24 June 2020

Dharma by Vee Kumari Book Spotlight!

About the Book:
Rekha Rao, a thirty-something Indian American professor of art history, is disillusioned by academia and haunted by the murder of her father. She believes police convicted the wrong person, and moves away from her match-making family. 

She’s focused on managing her PTSD and healing her heart, broken by an abusive boyfriend. She gets entangled in a second murder, that of her mentor and father figure. The murder weapon, an idol of the Hindu goddess Durga, is left behind on the body. Detective Al Newton asks her to look into the relationship, if any, between the meaning of the statue and the motive for the murder.

Rekha is attracted to Al but steers clear of him because of her distaste for cops and fear of a new relationship. The two constantly clash, starting a love-hate relationship. Meanwhile, her family sets her up to meet a suitor, an Indian attorney. When police arrest one of her students and accuse her mentor of idol theft, Rekha is left with no other choice but to look for the killer on her own. 

Despite admonitions from Al and bodily harm caused by an intruder, Rekha finds the killer, and in the process, emerges from the cocoon of a protected upbringing to taste the prospect of romance and discover her true identity.

Vee Kumari (Los Angeles)
Actor, Producer, and Author of Dharma: A Rekha Rao Mystery

Purchase Link: Amazon

About the Author:
Vee Kumari grew up in India. She loved to read, and often used it to avoid her mother, who might want her to do a chore or two. It was her mother who directed her to use the dictionary to learn the meanings of new words and construct sentences with them. Vee wanted to become an English professor but went to medical school instead.

Upon coming to the US, Vee obtained a doctorate in anatomy. She became a faculty member at the UC Davis Medical Center, where she worked for over 35 years, and later worked for the Keck School of Medicine for five years. Teaching neuroanatomy to medical students became her passion. She published many scientific papers and won several teaching awards. 

When she retired in 2012, she took classes from The Gotham Writers' Workshop and UCLA Writers Program. Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery is her debut fiction that incorporates her observations on the lives of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in the US.

Vee lives in Burbank and is also an actor who has appeared in TV shows, including Criminal Minds and Glow, and produced and was the lead in a short film, Halwa, which garnered the first prize in HBO's 2019 Asian Pacific American Visionaries (APAV) contest.

She is at work on her next novel about an Indian immigrant family whose American dream shatters when one of their twin daughters goes missing.

Guest Post
Share the first sentence of the book and comment on it.

  • It was a lazy Saturday morning in March that I’d earmarked for indulgences.
We can all imagine a lazy Saturday morning in March. I wanted to show the reader that my protagonist is by no means perfect. She doesn’t jump out of bed ready to take on the day.  Instead, she indulges in some lazy behaviors. It raises the question as to what indulgences does she engage in on Saturdays?
   It was also used to suggest a mild foreboding that something unexpected is going to happen to change her Saturday routine. 

I had another word instead of ‘earmarked’ in all my drafts, but my publisher suggested we stick with ‘earmarked’ to be explicit and conventional. My first novel, my first sentence. I agreed it was best not to go with an unconventional word. I’ll keep that word to myself so I can use it in my next novel.

Let me also comment on how the first sentence is connected to the second, and the second to the third to create the first paragraph.

  • Like sleeping in, enjoying a book or daydreaming over sips of warm chai. 
The unknown of the type of indulgences she craves for is answered in the second sentence. The reader now knows that she loves to read and daydream.

I could have combined the two into one sentence, but that would have removed the intrigue. This sentence also reveals something about my protagonist. Hmm, she likes chai. Could she be Indian? But we know that a lot of people like and drink chai. So the reader lets go of that notion for the time being.

  • The choice was out of my hands, with one phone call. 
The suspense starts here. Who called? What was it about? Was it her neighbor? Her mom? The sentence, though harmless by itself, takes on a greater meaning in the framework of the first two sentences. She doesn’t have a choice, she’s going to do what was asked of her. 

How you came up with characters' names and/or the title–the process, how you chose the name, the significance behind them, whether they are meaningful in any way, etc.

Rekha is an Indian film actress, noted for her versatility and acknowledged as one of the finest artists in Indian cinema, who has acted in more than 190 Bollywood films in her career spanning over 50 years. She has often played strong female characters, often ”the other woman”.  I chose the name because I wanted something exceptional, not commonly used for Indian protagonists. 

The meaning of the name, as Rekha explains to Al toward the end of the novel, is: ‘’a straight line”. It implies honesty, lack of filters, perhaps stubborn and inflexible.

The pronunciation of the name is a little tricky. The ‘R’ is not a harsh trilled sound, rather a softer sound best produced by having the tip of the tongue tap once against the front half of the palate, but not touching the teeth. But I’d be happy whichever way the readers choose to say it
How much research went into your book and how you went about it

I had to do quite a bit of research to ensure the facts presented are accurate.
I hope I haven’t erred by omission. As a former neuroscientist, I was used to 

  • Excavation in India
The story of the discovery of microliths, 35,000-year-old stone tools in Jwalapuram in the state of Andhra Pradesh in central India, is true and comes from an article I came across in the journal, Antiquity (Volume 83Issue 320, June 2009, pp. 326-348), written by first author Chris Clarkson. I wanted to connect Faust and Davidson with an excavation in India where the Durga could be discovered.

 Certainly, no idol was reported to have been unearthed among the Jwalapuram finds, but I used my creative license to invent that. I wrote and obtained permission from the first author to do this. Any reader who notices the discrepancy in the timeline – excavation of the microliths published in 2009 and the beginning of my story in 2017 – will hopefully forgive me.

  • The Durga as the Mahishasura Mardini
I knew the basics about this re-incarnation, and how Durga herself was created from parts of the Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. However, I checked the facts against known texts and made sure to depict the battle between Durga and the buffalo demon, Mahishasura in accurate terms. Two books by Carmel Berkson, “The Divine and The Demoniac, Mahisha’s Heroic Struggle with Durga” published in 1995, and “Ellora Concepts and Style” published in 1992 were most valuable resources.

Again, I’m unclear how I came up with the name Faust for the murdered professor. But it provided a source for the verse that Neil’s mother included in the book she left for him. I Googled the verse innumerable times to make sure that it would bring up the original text and it did. The idea of Neil’s mother leaving a cryptic message for him came from a less well-known mystery novel by P.D. James, “An Unsuitable Job For A Woman”, in which a private detective, Cordelia Gray, embarks on a journey to find the killer of the son of a prominent scientist.

  • Other resources
Contacts at Massachusetts Document Retrieval provided information about the registration of births, adoptions and deaths by suicides in Massachusetts. Harvard Archives Reference office helped me with information on graduate student registration process in 1996-1997.

2019 Chanticleer International Book Awards M&M Mystery & Mayhem Award Semi-Finalist

"A murder mystery set against an intriguing backdrop of Indian mysticism and archaeology makes this a very good pick. Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery may also provide some readers with a glimpse into the rich religious history of India's gods, rich mythology at least as rich to American readers as the more familiar Greco-Roman gods and goddesses. It's one of the hidden treats that makes this novel an enjoyable read for mystery lovers everywhere." - Chanticleer Reviews
Rating: 5/5 star

“Dharma is a lively story about duty, discovery, and growth as much as it is a murder mystery steeped in Indian tradition, yet set in Los Angeles. It will please those seeking strong characterization that drives an underlying story of intrigue and revelation.” 
- Midwest Book Review

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Great Life Press (March 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1938394429
  • ISBN-13: 978-1938394423
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches

1 comment:

  1. This book seemed very interesting to me. How did you get the idea of writing it? It will be very interesting to read this story in the format of your blog. Before that, I scooped ideas only in masterpapers, it will be interesting to read your story



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