Do you only write stories from your own cultural background?
For a long time before I was published, I wrote only western stories – stories set in western families about children with western names and their rituals of growing up. This is because subconsciously I was writing what I was reading. As a child and as an adult, I read mostly western narratives and that seeped into my writing. But my heart wasn’t in those stories. It wasn’t my truth. And when I did write stories from India, either set there or about India and Indian characters, I started getting lesser rejections (or at least more personalised ones) because my stories now had the secret ingredient that makes magic – authenticity. For me more than setting the stories in India or in its culture, it is about personal connection. Why do I want to tell this story? Why me? Am I the right person to tell this story? If so, then I would attempt to bring it to life.
Conversely, do you feel restricted in the subjects and settings you can choose?
I’m a nomad. Although I was brought up in India, I have lived in Singapore and now in the UK. I travel a lot and I gather stories where I go. But I always remember that all the stories filter through my own experiences – of what I know and what I don’t. I have fallen in love with folktales from Antwerp and Prague but I worry about retelling them because I’m not sure I would have the depth of the cultural context. Even to retell a small story, I would need tremendous amount of research and understanding. So I pick and choose projects I can actually invest time and energy into. On a side note, India is a big country with language, ethnic and other diversities and I research a lot even to tell Indian stories.