By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, May 6 | The corovirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in many parts of the world, including India has had a “rippling effect” on everyone and the “new way of life” it has created has to be accepted by everyone, says Hong Kong-based thriller writer Shoba Nihalani, whose new novel “The Blue Jade” that deals with the smuggling of antiques is already creating waves even as she has embarked on her next work that is part memoir and part historical account about a country in the 1970s.
“The coronavirus pandemic has created a rippling effect on everyone. We have to accept that this is a new way of life and we should adjust to it. We also have to take extra care to stay healthy and to maintain good hygiene. During these times, I am focussed on keeping my mind occupied, which is through reading and writing. I also have an
exercise routine. Besides that, I chat with friends online and keep in touch with those who are feeling low,” Nihalani told IANS in an email interview.
Ever an optimist, she also sees some positives in what citizens around the world are going through these days.
“Troubled times are a way to remind us to reflect on life and understand that we should not take anything for granted. Even the simple act of going out of the house is planned, when previously we would just go out on a whim for a walk or to meet a friend for coffee,” Nihalani said.
“It’s necessary to be aware of our mindset, and maintain good spirits and a positive attitude. It is also nice to chat with others who are feeling lonely and spread some positive vibes,” Nihalani maintained.
Positive vibes are also what she spreads through “The Blue Jade”.
The book relates the tale of Neelam, an art curator based in Hong Kong who appreciates the value of an artefact from its historical context. She finds the looting of art as desecration of India’s heritage.
She discovers a precious relic hidden inside a statue of Mirabai, the legendary Rajasthani princess-saint. It turns out to be the most sought-after blue jade pendant, long thought lost. Intertwining history and mystery,
Neelam must outrun a deadly ring of smugglers who are after the prized stone. As she travels through India, she trails the fabled journey of Mirabai, in a mystical link of history and the present day.
Noting that the antiquities black market is one of the most profitable illegal trades in the world, Nihalani said that in researching this, she took an online course through futurelearn.com to study the phenomenon.
“This enabled me to create a believable story on the ways and means artefacts are looted. Art crime poses a massive threat to our shared human culture, eroding the heritage from history. People are willing to pay a lot of money for art. And where there is money, crime soon follows.
“There are many media stories about the CBI’s Idol Wing in capturing looters. In addition, I have read many reports about Indian sculptures in European and British museums, which have been returned to India,” the author said.
Looters and corrupt dealers, she pointed out, intentionally fabricate documents of origin of a stolen artefact to make it appear legal, thus creating a false historical record, sometimes claiming it to be family heirloom. This, in turn, makes it difficult or impossible to research the object in relation to its actual historical context.
“This is what has been happening in Hong Kong with Chinese artefacts,” Nihalani said.
Having lived in places as diverse as Kano, Antwerp, Singapore,Rochester, Mumbai, Bengaluru and now Hong Kong has given Nihalani the ability to deliver to the literary world works like “Karmic Blues” (her debut novel that was first published in Danish), “The Silent Monument” (also translated into Danish), two of the “NINE” trilogy and
finally “Unresolved” – that have mystery and conspiracy as the common theme.
What of the future?
“I am working on a non-fiction book, I have been writing the draft since last year. It is quite a challenge because the story is part memoir and part historical account about a country in the 1970s. There is a lot of research involved, some of was interviewing people. I am intertwining the story from the past, with present day and connecting
them together to highlight some esoteric points. I have finished the rough first draft and will reread it to refine and rewrite it further,” Nihalani explained.
This is a task for which she is eminently suited and one can only wait with baited breath for the book to appear.
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at email@example.com)