First thing first, in all these stories of Book House, I have never come across an author with so much of talent, energy, passion and dedication yet so grounded and humble in her words. This young lady from the city certainly has an edge to herself that is inimitable and with her debut novel she has already carved out a niche for herself among the reading fraternity within and out of the state. She is Dr. Quleen Kaur Bijral.
Known more famously by her pen name Quleen O Queen, she is a writer, journalist, musician, and an avid lawn-tennis player. Working as a columnist for reputed online media publishing house -The Logical Indian, Quleen is not a new name to print news media either. A topper in her masters, the zeal for writing is only one of many passions that move this doctorate who has done her Ph.D. Research on Mahasweta Devi as a Subaltern Historian with highest merit.
“As a kid, we were told ships are safe at a harbour, but that is not what ships are made for. So like any adventurous teenager out there with a passion for creativity, I have sailed into the exciting and challenging terrains of making dream a reality. As a child I wanted to be a news reader which was soon replaced by the wish to become a famed WWE wrestler with many championships belts to my name. I tried my hand at kickboxing, lawn tennis and swimming, too,” Quleen’s words explain the intriguing persona she possesses.
Playing with these hobbies was Quleen’s way to keep the monotony of life away and also to stimulate better results in academics and with time, she found her muse in writing and composing music. Music, especially Ghazals of many great Urdu poets has been her beloved passion which not only ‘adds bliss to her life but also gives it meaning, a purpose and a spirit of adventure’. While she has been rendering music to the great poems of Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mirza Ghalib, Daag Dehlvi and Meer Taqi Meer since long, she is now in the process of releasing an album of these ghazals as well as some self-composed songs.
And while we could have certainly had a full-fledged write-up on her other passions and talents, it is the writer Quleen we are interviewing here. What started from penning poems and short stories finally grew large enough to take the shape of a book as Quleen released her maiden novel titled “The Witch Some Witch”, late last year. The novel has proved to be raging hit among readers, and has already been selected to be included in the Central Libraries of prominent institutes as IIT (BHU) Varanasi, IIT Hyderabad, IIM Indore, Jawaharlal Nehru University, GGSIP University, University of Hyderabad, Lovely Professional University, Amrita Vishawa Vidyapeetham University and many others.
With Quleen making it to news following the success of her novel and multiple felicitations by reputed literary institutions throughout the country, we caught up with her for a chat and here are the excerpts from the conversation that followed.
What were the circumstances that led you to write? How did this happen?
It was not a singular event which provoked me to write but a collection of many. A while back I read in the news that a young girl of the age 4-5 years on hearing a loud thud, would immediately stand on the toilet seat so that any intruder could not see her from under the door. Her mother, on noticing her, finds it very strange until she knows the reason behind her little girl’s fear. Is this the world we are raising our kids in – to feel intimidated, frightened, and insecure?
Then there are the recurring cases of harassment, abuse and rape, which not only mock the heart of our civilization, morality and humanity but also infuse hopelessness that nothing can be done about it all. Rape is not just a vicious desire but a sign of hatred. What has our mentality got to do with it? Who is at fault? Who is not? What can be done and what should not be done? Some questions are raised in this context through events which will tear away the mask of indifference and apathy.
Then, there was another happening. I saw an accident and in no moment, people hovered. There was a crowd as if an exhibition was going on. No Responsible Bystander? And I asked myself, where is the responsible bystander who actually wants to help and not just curious to know the details. These things motivated me to write.
When the youth sees the pain, chaos and the betrayal of those at the helm of power, they become utterly disillusioned, giving up on their dreams and surrender to drugs, drink and hate. We keep reading, witnessing and observing such things with a cringe, shame and even shock. It all gets somehow recorded with an indelible impact on our subconscious. All these events were scattered, disunited, disconnected and aloof from one another. This novel worked like a magnet which brought the scattered pins together. While writing, the emergency of thoughts in the mind, streamlined into an organic whole that is the book ‘The Witch Some witch’.
Tell us more about your book ‘The Witch Some witch’?
This book is a witty satire on the crimes against the helpless. It is a story of a girl who was once assaulted most viciously by those who are supposed to protect the law of the land. Buried, left for dead and forgotten, she runs towards a far-off town to forget her morbid past. On reaching the place, she is attacked by the history of the town- its land of riots, partition and power politics. What mesmerizes her to stay is the forbidden secrecy of the witch, some witch which like a magic trick delights her and helps her forget how ghastly reality can be. Has she visited the town to unleash her demons of revenge or will she try to save the town on the verge of a stupid war?
The work is outrageous even if I say it myself. It was deliberate to make it like this. As some things which are said nicely, don’t always carry the punch, the force or the power of truth. The work is a fantasy, a mystery. If you tell the truth like an idiom, it is bland, clichéd and overused. But when it is told in a riddle, it is always stimulating, electrifying and a challenge which titillates and excites our minds. In the novel there is a murder, revenge, a fight over a street, lynching, abuse– such events which are not an illusion but happen every day in our day to day to lives.
And page after page there will be an exploration of history – where to find it, why find it and why never to forget it. Why to remember there was once a world war one and still there came another world war. There was partition. There have been riots. The idea is not to forget, lest we repeat the errors of the past and infect our future.
So is the novel bleak, Negative?
No. It is like a shoal in a stormy sea. Shoal is a raised ground in an ocean where ships can temporarily land so help can arrive in the meantime. Everywhere the tides are turning and twisting and lashing against the ship, but the shoal allows a refuge, a haven in the storm. That shoal is hope. The novel finds hope.
There are various poignant, hard hitting, and relevant themes approached in the novel. We can identify with it – see in the news, experience them and talk about it. There is Childhood trauma, abuse, power greed, riots, revenge prejudice, love hope and faith. The work is like a model, a small part of this beautiful brave world.
The idea is not to teach, dictate terms, or announce what is right or wrong. The purpose is a pursuit to awaken our sensibilities, to know what we already know, to think about the fellow sitting next to us, far from us, why to hate, why to love, remember or forget, forgive, redeem ourselves, confess, question, attack, do something that is logical, sensible and the best for one and all.
What, according to you, are the hardest and the easiest things about writing?
How to start a novel, a short story or a poem, that is the tricky riddle in itself. You have the idea, the passion and the motivation to write, but how to write the start of it all is quite taxing to be honest. Making a first good impression, stealing the reader’s attention in the first paragraph and putting your best foot forward in the very beginning – these are challenges every writer faces. You get so consumed by it all, that words don’t flow as smoothly as they ought to. So to get past it, the best thing to do is just write the first page or the first paragraph without thinking too much. As once you are done with your novel, you will be coming back to it all over again and redoing it anyway. So don’t bother at all. Well, that was the hardest part.
The easiest one is we all are writers – it is an adventure in itself that doesn’t take any professional course or degree to acquire the skill. We tell stories day in and day out. Writing is our second nature, we write through Facebook posts, secret diaries, and gossip corners. And we love it, right! I wrote this book. And there were sleepless nights. It was difficult to balance my studies and the work; more like walking on a tight rope. Then I finally got it published, being fully aware all the time that it might either gather dust, be put down in some trash bin or remain a shadow in the dazzle of the world. Yet writers do not stop – It isn’t about the destiny but the journey – electrifying, and just beautiful! Like Iqbal, the great poet of India has said – Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain, Abhi ishq ke imtehan aur bh hai, Tu shahin hai, Parwaaz kaam hai tera, Tere saamne aasmaan aur bhi hain.
How are you publishing your work? Is there any advice
I got my book published through Partridge India as it gave a platform for the emerging writers. However, finding publishers for your work is more often than not, far from easy. You have the manuscript ready but the challenge is to sell it to the literary agents and publishing houses. When you contact these agencies, the general questions are – Is it trendy, what is its main readership or target group, and so on.
There are so many writers out there that selection becomes a gamble of luck. So disappointments and rejections will happen, be ready for that. The criteria for selecting a manuscript out of many is very stringent, so if you don’t make the cut don’t feel despondent, as there are many avenues. Research on good publishing houses; better still make a list of 20 at least. Follow their guidelines of submission and do not spam them. If they wish you seek out a literary agent, then do the research thoroughly. Know the legitimate publishers from the fraudulent ones. It takes time and yes financially you also have to be prepared. Partridge India, from where I got my book published is very expensive and I would recommend young writers to start with other resources and visit it as a last resort.
What are you currently working on?
Right now, I am working on the sequel to my novel ‘The Witch Some Witch’. I am also rehearsing my Ghazals which I would soon be getting recorded at Delhi. It is good that these beloved hobbies of mine have me engaged for some time to come.
What advice you would give to other aspiring writers?
If you are curious to write and wish to find some inspiration – read the myths Ramayana and Mahabharata. As a powerful repository of our culture, history and literature, these myths will empower you with a passion, zeal and the right direction to channelize your creativity. Read Greek Myths, Nordic Myths and so on. Watch great movies and TV series to know about character development, plot, theme and other techniques to enhance your writing skills, provoke your imagination and give your brilliant ideas.
Is there any message to our readers?
If you pick the novel ‘The Witch Some Witch’, do not read it as my story. This book is a collection of voices, not just my voice. It is not a monopolised or a lopsided or one-sided account. I am only an author like a stage, where others are telling their story. This book is a medium, an instrument and a tool for others to use and tell their stories, their own travails and journeys of life. I would be looking forward to your views and criticism.