead collide.

Shilpa Agarwal and Haunting Bombay links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the book's website
excerpt from the book (chapter 1)
video trailer for the book

Eclectic Closet review
Library Journal review
Reviewing the Evidence review
USA Today review

A Book Blogger's Diary guest post by the author
Seattle Metblogs interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks


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