venita coelho on the washer of the dead
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Many a woman in India finds her voice in Venita Coelho’s The Washer of the Dead: A Collection of Ghost Stories. Ghost stories, that’s right; this is a collection of stories about abuse that haunts women. Interesting, you think. So is its author. Venita Coelho used to be a television writer/director in Mumbai before she packed her bags and moved to Goa to live in a Portuguese house with her five dogs and two cats. Varied in her repertoire, she has also authored Dungeon Tales (for children) and SOAP! Writing and Surviving Television. Uncategorise-able like her book, Anjana Balakrishnan caught up with this beach bum.

Q) Conceptualising a themed collection of feminist-ghost stories like The Washer of the Dead: A Collection of Short Stories must have been a brainstorm of an experience. Could you take us through the thought process behind this?
A) There wasn’t any constructed thought – but there was a lot of emotion. Every single day you open the paper and read about what is being unleashed on women – honour killings, beatings, death by stoning... it’s terrifying. I would feel so helpless in the face of the misery of millions. The book came out of that anger and frustration. I wanted to make people think a bit. The best way to do that was to use a main stream genre like the ghost story to present a very feminist point of view.

Q) Share with us what you think makes your latest book SOAP! Writing and Surviving Television topical.
A) When I first suggested the book to my publisher they asked me ‘Hasn’t it already been written?’ For an industry that is over 60 years old you would imagine that some training books would exist. But not even one does. So this is a book that is long overdue; both for the industry and for writers in other media who want a basic solid grounding in the rules of writing. I think the book fills a tremendous gap.

Q) Name your favourite books and what makes them your favourites. Also what you are reading now?
A) My all time favourite is Rudyard Kipling's Kim. With every re-reading I discover more depths to the metaphor of the journey.  I love Kazuo Ishiguro, every single one of his books. My guru is Joseph Campbell and all his work on myth and the creative process. Every writer who wants to know about the roots of storytelling should read Campbell. Right now I am reading the Bartimeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. It is supposed to be a children’s series, but it is far and away the most exciting read I have had all year. I am also laboriously ploughing my way thorough the 73rd and 74th Amendment to the Panchayati Raj Act. We are battling to keep mega-projects out of my little village and one way to do that is to know the rights and powers of the Panchayat and speak up at the Gram Sabha.

Q) What is your favourite literary device and why?
A) If we are talking books, then it is the first person narrative. Sitting at your keyboard you can become someone else and speak up in their tones. It’s wonderful!
If we are talking television, it has to be the intercut. That allows you to keep two or three stories running at the same time, building each to a crescendo. Absolutely wonderful for keeping the action moving on various fronts. Fantastic for creating lots of excitement on a very small budget.

Q) What is the way ahead for you as a writer?
A) I’m working on a book called The Block Buster Book – How to Bust those Blocks and Write that Great Film. Nobody yet has focused on the Hindi film formula. Our films are unique in the way that they use song and dance and emotion. This book will try and teach the essence of a commercial Hindi film. Also in the works is a book called The Single Woman’s Handbook to Love, Sex and Everything. It’s an attempt to create a support system for women in a book. It contains the essence of the wisdom of the sisterhood - all those wonderful women who taught me, advised me, and supported me.