Vee Kumari talks about her debut book “Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery” | Author Interview

Originally from the South of India, Vee Kumari had been fond of books from the very beginning. As a child, she would often find her escape in books.

Authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie were amongst her favourites. She was encouraged by her mother who often motivated her to learn more and dream bigger.

Vee wanted to become an English professor but life had other plans for her. She went to a medical school instead and earned a doctorate in Anatomy. Her career includes working for the UC Davis Medical Center for over thirty-five years and later at the Keck School of Medicine for five years.

After her retirement, she decided to pursue a course in writing from the prestigious UCLA Writer’s Program. 

Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery is her debut work that combines a murder mystery with India’s rich cultural history to bring to us a one-of-a-kind thriller.

Vee’s keen observations on the life of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans is abundantly reflected in her work.

She currently lives in Los Angeles where she loves to stay close to her daughters and their families.

Apart from writing and teaching, acting is yet another of her many talents. As an actor, she has appeared on many television shows including Criminal Minds and Glow.

She has also produced and acted in a lead role in a short film, Halwa which won the first prize in HBO’s 2019 APAV contest. She has already started work on her next fiction, which will be about an Indian immigrant family whose aspirations of living the Big American dream are shattered when one of their twin daughters go missing.

We at bookGeeks got a lucky opportunity to interview the multi-talented Vee Kumari and ask her a few questions about her books and writing. Here’s what she has to say.

Vee Kumari Author Interview

Tell us something about yourself.
I grew up in the south of India. A lover of books from a young age, my favourite authors were Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.

I would hide to read, to avoid my mother, who might want me to do a chore or two. It was my mother who directed me to use the dictionary to learn the meanings of new words and construct sentences with them.

I wanted to become an English professor but went to medical school, instead.
What or who inspired you to pick up writing?
It’s the novels I read while working as a scientist. I moved from reading mysteries to other genres of fiction, all very inspiring and compelling me to try writing fiction.

I chose the mystery genre for my first novel since I was most experienced with novels in that genre. Along the way, I took several classes on novel writing.
“Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery” is your debut work of fiction. What kind of research went into the book and how did you go about it?
To my advantage, I was already well-versed in research, although in science. But the skills transferred to doing research for DHARMA.

I read about the incarnation of Mahishasura Mardini, although I knew the basics about her. What was new to me were the details about the Mahisha, his love for Durga, his proposal to marry her, and when refused, his decision to battle her.

The various archaeological evolutions of the Durga as the Mahishasura Mardini were new to me.

“The Divine and The Demoniac: Mahisha’s Heroic Struggle With Durga” by Carmel Berkson, published in in India by the Oxford University Press in 1995, is a wonderful resource for the Mahishasura Mardini story.

I also researched “Faust”, a tragic play in two parts by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, usually known in English as Faust, Part One (1808) and Faust, Part Two (1832).

Although I didn’t include all the details about these books in my novel, they provided valuable information.

The play is online and I was able to I find a verse that I chose as the one that Neil’s mother includes in the book she left for her, the same one that he uses to find the name of his father.
The main character of your debut book is Rekha. How easy or difficult was it to shape her as a character? Did you draw inspiration from real events or people or is she purely a work of fiction?
Many women I know could have influenced the character of Rekha. But I cannot identify a singular one around whom her character was built.

Rekha is certainly not a prototype of either of my daughters.

It was important for me to portray her as having been brought up in a sheltered Indian family and show her transformation into a woman of the world.

With this broad goal in mind, I was able to shape her character almost step by step as the story progressed.
Tell us something about your professional life–about medical school and your teaching career.
Although the med school was not my choice, I found the scientific subjects I had to learn captivating, and I did well.

Upon coming to the US, with a small baby and my husband already in a Residency program, I found it impossible to train in a clinical field. I had done a year of teaching in Anatomy in India and found the task very rewarding.

The UC Davis Medical School was just starting up, and they needed teachers. I was lucky to get a half-time appointment as a lecturer and decided to combine it with graduate training in Anatomy. Once I graduated, I was able to get an Assistant Professorship at the same school.

I moved on to teach neuroanatomy as my speciality. I loved teaching, and I believe my students loved my teaching.
You have a doctorate in Anatomy, and you love reading and writing thrillers. Would you ever consider writing medical thrillers like Robin Cook?
Robin Cook used to be a practising physician and was able to access real clinical scenarios to create his novels. My background is neuroscience.

I have an outline for my third novel that is set in 2040 and incorporates new treatments for dementia. I want to cure incurable diseases, at least in my imagination!
Do you read Indian authors? If yes, tell us about some of your favourites.
Of course! Grew up on Tagore, R.K. Narayan, V. S. Naipaul, and other traditional Indian storytellers.

Some of my more modern favourites are Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Anita Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai, Kamala Das, and Rohinton Mistry (my all-time favourite, A Fine Balance).

I am on the look-out for contemporary Indian writers to gain inspiration from their stories.
Tell us something about your upcoming novel. Can the readers expect another gripping thriller?
I had decided while completing “DHARMA…” that I did not want to write a sequel.

I want to move away from trying to create page-turner mysteries to writing stories about human relationships.

You cannot totally avoid mystery because every novel has a hidden secret that unfolds in the end. I want to focus on the theme of how relationships keep us captive, and at the same time help us evolve and become better human beings.

My second novel, with a placeholder title, “Inter-twin-ed”, is about an Immigrant Indian family whose American dream shatters when one of their twin daughters goes missing.

I have an identical twin who works as an Endocrinologist in Cochin.

What if one of us went missing at a young age? How would that change the other person’s life?

Leave a Comment