Harini Nagendra – Member Spotlight

Meet Harini Nagendra. Internationally-acclaimed, award-winning author, Harini Nagendra, loves feedback from her family on her writing projects and began sharing her tales at an amazingly young age. “I started making up stories when I was about five years old and writing them when I was about seven. I kept finding captive audiences wherever I could, amongst friends and family, to tell them stories,” she explained.

Harini balances her career as a professor of ecology at Azim Premji University in Bangalore, Karnataka with writing non-fiction books, and more recently, mysteries. Globally recognized for her scholarship on sustainability, she is a renowned speaker on nature and sustainability and has written extensively on those subjects.

Despite her crowded schedule as a college professor and her non-fiction works (those books include NATURE IN THE CITY: BENGALURU IN THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE, and two books co-authored with Seema Mundoli, SO MANY LEAVES, along with CITIES AND CANOPIES: TREES IN INDIAN CITIES, which received the 2020 Publishing Next Awards for best English non-fiction book in India, and was featured on the 2021 Green Literature Festival’s honor list), Harini never forgot the joy of creating stories she felt as a five-year-old.

“I’ve been writing non-fiction for a long time, and my first full-length non-fiction book was published in 2016. But I wanted to write a full-length novel. I just had no idea how to complete the book. I’m a ‘pantser’ by nature, and it took me a few passes through the plot and complete overhauls, before I figured out how to write a mystery from start to finish.”  

“I started thinking of the plot for my first mystery when I was pregnant with my daughter, in 2007,” she said. “In my innocence,

I thought a baby would sleep all the time in the first three to six months, and I would have plenty of time to start and complete the book. But of course, it wasn’t that easy. It turned out well, because now that baby is almost fifteen. She, along with my husband, helps me brainstorm plots, does a beta-read, and is my biggest cheerleader. I can’t imagine writing these books without being able to talk about Kaveri and Ramu with her!”  

Harini’s first foray into crime fiction resulted in THE BANGALORE DETECTIVES CLUB, a charming cozy set in 1920s Bangalore. Lead character Kaveri, a sari-wearing amateur detective, has a new husband (Ramu), a jealous mother-in-law, and a murder to solve! Clever, headstrong, and stepping far outside the social norms, Kaveri soon finds “…the case leads her deeper into a hotbed of danger, sedition and intrigue in Bangalore’s darkest alleyways.”  THE BANGALORE DETECTIVES CLUB debuted in the United Kingdom, India, and the United States in May of this year to rave reviews. The book was reviewed in the New York Times by Sarah Weinman, who called it “a treat for historical mystery lovers looking for a new series to savor (or devour)”. It received starred reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and The Library Review.

Last month THE BANGALORE DETECTIVES CLUB was named one of the “New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2022”. The prestigious honor is bestowed for the year’s notable fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Honorees are selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

Occasionally, Harini’s university work crosses into her writing life, much to her delight. “As part of my day job as an academic studying Bangalore’s ecological history, I have collected large piles of documents, maps, photographs, and other archival materials on the city’s colonial past. Perhaps that fascination with the past is what got me thinking about how I could use all the material I found interesting—but couldn’t fit into an academic paper or talk—with a mystery series. I feel like I finally have the perfect outlet for all this fun stuff about the past!” 

Kaveri’s interests sometimes mirror Harini’s, too. “I love Indian classical music,” the author said. “I learned and played the veena for several years, and haven’t been able to do as much playing in recent years as I would have liked. I hope to pick this up again soon! Because I miss my music so much, I made my book’s main protagonist, Kaveri, a veena player.” 

Her enthusiasm and interest in multiple projects keep Harini’s professional life interesting and energized.  “I’m simultaneously working on two books. The final proof edits are underway for the second book in my Bangalore Detectives Club series, MURDER UNDER A RED MOON, which is scheduled to launch in March 2023. Also, my (non-fiction) co-author Seema Mundoli and I just completed a new book for Penguin Random House India about water in Indian cities. The title is BLUE WATERS: CONNECTING THE DROPS.”

Her dedication to, and passion for, her work in sustainability has earned Harini numerous honors, including the 2009 Cozzarelli Prize from the US National Academy of Sciences, the 2013 Elinor Ostrom Senior Scholar award, and the 2017 Clarivate Web of Science award for interdisciplinary research in India.

She also leads Azim Premji University’s Climate Change Centre. Most recently, she coordinated a massive climate change festival on rivers at the university, which drew more than 7000 participants and visitors. “One of our goals is to communicate issues of climate change to a wider public audience, especially to young people, who are the fore bringers of change. This is the first of a series of events we plan to host over the next few years. It’s called Rivers of Life, and was a 15-day celebration of rivers, with photo exhibitions, workshops, expert panels, folk music, and many other fun events. More than 5000 students from more than 100 schools and colleges visited us from November 2nd through the 16th.  It’s intense but great fun! For example, one event featured a concert by folk artists from the Chalakudy River, who made over 80 instruments from bamboo. It was extraordinary to be able to listen to them bring the sounds of the river to us, from the reeds and bamboo that grow on the banks of the river. We hope to make this an annual event at least, with a new theme on the environment every year.”   

Time management can be tricky with such a full schedule, but Harini found a way to make it work. “There is a bit going on at the same time—a full job as a university professor, teacher, researcher, and research administrator—then, the fiction writing. And I do like to spend time with my daughter Dhwani, my husband Venkatachalam Suri, and my mom, who lives with us.”

“I schedule my time very carefully because I must. I don’t use any fancy tech, my timetable is written down in a Word document. But I write down everything I need to do in ridiculous detail because it gives me such great pleasure to cross things off my list! When I am writing my fiction, I schedule my time carefully. I keep two hours a day, five days a week, aside to write the first draft, over an intense couple of months. Three of the five days are usually during the week and two on weekends. I’ve also learned that I must complete my fiction writing first thing in the morning before my academic workday begins. Non-fiction writing, especially academic writing, is in such a different style—clean, spare prose, clear and lucid explanation shorn of any flourishes, linear storyline—dry ‘objective’ text. I find it impossible to then switch to imaginative fiction writing after I have written or edited a work paper. The reverse is much easier.” 

Though she loves her home in India, Harini enjoys travel. “I would love to come to North America sometime next year. I do have a few work events planned, but I also hope to make it to one of the writer festivals if I can!”

Harini lives in Bangalore with her family, in a home filled with maps. She loves trees, mysteries, and traditional recipes.

Contact Harini on her website: www.harininagendra.com

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