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Mystery, she wrote

‘Whisper in the Wind’, the latest book, a ‘Goa gothic’, by author, screenwriter and artist Venita Coelho is a murder mystery set in Portugese Goa, finds NT BUZZ

Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ

A young girl has gone missing. And nobody seems to care. Only her sister wanders through the ruins of a church calling her name. Only the wind whispers of her fate.

Venita Coelho is known for her children’s books and television scripts. In fact, the author is a two-time recipient of The Hindu Goodreads Award for Best Fiction for children.

This time however, she has come out with an ‘adult’ book titled ‘Whisper in the Wind’. The book tells the tale of Alice in search of her missing sister Sara, who no one else seems to care about. When Jamshed, who is in Goa to fulfil his dream of becoming a novelist becomes embroiled in this, his search plunges him into the middle of a tale of betrayal and deceit that is far more compelling than any he could dream up. He has to find his way through a bewildering maze as he tries to thread together answers to a story that involves a girl with the voice of an angel, a house filled with ancient mysteries, and two friends who swear that not even death will part them.

“At the heart of the book is a murder mystery. But you can also expect an impossible love story. And a tangled tale of violence and deceit,” says Coelho.

She goes on to say that in the book, the central character is slowly overtaken by the story he is writing, until the story writes him instead of the other way around. “I am a huge fan of the gothic story with its brooding atmosphere and its uncanny happenings and I have paid it my own tribute in this book,” she adds.

And Coelho reveals that it was the Goa monsoons that inspired her to write this tale. “I spent several monsoons in Goa listening to the rain coming down relentlessly, hearing the wind heave through the trees, delighting in the frog song that rattled through the fields,” she says. “In fact the monsoon is virtually a character in the book. It is the monsoon wind, laden with grief that whispers the central story to us.”

Coelho discloses that she chose to set the story in the Portuguese era of Goa because it “bears the charm of an older time, a mysterious one, and one that was so very important in shaping the Goa of today”. “Also, my story is a gothic in which the atmosphere is very important. I wanted candlelight, tolling bells, graveyards at twilight – for that I had to travel back in time,” she details.

Another reason for setting it in the past, she adds, is that she feels like closing her eyes each time she looks around the Goa of today.

“Garbage everywhere, a ship with toxic contents abandoned on our doorstep, politics of the worst most self-serving kind, a mining mess that goes on and on… If I had to set a story in the Goa of today, then it would be one steeped in anger and with an unhappy ending that held no hope,” says Coelho. “I would weep if I didn’t choose to write. Our beloved land deserves much better than those who rule it are giving it.”

Interestingly, this is Coelho’s first book set in Goa. Talking about how this came about she says that her stories generally come less out of the locations where she has lived in and more out of the things that really concern or intrigue her. “Sitting in my home, surrounded by the animals I love and harbour, I wrote a series of three books that speak up for them,” she says, before adding that she was moved to anger by colonial arrogance, and wrote ‘All of Me’. Driven by emotions, she was moved to tears by the horrors that are visited on women in India and penned ‘The Washer of the Dead’.

“However, there are two places that I call home that have deeply shaped the person I am today. I wrote ‘Boy No 32’ as a tribute to Mumbai. And ‘Whisper in the Wind’ is a tribute to Goa,” she says.

She further states that her writing for adults usually tends to be in the form of screenplays for film and television, but ‘Whisper in the Wind’ exists in the two forms that she has attained mastery at. “I must confess that ‘Whisper in the Wind’ exists both as a screenplay and a novel,” says Coelho.

While she has penned many television scripts over the years, including the much loved ‘Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin’, Coelho decided to call it quits the moment she realised the ‘saas-bahu’ genre was becoming stagnant. In fact, she says, despite there being so many powerful icons of womanhood in mythology, television ignored Durga, Kali, Parvati and dozens more and chose to model every single heroine as a Sati Savitri.

“As an independent woman who had fought hard and long to maintain her independence and earn her space, I certainly didn’t want to write content that basically told every woman that she should suffer in silence for the good of her husband, her household and her children,” she says.

And with the digital medium is certainly on the rise today, Coelho believes that it is wonderful that finally there is space enough to tell different stories. However, there is still a long way to go, she feels. “Unfortunately the choices for those spaces still seem to be made by the same old boy’s club. So we have web series that are unrelentingly dark and only seem to feature male protagonists. It is such a pity that we are letting a golden new opportunity for unusual story-telling to lapse into the same old nonsense,” she says.

Coelho is currently penning a detective story set in the world of black and white cinema in the 60s. Giving a sneak peek into what the story is she says: “The amateur detective is a young girl who is a stunt double for a famous star, forced into an investigation when the star is suddenly killed. I am throwing in glamour, glitz, intrigue and messy death. It’s going to be a blast!”

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