Unleashing the child detective, author Maulshree Mahajan takes us on a roller coaster ride across an abandoned fort with Tara and Meera
All of us have a child within. For most of us, the inner child is a curious explorer. And author Maulshree Mahajan has captured that curiosity in her two books. In the latest of her mystery series, The Mystery of the Forbidden Fort, the Singh sisters-Tara and Meera-are off to Rajasthan. The first one, The Mystery of the Missing Buddha, was set in Dharmshala which is where the author grew up.
Mahajan’s plots and characters are set in an India we relate to. But she is probably the first female author to break stereotypes and venture into writing mystery stories for young ones. Her protagonists are sprightly girls, who don’t have parents crying and shouting at them for being young and curious and brave! Their innocence and deep desire to unearth all that is wrong makes these characters endearing. Morever, Mahajan also takes us to interesting places and introduces us to the culture of that area. The books are quick reads and the beauty lies in the simplicity. The plots are straight, but the excitement lies in having the courage to take a stand, walk in the face of danger, help people and make new friends along the way. The book has an index at the back so the reader finds details of all the terms mentioned in the story.
A hotel management graduate, Mahajan holds a master’s degree in English literature. Trained in Tokyo, she has been working for more than 12 years as a hospitality and spoken English trainer. A candid chat with Maulshree Mahajan:
What brought about this journey as an author?
My vivid imagination propelled me towards writing as a favoured medium of expression during my pre-teen years. I started penning down stories and poems and would contribute my articles to the school magazine every year. At age 15, I submitted a poem on Sachin Tendulkar to the children’s section of The Tribune, Chandigarh, and was encouraged when it got published. Many of my short stories, poems and essays were published in the children’s section and the supplement, Saturday Plus, The Tribune in the following years. I returned to my deepest passion a few years ago via my blog, My Place Under the Sun, and then with my adventure series.
Why did you choose main protagonists as girl sleuths?
Growing up, I was a curious cat with an imaginative mind. Since I would always wonder what mysteries and stories were hidden in the hills and forests of my hometown Dharamshala, the idea of two girl sleuths came organically to me. It is perhaps more interesting for me to present the world through the eyes of two young girls who are finding and solving mysteries.
Your books describe places and cuisine in detail. How do you interweave this plot with your mysteries?
I’m an observant traveller and love to try the local cuisine while I travel. When I set a story in a city or state that I’m familiar with, I offer my readers a glimpse of the place and a taste of its delicacies. I plan scenes and circumstances in such a way that the places and food become an innate part of the story. It is a privilege to combine facts and fiction and I do a lot of research on the local areas to do so.
Have you had any formal training in creative writing? As an Indian, creating a career out of writing books for children, what have been the challenges?
I do not have any formal training in creative writing. Young-adult writing has as many challenges as it has triumphs. One of the general challenges is, while writing, the creative judgment of the reader’s comprehension and/or reading level. I try to balance my stories’ depth, humour and intensity to suit all ages and understanding levels.
I use my upbringing, observations and local references frequently to appeal to the young readers. With my first novel, I was told a couple of times that my story was too ‘Indian’. I take it as a compliment and not as a disadvantage.
There has been a gap of some years between the first book and this one. How much time does it take you to write a book?
I generally take a few months to finish writing one book. Unfortunately, the gap between my two books has been too long. It is primarily because of my time away from dedicated writing since I was finishing some other projects.
Where are Tara and Meera going next?
Tara and Meera are going to the City of Pearls, Hyderabad, next. It’ll be interesting to see how much of the vernacular they pick up as they go about solving their next mystery.
How many books do you plan to have in the series?
There are a lot of places and stories to be explored yet, so I’ve not decided on a number.
Have you been to any literature festivals with Tara and Meera or shared the books with young ones in schools?
Meera and Tara’s adventures have been admired and discussed in Yayavar Literary Festival (Kids), The Book Bakers Online Lit Fest and their latest one, The Mystery of the Forbidden Fort, was showcased at PILF- Pune International Literary Festival 2020.
Their first adventure, The Mystery of the Missing Buddha, was included in the reading list of a young-adults’ reading club, The English Club, earlier this year. It is currently a part of Avid Readers’ Club Delhi’s list, and is being read by a group of enthusiastic young kids.