Shanti Memorial is actor-turned-writer Shadaab Khan’s first novel. Here is our review of the book and a short interview with the author
Shanti Memorial is a novel of two stories. The title of the first story is ‘Roselyn’ which is the name of a mansion where most of the story takes place. The title of the second story is ‘Hariya’ which is the name of the protagonist.
The protagonist of the story Roselyn is a hitman of the Mumbai mafia who is contracted to assassinate a reputed psychiatrist in his family home. The assassin readily takes up the task assigned to him but is shell-shocked to find out that the hunter has become the hunted when he is locked up in the target’s house and must survive a cat-and-mouse game by killing the person chasing him. The second story Hariya begins with an unknown man mailing a diary to the editor of a newspaper. The diary belonged to a man named Hariya who recounts his story beginning with the deplorable conditions of his childhood right up to his prediction of how the diary would be found.
The first story of the novel is an enthralling thriller while the second banks on gore to create horror through use of elaborate descriptions. The characters are shocking to the point of being unrealistic. The dialogues use poetic rhythms at times while the narration tends to take on an explicit tone occasionally.
Yes, most definitely. The reason you will find repetition not just in phrases but also in characters and certain situations is because I was trying to establish a connect between the two novellas in my book namely Roselyn and Hariya since their protagonists were at some point in time incarcerated in the same mental institution – Shanti Memorial.
Why did your characters speak in rhyming statements at times? Was it used for a certain poetic effect?
Excellent question. Yes it was used for a certain poetic effect, but other than that I was also trying to experiment with a new style of writing – dark, edgy and more than a tad risqué. Apart from that, the central character of my second novella, Hariya, was suffering from extreme dementia causing his tongue to oscillate between reality and fantasy, and to create that effect convincingly, I combined prose with poetry.
How important is creativity when writing a psychological horror thriller?
Creativity is of the utmost importance when it comes to writing fiction of any kind, not just psychological horror thrillers. But yes, writing about ghosts, goblins and homicidal maniacs perhaps requires a greater suspension of reality, which in turn adds to the complexity and originality of the story.
Was the omission of self-censorship for use of expletives intentional and required in order for your story to work?
Most definitely, particularly in the case of Hariya, where the central character is a mass murdering homicidal maniac, driven to insanity through years of brutal sexual abuse, whose primary trigger for violence was lust and sexual arousal. Therefore, the language in which he spoke had to compliment his fractured and dangerously disturbed state of mind, without which the character would not ring true.
Were you concerned that your character sketches might be too strong for a sensitive reader?
Yes, that was a concern, but if I had diluted my characters in any way, the stories wouldn’t have worked.
Most writers tend to draw from inspiration when constructing their characters. Have you based your characters on anyone you have known personally or professional?
Both stories and their characters are completely fictitious, born purely out of my own imagination, and are not inspired by anyone, living or dead.
Did you have qualms about using strong themes and violent descriptions in your stories?
Whatever tools I used in the construction of my stories were both integral and essential to their development and with regards to them, I am not in the least bit squirmish.
How much research on mental disorders was required to write the novel Shanti Memorial?
Shanti Memorial is twenty five percent researched, fifty percent imagination and twenty five percent suspension of reality. Sure I read up extensively on dementia, schizophrenia, shock therapy, lobotomy, and the two types of homicidal maniacs, namely, spree killers and serial killers, but if I hadn’t laced that knowledge with a fair amount of creativity, my stories would have come across as some psychiatrist’s case studies, rather than an earnest attempt at horror fiction.
The Mumbai mafia plays a key role in your tales. Why did you choose to include them in segments of both stories?
In the first story namely Roselyn, one of the central characters is a professional hit man called Raju, and when you read that story you’ll realise that his profession is integral to the main plot. As far as Hariya, the second story is concerned, I included the Mumbai mafia angle in it because it served as a convenient connect between both stories.
Did you have to detach yourself from a normal style of thinking when writing the novel to get into the minds of your characters?
When writing a book or story, if your understanding of your characters is strong, you don’t need to think unusually or differently. Your words flow quite smoothly and your characters develop naturally.
Did you have any expectations regarding the reception of the book? Were you expecting any form of hostile treatment from those who may consider the stories to be twisted tales? What has been the reception thus far?
Honestly, I am a debut novelist, a rank newcomer trying to find my feet in an entirely new field. There is a lot that I don’t know and a whole lot that I have to learn. Thus far the response has been very encouraging, and fortunately I haven’t received any hostile backlash because at the end of the day what I have written is pure fiction and people have accepted it as that. As far as expectations go, I came in with no expectations, only with the desire to tell my stories and with the belief that the more I write, the better I will get. ‘Shanti Memorial’ is my very humble first effort and I hope that the readers enjoy what I have written and find it sufficiently terrifying, for all the right reasons.