I was raised in a middle-class family in New Delhi, India, where education was key, fresh pomfret fish for dinner was a treat, and budget-conscious holidays in hill stations defined our summers. As a young girl, I was expected to apply myself at college, get a job that would allow me to be financially self-reliant, get married, and have kids—in that order.
Given this worldview, “writing” was a bourgeois activity, encouraged by my mom, an avid fan of Reader’s Digest and Harlequin romances. My mom loved stories, and she made up endless tales on the fly—Ravan, the demon who was afraid of cake, the fairy who couldn’t find her magic, the princess who was forced to marry the tyrannical prince and was rescued just in time by the pauper she loved.
She gave me those things, and that’s how I survived adolescence. My command over the English language made me appear smarter than I was—growing up in post-colonial Delhi, where your zip code and what your Dad did for a living was all that mattered, the only way for a young woman to stand out was her chutzpah and her ability to flaunt her knowledge of big, blocky English words.
Soon, I had a prolific output. At age eleven, my mother made my brother, and I compete in a war of words—we had to write an essay about an out-of-town family wedding we’d attended—and, from the way my mom’s dark eyes shone as she read my offering, I knew I’d scored. In my teens, I spilled my hormonal angst over pages and pages of a daily journal that began with the salutation, “Dear, Diary.” One summer, I did an internship at a leading advertising agency as a copywriter, coming up with pithy slogans and jingles. After high school, when I enrolled in Hindu College at Delhi University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, no one in my family was surprised.
But, convention dictated that I procure a practical degree that would result in a paying job. This catapulted me into law school after graduation. Writing remained my first love, though—while pursuing my legal studies, I wrote a column for ‘Mid-day,’ a weekly newspaper, titled ‘University Beat’, and I was a correspondent for All India Radio, submitting weekly news stories that were read aloud on air. While in my second year at law school, I was approached by a publishing house (Twenty-Twenty Media) to write a Dummies—style book for recent college graduates on the legal profession titled “Law: What’s It All About and How to Get in.”
When a mess of typewritten pages—loosely bound by a haldi-stained pink ribbon—of dozens of interviews with notable legal experts in New Delhi became a published book of 92 pages, I couldn’t get over the shock of it. It was an eye-opening experience to see how good editing and an attractive book cover could transform my word vomit into a brilliantly-structured, polished work. I knew then that when I had the time, I would write books that appealed me to as a reader—fiction that wove imaginary worlds and left me spellbound with the magic of it.
When I met and married my husband and immigrated to the United States, I continued to pursue my legal studies, acquiring both a JD and an Esq. at the end of my name. Writing legal briefs that would persuade judges opened my critical eye and taught me how to turn a good phrase. When I left law practice and stayed home to raise my kids, I began writing in earnest.
Six years ago, my dream came true with the launch of my first novel ‘The Rummy Club’ (Daggerhorn Publishing; 2014) that gave voice through my story to the East-Indian diaspora in the context of 21st century America. In the last six years, I’ve continued to learn the craft of fiction and write stories that have been published in Rigorous Journal, Scarlet Leaf Review, Down in the Dirt magazine, Moon magazine, and Litbreak Journal, amongst others.
The themes of recreating identity, immigration, changing roles of women, and racial conflict deeply resonate with me and inspire me to write. Even before I articulated this concept, I was always concerned about the women who were never given a center-stage in Indian folklore and epic tales like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. What was the story of all these strong women who are never at the center of the narrative? I am passionate about applying these themes to my background and the traditions I grew up with, as well as the new traditions I have co-created with my first-generation children while living in America.
Last year an excerpt from a novel about the Indian caste-system that I was working on—initially published in Green Hills Literary Journal—was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. (http://ghll.truman.edu/ghll30/Judge%20Grace%20and%20Mercy.html) This year, that novel titled THE AWAKENING OF MEENA RAWAT was acquired for publication by Black Rose Writing press. It is scheduled for release on May 27, 2021.
Last month I was signed by literary agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds Agency to represent me in the sale of novel number three, titled NO ORDINARY THURSDAY.
Dishwater-gray morning light floods through my office window as I work on the copy-edit of my manuscript. I’m filled with melancholy that my mom, who passed away last year, won’t be able to read and celebrate my traditionally published novel when it releases next summer. I take comfort from the thought that I am grounding my mother’s flights of fantasy.
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