In the Indian context, there are very few authors who boldly explore genres such as horror and crime thrillers.
Every day we read disturbing news headlines about crimes against children. They disappear and they do not always return to their families. When they do, they are not the same children who had once inhabited the same space. We know these are unspoken dimensions that fleetingly touch upon the crimes that are happening against children. Few writers dare to explore this disturbing gray area. It is nothing less than a terrifying journey to undertake. Still there are some books that are meant to disturb so that questions can be asked to the society as a whole to examine its collective conscience. For the same reason, Mehak Daleh’s thriller “And the Roses bled” is not for the faint-hearted. It delves into the most disturbing realms that transcend human comprehension. Consider this: What happens when a twin disappears but her thoughts, feelings and presence keep surfacing in the mind of the other twin? Scary, right? But that’s just a tip of the iceberg. Details keep surfacing about more children vanishing and their loved ones frantically searching for them in vain, each more disturbing than the other and adding to the narrative. In the Indian context, there are very few authors who boldly explore genres such as horror and crime thrillers. This extraordinary story of a tragedy that tears apart the childhood of two little girls is nothing less than heart-wrenching to read. So, what was the writer’s journey like while writing this debut crime thriller?
In conversation with Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, Mehak Daleh shares her insights on switching genres while writing, the increasing number of crimes against children and much more.
How do you feel you have evolved in your journey as a writer with this book compared to anything else that you have written before?
The greatest change I see is in being able to write the story as it comes, as it’s meant to be, without glossing over the more horrid details, without feeling excessively conscious of what is “acceptable.”
Did you contemplate on several endings or you had just one ending in mind right from the start?
I didn’t quite micro manage the story. I went where it led. So, the ending was what you see in the book. However, it became much more elaborate than I initially thought it was.
Much of what you have written in the book refers to the emotional distress and unspeakable trauma of a child. What is it precisely that you wanted the readers to explore through this narrative?
I wanted the readers to explore the fragility of childhood. I wished for them to actively realise that childhood is not just about being a certain age; it’s about being in a certain frame of mind, having a certain untainted view of the world. And if any imbalance upsets this state, especially a tragedy, childhood is impossible to recover. Once a tragedy has occurred in a child’s life, the person that emerges from the experience is neither a child nor an adult psychologically. It’s a sad thing to happen.
What, in your opinion, was the toughest part of writing this book? What are the things that you are witnessing today in the parenting, educational and social spaces that moved you to write some of the pivotal sequences in this book?
The toughest part of writing this book was most certainly the exploration of the protagonist’s emotions. They were raw and confused and visceral. Perhaps the foundation of the story was quite clearly a reaction to the horrid crimes against children we read about in papers every day. Every day! That says a lot about as a society, about the direction society’s moral compass seems to be aligned in. For every case that is reported, how many must there be that are never mentioned? A change is certainly the need of the hour. And it is the adults of today – the parents, the teachers who need to teach the right values to the adults of the future. Only that can solve the issue permanently. But therein lies the catch 22 situation. Children learn from what they see being done, not what is preached to them. Therefore, the role models need to keep their own behavior in check and future generation will automatically follow suit, reining in the problem.
Did you have any major dilemma on where to take this plot, end or craft the characters? Who is your favourite character in the book and what does she represent as a living value that makes you feel so connected to her?
I allowed the story to lead me where it would. I had this image of children walking to a graveyard stuck in my head for a very long time, and once I started writing that bit which I was seeing, everything else automatically took its place around it. My favourite character is the old man, Alisha’s fellow traveler, to whom she narrates her story, an experience which nudges her to believe in herself and take action. That old man was the little voice we all hear within us.
One of the biggest plus points is that you are presenting reality on all sides with a layer of complexity. What factors in the narrative helped you to decide this to take the book forward?
I really believe that the story itself was adamant. It wouldn’t go away and it had to be written. The only decision I made was getting the words which were floating around in my head down on paper. And I must tell you that it is easier said than done.
Do you imagine yourself writing a contemporary thriller or horror? Or do the possibilities of switching genres not appeal to you?
I am willing to write any story that comes to me and doesn’t fade with time in my head and heart. I would certainly not mind switching genres; however, I do believe that we all have a filter wired in us. Mine is certainty set to horror/thrillers. Therefore, I expect myself to be writing such stories.
Do you feel that the Indian reader is ready for this?
The Indian reader definitely wants variety and change. I think they are quite ready for it.