The Vanishing Veena
Neela seems a shy person. But the 11 year old has dreams of being a famous musician, per- forming for admiring crowds on her veena.
Her instrument has a special family connection. It
once belonged to her grandmother. Neela loves the
intricately-carved veena with its dragon.
When this special veena vanishes, Neela is naturally
Her search for it leads to several unexpected encoun-
ters. One with a teakettle decorated with a familiar-
looking dragon. Another one involves an ominous note.
She also has to think about a legendary curse.
In Sheela Chari’s suspenseful, absorbing first novel
(Disney/Hyperion Books) there are enough
plot twists and colorful characters to hold the attention
of children and also adults. She takes her heroine to
India in search of the vanished instrument where the
young girl discovers it has a history of vanishing and
reappearing. By the time the mystery is resolved it is not
just Neela who has learned a few life lessons. So has her
mother. And her stern music teacher.
Chari, who came to America from Karnataka at a very
young age, is an author of children’s books. She also
teaches college level creative writing courses and con-
ducts writing workshops for school children. Her books
Car Smarts —
part of the High Book Series —
which offers advice to young people on what to consid-
er when buying or leasing a car.
The author welcomed us recently to her Scarsdale
home. Her husband Suresh Chari is an IBM research
manager. The couple has two daughters, 8-year-old
Keerthana and 3-year-old Meera.
is recommended for children (8 to
12), Keerthana who accompanies her mother to book
readings, knows the book. Her mother read it to her two
years ago when the advanced readers copy arrived.
Keerthana, whose favorite books include the
, says she fell in love with
it right from the start. “Some days, Amma would read a
few chapters and on some days it was just one chapter,”
she says laughing. “Amma would always stop when
something really interesting was happening.”
She even remembers how many times the name
Keerthana appears in the epilogue. ‘My name —
Keerthana — is a type of song that you learn on the
veena,’ she said in an interview for a children’s publica-
tion. ‘My name is mentioned about four times in the
epilogue at the end of the book. That’s how my mom fit
me in — Neela plays it on her veena. I think my mom
will write a book about me someday,’ The book came out
as a sort of birthday gift for Sheela’s niece Neela who is
Chari readily admits that her book would not have
turned out to be appealing had she not enjoyed writing
, which runs to 336 pages, is certainly a hyp-
notic tale. It is a mainstream novel but will have special
appeal for Indians abroad, especially in America, who
are intrigued, fascinated or even puzzled by the heritage
of their parents.
A few weeks ago Chari took Keerthana to the Barnes
& Noble bookstore in Union Square, which is close to
New York University. She remembers her daughter
(who says she is writing her own novel on her comput-
er) said her Amma’s dream had come true.
‘Yes, it did.’ Chari remembers telling Keerthana, mus-
ing at the same time ‘ the funny thing about having a
dream is that once it’s fulfilled, you kind of find yourself
asking, so...now what.’ ;
In Sheela Chari’s mystery novel, the heroine is a
Boston desi who travels to India to locate her prized
Arthur J Pais
Sheela Chari with daughters Kirtana and Meera
in this issue
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