How Co-Writing Our Novel, Raj & Norah Changed Our Relationship
Co-author Peter R Kohli and Shaina Kohli Russo talk to ELLE about the process of co-writing their book, Raj & Norah
Co-authors, and father and daughter, Peter R. Kohli and Shaina Kohli Russo’s book, Raj & Norah: The True Story of Love Lost and Found in WWII, is a biography of the former’s parents, Rajendra Singh Kohli and Norah Eggleton. Set during the tumultuous time of WWII, the story begins in 1939 when 20-year-old Indian student, Rajendra goes to England. When the war breaks out, he enlists, only to find himself severely injured. While he recovers in Naples, he meets Norah, a nurse with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.
Peter an Shaina share their accounts of how writing the book has helped develop their relationship, and gotten them closer.
Shaina On Writing The Book With Her Dad
Peter, with his parents Raj and Norah
Over the years, my dad (Peter R. Kohli) would send me drafts of what is now our collaborative novel, Raj & Norah. It wasn’t until about two years ago I decided to join in on the writing. Now that the book is done, I realised becoming co-authors has been more than just writing together; it’s been about working on our child-parent relationship together.
It’s important to note that in growing up, I didn’t live with my dad. My parents divorced when I was eighteen-months-old, and my siblings and I lived with my mother. Because of this, I would see my dad for a weekend every once in a while, or for the occasional week or two over the summer break. To be fully transparent—my dad and I didn’t have a ‘complete’ relationship. It was strained and sporadic. While writing, we were in different locations and time zones which was difficult, but forced an almost constant communication to be born among us. We talked about the book and then discussed what we did that weekend, how work was going, the latest episode of The Great British Bake-off.
I was getting to know my dad and my dad, me. I can honestly say that we’ve never been closer. I’m grateful that writing the story about my dad’s parents helped me get closer to my parent.
Peter On Growing Up With Raj And Norah
Raj and Norah
My relationship with my mother was, to say the least, difficult. She was a tough lady; she demanded a lot from me. My father, however, was the complete opposite. He led a tough life and decided he didn’t want that for me. So, I had one parent who pushed me to achieve great heights in life and the other who went with the flow. Unfortunately, I favoured my father’s laid-back approach, which did not turn out well for me. It wasn’t till many years later, after I had a home and a job of my own, that I realised that I wished my father had been as tough on me as my mother.
I had a lot of unresolved items with my mother, and when she passed away in 2002, it was devastating for me. A few months before my father passed away in 2019, I spent two weeks with him. Just him and I in one room from dawn to dusk. We had discussed everything there was to discuss. All the blanks in his life that I had wondered about were no longer left blank. I believe that the two of us were at peace with each other and when he did pass, and even though I was upset, it was nothing close to that of my mother’s passing.
Peter On Working With His Daughter
Peter with daughter, and co-author, Shaina
When Shaina (Kohli Russo) joined to complete the book, which laid dormant on my computer for nearly 20 years, my immediate reaction was to be protective of my writing. But it was because of her perseverance that the book became a reality.
What writing this book has done for me is to bring me closer to my daughter, and I have developed an incredible amount of respect and awe for her talents. There were times when I did not agree with the direction she wanted to take a chapter, but in the end, writing this book with her has been one of the great joys of my life, and I could never have completed it without her.