A DARK AND SHINY PLACE: EXPLORING GRIEFby Vinta Nanda June 8 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 57 secs
Vinta Nanda talks to media professional and curator of entertainment content Pragati Deshmukh as she sets out to release her debut novel, A Dark And Shiny Place.
Pragati Deshmukh has been working in the Mumbai film industry for close to 2 decades. She is a seasoned media professional who started her career as a creative executive and continues to use her rich experience to curate content that is memorable and true to life.
She has been an integral part of the entertainment industry and currently works with Zee5 as Series Head (VP Originals). Prior to this, she led a popular show "Out Of Love” for Hotstar with BBC India. Successful stints with entertainment goliaths such as The Walt Disney and Discovery Network have added significantly to her work experience.
As a content leader, Pragati commissions shows, drives scripting, casting and the look of the series, while keeping a balance between the platform’s business requirements and superior creative quality. She also helps set up the budget for the show, closely works with marketing and data teams to set the targets and track progress. Pragati has led series like The Broken News, Duranga and Mukhbir through her time with Zee5. Her love for storytelling and the lockdown compelled her to author her first fiction novel - A DARK and SHINY PLACE.
I have this interesting conversation with her as she makes her debut as an author. Over to Pragati then…
Do you plan to turn A Dark And Shiny Place into a film, TV Series or Web Series? Do share what you have in mind?
To be honest, I did not write this book with that intent. I want this to be a truly experiential read. The beauty of the human mind is that we all can read the same material but visualise it differently. I intend to keep this playground open for that reason. I would want more creators and audiences to read this book and share their vision, their experience and their feelings. It's a deeply internal journey and not easy to translate on screen.
The biggest takeaway of the book is that we are not alone, reach out and you will always find help. It's meant to be a conversation starter on mental health, humanity, compassion and various beliefs in this extraordinary world. My desire would be for as many people to read this book before it can be adapted for screen. So coming back to your question, it was not the intent to make it a screen adaptation when I started out but I'm very open to exploring the possibility of a film once it's well established as a reading experience.
Was curation and production of a tremendous amount of storytelling the trigger to become a writer?
It's definitely been a huge driver. I have been fond of writing since I was a child. At the age of 8, I wrote my first article for the school paper. I used to write poems in my little diary and began my first book at the age of 13. It's still unfinished :), but it's there as a beautiful reminder. My journey into the entertainment industry simply gave wings to my passion. Love for storytelling became stronger and it helped build some confidence in my own abilities. I began to learn it more as a systematic art than simply a passion. Slowly, it became second nature. The trigger was the pandemic. It gave me time to finally look inward and dedicate the time to write. To practice all that I had been learning. So I would call my professional experience the foundation rather than a trigger.
Tell us the process or the creative route you took to author this novel?
I began writing this novel in May 2020. The idea came to me in February but it was just that. When the pandemic hit, I knew it was time. It was almost like some inner dream came to life and said "you cannot ignore me anymore".
In general, I'm a very process and plan oriented person. My husband and I had the chores set out and once it was done, I would simply sit in front of my computer every day at 4pm to write. For almost a month it was extremely difficult and I could barely get a paragraph done. Midway into June, I started waking up at 3:30am. Sometimes just before 4am and no matter how much I tried, I just couldn't fall asleep. I tried meditating, Benadryl and reading but nothing worked. It would be closer to 7am when I'd go back to sleep. But that was making my days horrid. I was irritable because of the lack of sleep and locked up in the house, I was driving my husband and dog a bit up the wall. And the worst part was that I started falling asleep during the writing time I had scheduled at 4pm. That's when my husband suggested that I should try to write when I wake up early in the morning. And it worked like magic. I was up and fresh between 3 to 4am without an alarm.
I let go and went with the flow. I would wake, freshen up, and sit to write. The words just flowed. I finished my first draft in 4 months by writing early in the morning for a few hours. I would write till I would feel tired, which was usually closer to 6 or 7 am. Once the first draft was done, I shared it with my content editor and did not visit the draft until her notes came a month later. But I was still waking up at 4am, so I started writing my second story. This was my human process.
As a creative technical process, I first put down the broad story as a synopsis of what I wanted to write about. Then I created my protagonist, Maya. I studied her, got into her head and created her world, family, emotions and experiences. Once the first draft was done, I read through it to see if it’s an interesting story and the character is working. During the second draft, I looked deeper and added the nuances, the layers. More pages got added, some new characters came along. The third draft was all about grammar, structure and dividing it into chapters, giving names to the chapters and finalising the title. I was sure of the title from the beginning but I was keeping an open mind. In the end, it didn't change.
It seems like you’ve dealt with the supernatural as well as psychological. Did you need to do any research for this?
Yes, a little bit of research was important. They are both very deep and intense subjects that cannot be trifled with. I'm not an expert on either but my fascination for them was a huge driver to write this book. I do believe that both, the supernatural and the psychological, can be two sides of the same coin. It depends on what we choose to believe.
The pandemic gave way to a lot of human connections being revived. We heard people talk about their problems. We connected with long lost friends and family. Each one was going through something. It was very difficult to be there for our loved ones with only virtual communications.
The human touch was missing but ironically, when we had the access to human touch, we took it all for granted and got lost in our own worlds. There was so much to learn about human nature, about ourselves, and beyond our realm. The silence in the air made us listen to voices that had no faces. It was truly a very fascinating time for me. I'm very grateful to all the people that I've spoken with during this time. For them to share their experiences, which helped me understand human complexities a bit to be able to write this book. I am also very grateful to have access to so much material online that I could read and listen to for my research.
How would you explain grief in words? Also loss of a loved one?
As I mentioned, I'm not an expert but of whatever I've learned, grief is experienced differently by each of us. It is a manifestation of our inner conflict. It can come out at the most unexpected time in the most unpredictable way. And sometimes, it is exactly by the book. As I've written in my book, grief is that presence, which became a friendly one. It's that one best friend who doesn't leave you no matter what you do. You have to accept it to know it's nature, what it is capable of doing to you.
The only way to deal with grief is to face it, to be aware of it and be prepared that it's there. Loss of a loved one cannot be healed. They say time is the best healer. I think time simply helps you accept the loss and that helps you carry on. It's a choice you need to make every day, to be able to look ahead. The only way ahead is upfront. The opening quote of my book is: "Denial is more dangerous than the tragedy itself because it is comfortable and pleasant." That, I think, sums it up for me.
Tell us more about both Meera and Maya. How the two characters developed in your mind.
Maya is the person that everyone expects a woman to be. But, that was probably the most damaging thing that happened to her. When I created her, I created a person who was a nobody and an everybody. I created a faceless woman, a character you could put anybody's face to or give no face to her at all - but she still existed. That to me, made her the most relatable.
Meera needed to be an embodiment of what we learn about how not to be Maya. A lot of inspiration came from my relationship with my sisters. We are very close and there is no bond like sisterhood. On the face of it, Maya is not a very complicated person. But there are many layers to her, which never had the opportunity to explore. She put herself in a box ever since she was a child and believed that is how one should be as a person. Some of us are lucky to break out but, unfortunately, that never happened with her. She was always the wonderful, sweet, positive, nice, conventional girl next door. Meera, on the other hand, learned from her sister's journey and followed her own path.
Maya, being a softer person, didn't know how to tackle the world. Meera would fight back but Maya went inwards. And, then she met Samar - the one person who loved her with all his heart and accepted her as she was. She explored what it felt like to be loved and started coming into her own. She was always sensitive to the energies she felt around her and they opened doors to the other dimensions.
Her supernatural experiences came to her not as enemies but as comfort. It was only Meera she could trust with sharing these happenings, because that's what the bond between sisters is like - their souls are connected. Creating their relationship was the most challenging and yet the most fulfilling part of writing this book. Especially when you draw inspiration from a real life relationship, it is tough to fictionalise it.
About A Dark and Shiny Place
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
- Norman Cousins.
But what is really inside us is the question most of us have been asking through centuries. Soul searching, purpose of life, anatomy, spiritual healings or pure raw emotions are simply a combination of letters thrown together to attempt to tame the wildest mysteries of all times - our mind!
A Dark and Shiny Place is a journey into one such individual’s world - Maya’s world. A woman leading a peaceful and happy life in her little world with her husband and simple pleasures to keep the laughter up. But one day, whispers from the walls and shadows in daylight begin to creep into this warm and wonderful haven of hers. Like every practical and modern human being, she too begins with dismissing it as fatigue, mind games and modern-day stress until she cant brush it under the carpet anymore and without her knowledge, when it takes her down the rabbit hole, even she can’t comprehend. Ghosts from her past and present intersect and create a web of realities that she is too tired to want to untangle. The absence of her husband, the one true love of her life makes it even more difficult to hold on to reality and inch by inch she begins slipping through the cracks into the abyss of her mind until she is completely consumed and begins to live in her head with entities that are not from this world at all.
Meera has known Maya better than any one alive, sometimes even more than her husband, Samar. She has known about her battle with anxiety and vanishing acts to her safe world. Meera has always known that Maya needed help but it wasn’t as simple. Sometimes the supernatural and psychological seem so similar and equally unbelievable. It is then that we need to make that choice to go with one of them, or simply believe that the supernatural is a highly progressive science unexplored by the great minds yet.
Maya’s experiences were still battling the middle ground and Meera was her only hope of coming back into this world. Samar had left quite unexpectedly and that shock sent Maya spiraling down the bottomless pit of sadness.
It is only when Maya comes face to face with evil from another realm, that she begins to realize she is now trapped in her own mind and cannot break free on her own. She decides to call for help and the one person who answers her call, Meera, is waiting on the edge.