Well, I have myself stayed a considerable part of my life in a Working Women’s Hostel and when this book was recommended by my friend Mr. Manish Singh , I quickly ordered this book because I knew I could surely connect with it. And yes, I really did. A lot of my past memories came flooding while I turned page after page. Though I wanted to publish this review long back, due to some unavoidable circumstances , I could not do it earlier. I was introduced to the Author Ms. Nandini Singh by my friend and I seriously respect her for her humbleness and her cooperation in entertaining my questions and whole heartedly supporting me in every aspect. The Covid was not easy to face for many of us and yet, I salute the resolve with which she responded to my query irrespective of the timing when I reached out to her. I have written this blog post with a lot of heart and I hope you will enjoy reading it and order your copies !
Title of the Book: A house of Butterflies - Story about a Women's Hostel
Author's Name: Nandini Singh
Available on : Amazon
Format: Paper Back
About the Author: Author Nandini Singh is a senior journalist since last twenty odd years and most of these years, she has lived in Europe. She served as news editor with Radio Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany. Then moved to London, UK and worked as European correspondent of English daily, the Pioneer. Her last stint was as head of national bureau of ETV , Bharat, a pan India platform of mobile journalism in New Delhi. She has penned a book titled Post Cold War World Order, which was released by Shri R. K. Mishra, the founding Chairman of Observer Research Foundation. She has also contributed features for international issue of India Today and has presented papers on international issues in various countries. She holds a Diploma in Creative Writing awarded jointly by Britain’s East Anglia University & British daily, the Guardian.
Narration: The book opens with a very unique tone where a non- animate object speaks it’s heart out and also the ending scene is the same. yes, very unique. The hostel in question is the narrator and tells us what it feels, sees and thinks! The story has many stories beautifully interwoven and keeps the reader hooked. The voice of the hostel guides you into the lives of the main characters of the book.
Book Cover & Title: The book cover and the title absolutely do justice to the content . The symbolic representation of young inmates ( young girls ) of the hostel as butterflies is very heart touching and appealing as well.
Content: The book is about the Hostel located in Delhi which is meant to be a home away from home for young girls who aspire to build their own lives. The story has Barkha, as the main protagonist who lands in the hostel, after many difficulties because she believes in her dreams where as her own family does not. A reality faced by many girls even today in this so called modern society. Every girl, who faces such kind of hurdles can easily identify with Barkha and her state of mind . The other characters are other inmates of the hostel, whom Barkha meets in her four year period that she resides in the hostel. There is Rosy, a Christian who changes her religion and becomes Rubaiya due to compelling situations. There is Aru, an intern at the astrologer who is very perticular about her virginity but goes to extreme lengths and compromises on various aspects. Barkha also meets Tara Conti, a strong Bollywood fan who flies down all the way from Italy to find the love of her life in India. Astonishingly, she tastes freedom in India and not in a liberal country like Italy!A very peculiar character named Zinny, a conservative Muslim lawyer who is on a mission to introduce her male Muslim friends to hostel women in order to find someone credulous to convert. She can go to any extent to fulfill her mission. There is Pia, beautiful like a movie heroine who befriends three gentleman and manages them with her white lies and every man thinks he is the one who Pia truly loves, but the reality is very different The Hostel houses a Sadhvi who has a very brief stay in the hostel and experiences life changing events when she discovers to own the desires attached with her own body and pleasures of sexuality which is strictly prohibited in the spiritual path that she has chosen. There is Rekha, who hates men with long hair due to her childhood trauma until she is rescued by someone with a bun and that changes her viewpoint towards men with long hair for ever.
The House of Butterflies is not just a book but a very well crafted attempt to reflect the struggle, notions, innocence, grief, desire to break free, passion to create one’s own life of young girls, who come to Metro Politian cities like Delhi from their home towns . The hostel is a conglomeration point of people from all parts of the country with their own set of beliefs and patterns. But when each of the inmate faces reality, what kind of decisions they take, what kind of beliefs are broken and what new perspectives dawn upon them is something interesting for the readers. The complexities of the Political system of the country has also been part of the book. Barkha , the lead character is a journalist and as a young intern shows commendable strength to unwrap many scandals and at the end as a bird is able to fly to a broader horizon . The way she takes each case to investigate is enticing and feels like a real case as the Author, being herself a renowned journalist has very effectively molded the characters and has touched them with a hint of reality. Most importantly, this book draws attention to the problems that single women face and how they try every possible way to fulfil their own aspirations. The book is a bundle of emotions and I am sure a lot of women , who go through such turmoil in their respective lives can surely resonate with the book.
The book is available on Amazon and I strongly recommend this to readers
I had the honor to interview the very lively and talented Author and you can read the Q & A below:
Q1- Please tell us something about yourself.
I belong to Rajasthan and have been working as a journalist since more than 20 years. During these years have worked in Germany, Britain, New Delhi and Jaipur. I have travelled to several countries on assignmnets.
I have academic interest too and have presented papers in international conferences on foreign policy related issues. A book titled, “Post Cold War World Order’, which was a compilation of my research articles was released by Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi in 2001.
Q2-Please, tell us about your writing journey and how did this book take shape? What difficulties did you face in the journey?
When I got my first journalistic job with a Hindi daily in New Delhi, I lived in two working women hostel’s in the city over the course of 5 years. These hostels were like mini female India with women from all castes, religions, backgrounds and regions. Every women was single and struggling and every young lady had a story.
The idea of writing a novel based on the interesting yet difficult life of these young ladies including myself came from there and I started writing whatever I felt like that time.
Then the story travelled with me to Germany, where I began contemplating it seriously. The chapters, characters started taking shape, between 2002 and 2006.
I moved to London, UK in 2007 and soon after started my first draft seriously. It took about 5 years to complete.
During that time I had sent the synopsis to an Indian literary agent. Simultaneously I had also submitted my draft to a new Masterclass Diploma announced in Britain by University of East Anglia and British daily, the Guardian newspaper. This diploma had three levels & third level was for finished work. Only five manuscripts were selected included mine, A House of Butterflies.
I was excited about it and politely refused the offer of Indian agent to represent my work. Unfortunately, the agent didn’t take it professionally.
Soon I joined the Masterclass, with four other budding writers, where our mentor was author, playwright & former president of the English centre of the International Pen, Gillian Slovo.
The first class was a shock as everybody mocked at my Indian English and usage of Indian words. I felt so humiliated that kept on crying on the underground during one hour’s commuting back home.
The next 18 months were an eye opener and I realised my drafts so far were no less than a child’s scribble and would have to be rewritten afresh.
I completed the diploma successfully but the story needed much improvement further. Finally it was published in 2020 after several drafts.
Something I dreamt of in 2000, took me 20 years to realise. During these years, when I moved to dufferent countries, thrice the entire draft was lost due to error in laptops and the story had to be retrieved from emails and portions sent to friends.
Q3- Did you keep a certain target audience for this book in mind while you started penning down this book?
Yes, as I was in Britain while giving the final shape to the book, I mostly kept western audiences in mind. But any Indian women can relate to it easily.
Q4- What inspired you to shift your career from journalism to being a writer?
In journalism, everyday you write a story, that’s what we call a news report and the story becomes stale by the same night. Next day, you have to find another story. Journalism can be a career but I felt it won’t give me the satisfaction of achieving something, which lasts.
Also, when you travel so much and live in different countries, you gain a lot of experience, which I felt can be a basis of many interesting stories.
Q5- We would like to know about your stints abroad and working condition from the perspective of a female journalist.
I worked in Bonn, Germany as Editor with Radio Deutsche Welle and then in Britain as correspondent of the Pioneer, Also contributed to India Today fom Europe.
The working conditions in Europe are much better than in India. There is space for yourself, there are fixed working hours and weekeneds too, where you are not disturbed with official calls. Here in India, journalism is mostly 24×7 job. Here, your boss calls you even at midnight and takes offence if you remind him the story is not so urgent.
There is a wide difference in pay scales between India and Europe. Extra working hours are mostly unpaid in India in field of journalism.
Dignity of work, professionalism and respecting other person’s privacy is a norm in Europe.
Q6- Has this field of journalism which requires meeting new people and having many interactions helped you develop insight as a writer?
The biggest benefit of journalism is, one grows every day with new experiences and meeting new people. Everyday teaches you something new, be it a unique experience or something about human nature. Life is a roller coaster ride in journalism & the ups and downs are all a learning experience. The reality of society, politics, business world, all is laid bare in front of your eyes. You see what is behind the scenes. The peep inside the darker side. The depth of these experiences helps one grow as a writer.
Q7- Does this book which has multiple female characters reflect any part of your own life or your early years of struggle as a journalist? Os is it just factionary?
It reflects my own life and early part of my struggle. Many incidents are based on what I experienced , though it has all been fictionalised.
Q8- How has your course in creative writing been helpful? Does having a degree in creative writing a must for aspiring authors ?
It helped me grow as a writer and recognise my strengths and weaknesses. These degrees help shaping your writing skills but they can’t make you a writer. You can learn the craft but the instincts as a writer are your own. These courses hone your language & skills but writing has to come from within. For aspiring authors, it is important to learn the craft so that they can channelize their random thoughts in a form of a story.
Q-9- How did you manage your time while being a journalist & still being able to write? What is one mantra that you would like to share with us that has helped you achieve your dreams?
I wrote every day but there were times when I took a break from journalism and devoted 7-8 hours daily to writing this novel. It is a lonely journey and an ardous one. Persistance, determination and not losing hope can finally help us win the day.
Q-10- Is there any major difference in the scenario between struggling writers in India & abroad that you have noticed? Does the publishing industry there more supportive of amateur writers?
Publishing industry is the same for struggling writers. Slush piles keep growing and nobody really bothers. Same struggle here or abroard.
Q-11- Any hint of your future work that the readers can get.
I have started writing a story based in Germany, where I spent some years. So the next story would have South Asian, German characters somewhere around the Rhine river.
Q 12- Who are your favorite authors ? Has there been any specific list of books that you draw inspiration from?
Columbian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz are my favourite. Marquez’s One hundred Years of Solitude is my favourite book, then I love Palace Walk by Mahfouz too. Among Indian authors, Rabindra Nath Tagore and Mahadevi Verma are my favourite.
Q-13- How difficult is it getting published in India? What has been your experience so far?
It is very difficult for a first time author and the best is to build an online presence and communicate with like minded budding authors and readers online as Blogchatter is so effectively doing in India and my heartiest compliments for this. Helping budding authors is very important & that’s what Blogchatter is successfully doing.
Q-14- Is there any specific genre that you want to focus on in future writing?
Female fiction appeals to me and also stories based on extraordinary lives in the form of biographies.
Q-15-Any message that you want to give to your readers & aspiring authors.
Writing is not just about penning down our emotions and random feelings. It is a very serious task and we have to focus on our choice of each word, each sentence. Like in a painting, every stroke has to be perfect so it is with a book. Every word has to be the right one and convey exactly, what we want our readers to know. Our characters should come out as real and when someone reads our book, the foot steps, whispers, rustling of papers; all sounds, smell, sights should be experienced by the readers too as in a theatre.
I am extremely grateful to the author for giving me the opportunity to have the interview published and wish her all the best in all her future endeavors.