Shabnam Minwalla: Anywhere but Mumbai. Or Chennai. Or Bhubaneshwar.

Shabnam Minwalla is the author of The Shy Supergirl, a hOle book published in October 2015.

‘To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.’

Fans of Oscar Wilde will recognise the words of Lady Augusta Bracknell, that magnificent, memorable snob in The Importance of Being Earnest. And although the lady is hardly a paragon of wit and wisdom, her observation often rings in my ears– because it demonstrates the enormous distance between one and two.

I wrote my first book for children three years ago. And — heeding Augusta Bracknell’s stricture – decided that one book was a stroke of fortune. (An accidental gift to a lifetime hack who spent week after week writing about shopping trends, corruption in public hospitals and interviewing collectors of ceramic owls.)

Then Book Two came along. And I realised that this was altogether a more serious business. Lady Bracknell clearly knew what she was talking about.

But for me it was Book Three — The Shy Supergirl – that really settled matters. Because it was when I completed this book that I realised that I really had something vital to communicate to my readers.

When we were small, all the books we read were set elsewhere. In cosy English villages where people ate treacle tarts and drank ginger beer. In American towns full of diners and soda fountains and glamour. Or in an Alpine village with lush slopes and fluffy sheep. In short, anywhere but Mumbai. Or Chennai. Or Bhubaneshwar.

Somehow, all those elsewheres seemed packed with mystery and magic. They were places where Magic Faraway Trees grew and dashing detectives cracked cases. Where girls rode horses named Carrot and Daisy. Where you could find treasures at the bottom of silent, silvery lakes. In short, where all the fun and action was.

Our lives seemed so ordinary and unsatisfactory in comparison–so completely bereft of magic and adventure. We truly believed that we would have to travel to the Cotswolds to meet pixies named Chinky and Silky; to Paris to find fashion and style; to Switzerland to find beauty. It all seemed so unfair.

In a tiny way I want to correct these impressions. Which is why Nina and Buggy – and all my characters — live in ordinary Mumbai buildings like Venus Towers. They eat rasmalai and Gems and bake cupcakes. On a bad day they wear faded tops with missing buttons. But, in the midst of all this ordinariness, they also encounter magic and marvels. They have adventures and defeat the baddies.

And this is what I want my readers to understand – that you are as likely to meet dragons and wizards; spies and supergirls in Mumbai as you are anywhere else. Just keep your eyes peeled. And your mind ready to believe.

 

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