ibnlive » Chat

4 pm Nov 16, 2012

On her book 'The Youngest Suspect'

Peggy Mohan began life in Trinidad, West Indies, and her first career was as a linguist, specializing in Trinidad Bhojpuri. After moving to India she dabbled in linguistics, television programmes for children and cartoon animation. She now teaches music in Vasant Valley School, New Delhi. 'The Youngest Suspect' is her latest novel.
12 questions answered
  • Hi Peggy, Can you tell us something about "The Youngest Suspect" Asked by: Prabhat
  • Peggy Mohan Prabhat: stay tuned. the next question will take us both in the deep end, the dark heart of the story.
  • I just finished reading the book, Peggy. Congratulations. I was struck especially by the jail scenes. It seemed so real, as if you knew the topography of the place, and the manner in which the inmates interact with each other. Is this a real place? Where POTA undertrials are kept together? Asked by: Aarohi S.
  • Peggy Mohan Aarohi S: these are probably two places, both real: Sabarmati Central Jail, and the 'lock-up', that infamous place where those arrested are sometimes taken before being booked. I took a lot of time with those scenes, since I couldn't invent things about real places. For Sabarmati Central Jail, I spent an afternoon with the man who had been the Warden back in 2003, and with the Superintendent, and the Warden was always on hand, via email or SMS, to answer specific questions. I took over a year hunting down the right person to tell me about the lock-up: that too could not be fudged. It had to sound like what was known to happen in Ahmedabad, and not anywhere else in India.
  • Congratulations Peggy on this courageous book!Do you thinkif Adil had been a poor illiterate boy,the reading public would have identified with him less? Asked by: Mariam
  • Peggy Mohan Mariam: you know, I see! Adil is actually atypical of the boys usually held as POTA suspects: he is almost middle class. That gave me options: things he would know, would have seen, experiences he could have had, similar to what the reader would be familiar with. This gets to why fiction at all: I wanted to bring the whole story home to the most probable reader. I needed readers to see themselves in Adil, and in the events of the story. Fiction lets us tweak reality in this way...
  • Best luck Ms. Peggy with your bold novel Asked by: Jeril Nadar
  • Peggy Mohan Thank you! I do sort of row my canoe into a whirlpool. Let's see how it goes!
  • Hi Peggy, Congrats on the book. I am definitely gonna get it. By the way, which novelists (across genres) do you admire and why? Asked by: Shilpa
  • Peggy Mohan Novelists... it keeps changing. For a while I liked the Danish writer Peter Hoeg. Also a Caribbean/British writer, Jean Rhys: every girl born and raised in the Caribbean identifies with her. At the moment I am struck by a non-fiction writer, David Quammen, whose take on the environment is like a soundtrack to the world of language that I like to look at. I guess you could say I see some sort of star to follow in all of these!
  • Thanks Peggy, love your answer Asked by: Mariam
  • Peggy Mohan :) I thought about this a lot when designing the boy. A friend in Ahmedabad said: 'this isn't like the boys in jail!'. I gave her more details of Adil's background and she said: 'wait! he's like ME! same neighborhood of Ahmedabad, and both of us have a parent who is a teacher!' I knew then I was home free!
  • I believe language creates stronger bonds between people than religions. What do you think? Asked by: Mariam
  • Peggy Mohan It used to. But now I think, as more and more of us live our lives in English, a 'biradari' that is WAY too large for us to fathom, we begin to crave the cosiness we used to know. But there is no way back down the food chain away from English: we may FEEL some loyalty to others who share our ethnic language, we also know that we have moved on. Life changes. And that's where, I think, 'religion' comes in. Religion in the form of communal bonds. It gives us back the smaller cosier worlds we knew. Which is probably why communal religious identity is such a modern middle class thing. Being alone is lonely for most people... What do you think?
  • Is Adil a real life reference, are there actual cases like Adil's that surfaced after Godhra massacre? Asked by: Ratul Rai
  • Peggy Mohan Adil himself is invented. But he is certainly BASED on a number of boys who were picked up at different times after Godhra and charged with offenses, some under POTA, some not. I was lucky to get access to a lot of material unpublished and unavailable on the net. And, of course, I did see some of the boys in the jail...
  • Just read your profile.. you teach music too.. how does music and writing mix :) Asked by: Vaibhav Saxena
  • Peggy Mohan in my next book you'll see how much it does! actually, I teach music because I have been trained since I was a very small kid, and there is scope to teach music: parents who want their kids to learn. But the more I dwell with music, the more I see that music pieces, sonatas, Raags: these are stories without words. How amazing to say all the same things, create images without pictures or words! And now I have begun to write music too: I see the link more clearly!
  • Indian history is rife with examples of youths jailed, and how they became legends by their actions in jail; for righteousness and what they believed in? Are you looking to awaken the sleeping conscience of India by choosing this particular topic? Asked by: Anubhav
  • Peggy Mohan I do mention something of this in the book: Gandhi-ji, Firaq, having spent time in jail. And conscience is a word that keeps coming up, though not in this context. No, actually, it's simpler than that. A swirl of images, things I knew about, began to connect, and one day it was a living-growing story. The idea of Adil connected to a separate idea of POTA trials I knew about. But fiction is always hazier than that: there cannot be a... goal, some transformation you want in the reader. More like a long walk. Though you do hope conscience will be stirred, but exactly how would be up to the reader.
  • Even if it is a work of fiction, it must have involved a lot of research, what challenges did you face when you were researching on this subject. Asked by: Mehek Kakkar
  • Peggy Mohan Well, walking around in Ahmedabad, told I was being photographer and tailed (was I?). Talking carefully over the phone, not wanting to expose people who were telling me things. There was an atmosphere of fear, tension. But sitting in Delhi I was safer than those helping me. They asked not to be acknowledged later.
  • Will you be writing more books like this, as such incidences need to be brought in light even if through fiction.. Asked by: Akansha Jain
  • Peggy Mohan Wondering... possible! I need to see if I can find a beating heart there in the factual material in front of me!

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Peggy Mohan