Work

“Why Must Women Restrict Themselves to Writing on ‘Feminine Subjects’?” Asks Veena Nagpal

Veena Nagpal chose an unlikely topic for her latest novel – nuclear destruction and a water crisis.

A journalist in search of love, a geologist in search of the lost river Saraswati and a paralyzed Army Officer – these are the protagonists of author Veena Nagpal’s latest novel, Radius 200.

Set in mid-21st century, the book projects a dystopian future for India as a war with China cripples its water supply and a nuclear attack leaves the land and people destroyed. The plot is a foreboding of what awaits humanity in a few decades, a disturbing picture of our worst nightmares come true.

It’s also a very unlikely story to come out from the pen of a septuagenarian Navy wife, whose previous works have included four children’s books.

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Three of Veena Nagpal’s books for children

But there’s nothing ‘regular’ about Veena, who admits she is 18 at heart and 35 in her mind, even if she is 75 years old in body. She prefers Kindle to regular books, is an avid photographer and artist, and thinks nothing of driving 30 kilometres all by herself to meet a journalist for an interview.

At the Jaipur Literature Festival this January, where Radius 200 was released, she hotly fielded questions from critics in her audience on how ‘qualified’ she was to write on nuclear weapons and radiation. “Why must women restrict themselves to ‘feminine subjects’?” she asks. “We must lay claim to the androgynous space.”

For almost three years, Veena researched wars, weapons and historical events before writing the novel, and had the manuscript vetted by an Army general before going to print. “The water crisis has reached a critical point; India gets about 30 percent of its water from the Brahmaputra, and China is building a series of dams on it. They can shut us off any time in the not-so-distant future,” she warns.

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Veena conducting a workshop for children

Born in Lucknow, where her mother’s family lived, Veena labels herself of ‘all-India’ origin as her Naval officer father was posted from port to port. She did her BA in literature, world history and anthropology and was married soon after she turned 20. With her husband away for work — he was also in the Navy — she began writing articles for newspapers while raising their two children.

When her husband later joined the Merchant Navy, Veena travelled him to the four corners of the globe. “Must have inherited gypsy blood from somewhere,” she laughs. After he retired, the couple settled in Noida, and Veena focused on writing books. This is her fourth novel so far.

A passionate environmentalist, she has conducted more than 500 environment workshops for schoolchildren, and has no intention of slowing down in her old age. She signs off on an optimistic note: “Whatever cards I am dealt, I would like to play them the best I can. The present moment is all that matters.”

First published in the March 2018 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here.

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