Zuni Chopra turns author at just 15 with debut novel 'The House that Spoke'
Zuni Chopra is all of 15 - the youngest author at the biggest literary event in the world - and is about to release her debut novel The House That Spoke, published by Penguin. She is readying to give her first interview. Her filmmaker father Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to tidy her hair, as her mother Anupama, the famous film-reviewer and TV host, waves to her.
"Dad, you are messing up my hair," she tells him. "No, I am not," he insists.
The father-daughter duo settle down for an interview. Zuni says she is nervous, although it should really be the adults who should be nervous in her presence. This is her first debut novel, but she has written two books of poetry before.
How old were you when you wrote your first poem? I ask gingerly.
Her father decides to answer that. "We were holidaying in Kashmir when I saw her fiddling with my phone. I was angry because I thought she was playing video games. I took the phone from her and saw that she was writing a poem. I still remember the last lines," he recalls looking at Zuni affectionately.
But Zuni will not let her father recite those lines. She is too embarrassed.
"When I go to the loo and come back and read what I have written I am embarrassed. Is that really what I wrote, I wonder..."
Zuni, the Moonlight
Zuni had been living with the thought of writing a novel since she turned 13. Last January, she signed a book deal with Penguin. And then began the writing. The book is set in Kashmir, the land of her father.
She visits the state every year, but couldn't because of the strife in the state this year.
She wrote for an hour every morning before school - the result is beautiful prose that could put an adult to shame. Adults who are churning out words with the mass market in mind.
Zuni, means moonlight, in Kashmiri, she tells me.
Her father says this was a name given to her by him. "No dad, mum did!" she exclaims.
"Who is from Kashmir?"
"You are! But she is the one who is good with names. "
Zuni reads out the favourite section from her book. A few lines that describe the home of the protagonist who is called Zoon Razdan.
"I wanted to call her Zuni. It's a beautiful name, but changed it to Zoon."
Her book is dedicated, not to her parents or her brother, but to three school friends. What do her school friends think of her?
"I hope they don't think I am snooty. I don't like to hang out in malls or shop with them, but I am not snooty," she chuckles, adjusting her glasses.
Ask her if they think of her as weird, she says, "I think tattooing is weird."
The books, the movies
Zuni hasn't watched any of her father's movies, or so her father claims.
"Of course I have seen 3 Idiots," she insists, adding that she doesn't see a future film writer in her.
"But have you seen 1942: A Love Story, Parinda, Munnabhai...?
When Zuni is not reading books, she listens to music and likes to play with her six dogs.
"Toffee was our dog and then we decided to get Sugar for him. After that my father came home with another dog one day, and now we have six - the whole chocolate series."
In two weeks Zuni has exams. She is worried even though she says she is a good student.
"This time I am not prepared. I was focussing on the book," she says.
Tell her what she has done is better than writing a boring exam, she laughs.
At 15, Zuni has already experienced the writer's block several times - never mind that she is 3 books down. The first time was when she was all of 9!