What is that smell?

Neha and the Nose, Ruchika Chanana, Duckbill Books

Neha and the Nose, Ruchika Chanana, Duckbill Books  

Ruchika Chanana’s Neha and the Nose is hilarious, fast paced and a fun read for kids

Imaging having a nose that can tease out the individual scents that go into making a fragrance. Like this: “Sandalwood. Mixed in with a little vanilla with lowers of vetiver...” Or from a crime scene: “… the metallic odours of haemoglobin… the pong of tissue… the very viscera of human life...” This is how teenage Johan, better known as The Nose, describes what he is smelling. The Diva Detective Neha uses these inputs to solve issues in the school. Hilarious and fast-paced, Ruchika Chanana’s Neha and the Nose (Duckbill Books) joins the battalion of fun reads from Indian authors.

Ruchika explains that the idea was born from an exercise in a workshop. “I chose the detective genre as a lark,” she says, “and wrote a short story. Having no idea how to solve my own mystery, I gave my hero a super-sense! Once I started developing the story into a novel, though, the super power took on a life and trajectory of its own.” But a sense of smell? “Perhaps because I lost my sense of smell a while ago,” she muses. “Also, now that I think of it, a lot of my fiction writing seems to be about the senses.”

Ruchika admits to being “crazy about mysteries and fantasy. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without first Nancy Drew, Miss Marple and Feluda, and then Inspector Wexford, Chief Superintendent Gamache or the Dublin Murder Squad. Also the X Files, Doctor Who and Star Wars.”

Crazy about mysteries and fantasy Ruchika’s book is a mix of the two genres she loves

Crazy about mysteries and fantasy Ruchika’s book is a mix of the two genres she loves   | Photo Credit: Anandi Chowriappa

So she didn’t fight too hard when she got a chance to bring detection and fantasy into her book. “Johan’s method of smelling is an extension of his loopy character —lost to the world, swimming in his own olfactory soup. Neha’s reactions to him are equally funny, as she is so logical and can’t quite accept the slightly fantastical nature of his power (though she is not averse to using it to solve cases).”

Looking back on her own reading trajectory, Ruchika recalls “starting to read very early and then I read EVERYTHING (emphasis hers). All the books on my shelves, all the books on my parents’ shelves, and books borrowed from libraries (thank goodness libraries are back in fashion now).” And she’s very excited by the amount of good writing available for young people today, compared to what she had as a kid. “We devoured Enid Blytons and read Wordsworth, and our world was populated with scones, lacrosse and meadows full of daffodils... none of which we had tasted, played or seen, but yearned towards. Chimamanda Adichie mentions something like this in her writing too, so it’s probably a pan-colony experience. The Children’s Book Trust had some lovely books and there were the translated stories from Russia with the dreaded Baba Yaga … but not much else.” So it thrills her that there are dedicated children’s publishers and even bookshops. “I still read a lot of kids’ books – always have, even before I had a child, as they have always been my escape – and the choice is staggering now.”

Write Way
  • When: When my son is in school
  • Where: At a buzzing coffee shop
  • How: The book was written over six years, I have no idea how!
  • What: Coffee or tea and some interesting conversations to eavesdrop on

Speaking of children’s books and reading, what does she think of age-appropriate reading? Her reply is tongue in cheek: “I’d read most of the books in my home, including my parents’ collection, by the time I was 11. So I don’t have an opinion on this.”

I ask for a few favourite authors and she says her list “would occupy too much space.” She reads a lot of genres and claims magic realism changed her life. Poetry, philosophy, essays, history… “I read a lot of different genres but the closest to my heart are still mysteries, science fiction and fantasy.” Biographies are the latest addition to her list, thanks to her husband.

Finally, I want to know if we’ll see more of Neha and the Nose. “I hope so,” she responds. “ They kind of tell their own story. The present book covers summer and the monsoon in Delhi, so perhaps it’s time for a winter mystery.”

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 3:58:39 AM |

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