NAW interview with Jane Borges…

NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?

Jane Borges –I must have been 10 or 11 years old, when I discovered that I could write. Until then, I detested reading books and despite my mother having tried her best to inculcate the habit, she realised that it took a lot to just get me to pick up a book and read. Honestly, I was a very impatient child; I liked books for their pictures and not the text. The most vivid recollection of the books that really drew me in were Tinkle comics, the Ladybird stories of “Peter and Jane” and fairytales. My only knowledge about prose and poetry were from the lessons we were taught in school texts.
In fact, as embarrassing as it may sound, by the age of 15, I had only read one Enid Blyton novel. Reading to me was nothing, but time-consuming and tedious. Also, for a long time, I felt that writers were really wasting their time. It’s actually ironic that I took to writing so easily.

But not reading did not hinder my storytelling skills. I made up a lot of stories as a kid, which adults would have otherwise construed as lying. Fortunately, my family knew how much to take from these make-believe stories.  I loved imagining situations. It came as no surprise to my mother, when at the age of 12, I, on my own accord, e-mailed one of my poems to a weekly magazine of The Times of Oman, in Muscat and managed to get it published. A lot of my school friends and teachers loved what I wrote, and this encouraged me to write more. I continued to pen more stories and poems. From then onward, there was no looking back.

Today, it is a very different story. I enjoy and appreciate books as much as I love writing. They go hand-in-hand; reading a new author always inspires and influences me to write better. And unlike that little girl, who could not stand books, I now hoard them and am really proud of my library. It is a shame that I did not read as a child, but I guess, it was also important for my growth. It also goes to show that reading and writing are two independent processes; one must not negate ones capacity because of their lack of understanding or knowledge of the other. At the same time, one must not assume that a good reader would be a better writer or vice versa.

NAW- Do you write prose only or delve into other genres also?

Jane Borges –Well, I love poetry. I think it is the most beautiful, understated and challenging genres in literature. Unlike prose, which gives you ample space to describe situations, emotions and characters, poetry expects you to delve into a similar state, but with a certain craft that is a rarity today. Every time I read T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, I feel his heaviness in my heart. His notion of the wasteland, which was written over a century ago, reverberates even today. As disconnected and fragmented as it is, the soul of his work lingers. That is what poetry is all about. However, I am more partial to prose (short stories in particular), because it is something I am more comfortable with. Having said that, my first published work was non-fiction. So I have tried more or less everything.

NAW- What are you reading right now? Are there any authors that you would name as influences?

Jane Borges –I am reading Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Son. Adichie is my new favourite. She is such a powerful author. The beauty of her work lies in its simplicity. She provides a different quality to human emotion; her stories stay with you much after you have finished reading it. However, my love for short stories stemmed from the works of R.K. Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Saadat Hasan Manto and Roald Dahl; they are undoubtedly my greatest influences. Manto wrote in Urdu, and while I have only read the English translations of his work, I can only imagine how splendid his original works in Urdu were.

NAW- Tell us about the research you did for the book?

Jane Borges –The book is a collection of narratives of 13 powerful women, who played a significant role in Mumbai’s Underworld. The original research and concept of Mafia Queens of Mumbai was S. Hussain Zaidi’s. He’s a veteran in crime journalism, and knows Mumbai’s Mafia at the back of his hand. Back in 2009, when I was working as a sub-editor with The Asian Age, Mr Zaidi, who was the then resident editor of the newspaper, happened to read some of the short stories that I posted on my blog. It was he, who suggested that I take my writing career seriously. I didn’t think much about it then, because I was just 21. However, he got me to work on the crime beat for a while, and gave me the much-needed boost. After he was confident that I could take it up, he landed me the deal to co-author with him.  I was over the moon, more because I had been given the opportunity at a very young age. I helped him put his original research together and did some fresh, additional research. We started gathering and collating more material for the book in 2009. Over and above this, it took about one-and-a-half years to write the book.

NAW- Mafia Queens of Mumbai is a very interesting book and I was wondering why no one else thought of it before. I don’t think there are many similar books about women mafia although the underbelly of the city has been dealt before in fiction. Was it difficult to find material considering there was nothing much to refer to?

Jane Borges –Like I mentioned before, the concept was Mr Zaidi’s, I helped him take it forward. Apart from Clare Longrigg, who wrote Mafia Women — a hard-hitting account of the wives, daughters and partners of men in the Italian Mafiosi — very few have actually written about them. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that such women exist/ed. So, personally, I think it was very brave of Mr Zaidi to think of even writing about something for which there was very, very little material. Most of these women flourished at a time when crimes by women were barely documented. This made the challenge of compiling these tales even more arduous.

My biggest challenge was getting in touch with some of the women. To break ice with them took weeks and sometimes months together. For instance, it took almost five months before I could trace one of my protagonist Jenabai’s daughter. It didn’t end there, I had to visit her often, to convince her to speak about her mother, who had died years ago. It’s not easy to get the family or the person concerned to speak about their/her role in the Mafia. Another most difficult task was meeting drug baronesses’ Jyoti Adiramlingam and Mahalaxmi Papamani. In fact, Jyoti was the first person I met for the book. The experience was daunting. The other is Papamani, who is one of Mumbai’s biggest narco queens, used to sell drugs in the garb of a vegetable vendor. For two months, I masqueraded as a social worker, and sometimes a vegetable buyer to get in touch with her. It was challenging to get her to speak. She just refused to meet me; once she set up a mole, who tried to fool me by claiming she was Papamani. Fortunately, I had seen Papamani’s photographs and could see through her ploy.

NAW- Mafia Queens of Mumbai is a serious book and reads like a documentary in parts. Any plans to write a lighter book anytime soon?

Jane Borges – Yes, definitely. I am now focusing on compiling a collection of short stories. I love the imaginary world, more than the real, because it is more flexible and allows you to create ideas from absolutely nothing or mould it from something. With Mafia Queens of Mumbai, we had to tread very carefully; we were writing about real people, and though, in some instances, we had to imagine how certain situations played out, we were working within a very restricted framework. One cannot mess with facts. And, knowing how I work, I really saw it as a constraint.

NAW- Writing is not looked upon as a full time vocation in many countries, were you aware that making a living out of writing is difficult when you first started out?

Jane Borges – If you believe in yourself, nothing should stop you from taking up writing as a full-time vocation. But to be honest, writing is the most underpaid and undervalued profession in the industry. Even today, actors are paid more than the writers, who are equal contributors, if not more, to the successful movies that top the box office. I think it is quite unfair. At the same time, I consider it a noble profession that has the capacity to move and transform. A writer’s work is pervasive, and is not restricted by boundaries. I feel more human every time I feel for an imaginary person from Nigeria or Afghanistan, through an author’s work. The dignity of this profession lies in the fact that it is not corrupted by money. The day it is, a lot of trash will be generated.

Fortunately, until now, I have had a full-time job as a sub-editor with a daily, so the reality of dedicating oneself completely to the vocation hasn’t really hit me. But, someday I do intend to take it up full-time. I just don’t think now is the right time. I am still young, and I need to learn a lot more, before I give myself wholly to the profession.

NAW- NAW receives a lot of queries from writers who have no idea how to edit. In fact, some even say that writing is the easy part, editing is difficult. How do you edit your work? Do you take help from friends, family for feedback?

Jane Borges – It is amusing, but I am actually a full-time sub-editor with a newspaper daily, and that is how I began my profession in journalism. Having worked as a sub-editor for over five years, basic editing now comes very naturally to me. Every time I write a story, I am very conscious about the sentence structure or the punctuations. Even my short stories are very short, because at the back of my mind, I work with the notion that your copy needs to be tight. Sometimes, this is not a good thing, because editing restricts your creativity. But I need to live with the fact…It is now part of my sub-conscious.

That apart, since I was a child, I always got my mother to read my first draft. She is my biggest critic. When she does not understand something, I know it is time to re-write my work. For me, she is my target audience. If she understands what I write, everyone will. Now, my father and brothers — all of whom are non-readers — and a few really close friends, take time out to read my stories. Their feedback means a lot to me.

NAW- What (in your opinion) is the most difficult part of a book publishing process- the writing, editing or to hunt for a publisher?

Jane Borges – I think it is the writing part. A good publisher will come to you, if your book deserves to be read. For that, you need to write really well.

NAW- Please name your 5 favourite books.

Jane Borges – I really don’t have any favourites because every good book has influenced me differently. But there are a few books, which I think cannot ever be replicated. These include: Gabriel Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the scriptwriter and Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom. Some amused me; some made me cry and some made me laugh. In the end, I felt accomplished as a reader. Books should have that impact on you.

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

Jane Borges – I am channelising all my energies on writing a collection of short stories. It is going to take time, because until now, I had not really considered publishing my own work. The ideas are there, only, the wheels just need to be set in motion.


JaneJane Borges is a 25-year-old Mumbai based Indian journalist, her last job was as chief sub-editor for the daily The Asian Age. She is the co-author of the bestselling non-fiction Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women From the Ganglands, which was shortlisted for “The Economist Crossword Book Awards 2011”.

Jane began writing at the age of 12; her short stories and poems were published in the Times of Oman in Muscat, where she spent her childhood and early teenage years. She later moved to Mumbai, where she completed her Bachelor’s in Mass Media with majors in journalism from Sophia College, and Master’s in English Literature from SNDT University. Her career in journalism took off at the Mumbai daily DNA in 2007. In 2008, she joined The Asian Age, where she spent over five years as a sub-editor on the news desk. It is here that she got the opportunity to co-author her first book with leading Indian crime journalist S. Hussain Zaidi. She now hopes to take the next big leap, and focus on doing what she loves most — writing stories.

She is an avid reader, but enjoys writing more, and spends most of her spare time either imagining stories or penning them down. To read her other works, you can visit her blog


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