Fifteen-year-old Zuni Chopra has been obsessed with storytelling for almost a decade now. Not putting pen to paper per say, but conjuring tales involving her Lego or Mobile Play sets. Building them or arranging her animal toy figures in an order was a vital conduit to get to the point where she could make up stories about them. “They made no sense,” says Zuni who has just published her first novel, The House That Spoke.
After writing two books of poetry, prose gauged her interest over a year ago.
Although the author didn’t have a story in mind, she was keen on trying a new writing medium, accepting of the challenges that came with it. The story about fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdaan and her extraordinary family house, was at first based in London, where the universe of this book refused to come alive.
“As soon as I moved the story to Kashmir, it gained a distinct vibrancy and the plot started moving along. Of course, I was constantly revising and adding new layers to the story but it never for once felt like an insurmountable task – something that is never going to materialise,” she says.
While working on this book, Zuni wrote before going to school every day, over weekends and got a chunk of the writing done during her summer vacations. Her book was launched on Wednesday and the next morning she had History and Biology mocks prior to her upcoming board exams.
She adds, “I am usually quite organised but I get stressed anyway. It helps that my parents are not particularly concerned about my grades, my mother cares because she knows that I do. And my father doesn’t even mind if I fail.”
Zuni is the daughter of prolific filmmaker and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra and film critic Anupama Chopra. She says that their dedication in their respective fields has only inspired her to chase excellence in her writing.
“My father is often working until late in the night, sometimes scrapping scripts which could make crores, because they don’t make him happy. My mother is constantly striving to write the best reviews and interviews. I know if I wrote a mediocre poem, it wouldn’t fool them.”
Be it a plot hole, an unresolved point of conflict in her stories, Zuni tries to fix them first without her parents’ help. She knows they have her back, and so do her school teachers who have allowed her to miss school trips, accepted late assignment submissions, just because she was writing a book. “…When they didn’t need to be that understanding,” she says, modestly.
The excitement in Zuni’s voice is utterly contagious. When she is expressing her love for Neil Gaiman (“He is not afraid to push his characters into the realm of grotesque”) or admitting that she has only three good friends. One of whom wore dress and make-up for the first time to attend her book launch this week. She is amused by how her brother an aspiring cricketer couldn’t be paid enough to read any book and states that her only goal as of now, is to pass her boards.
Zuni is astutely aware that she is not qualified to make a political statement about Kashmir, where her family originally hails from.
She says, “But I think I would have succeeded if my book made its readers realise that there is more to the place than its current state of turmoil. It is Kashmir’s history but not its culture, and that is something we should never forget.”