Skeins follows a group of Indian woman as they travel through Europe learning something about life, each other, and themselves. What served as your inspiration for this uplifting novel?
Both my novels relate to a world well-known to me: urban educated India. I have been travelling a great deal for the past 14 years and I undertake at least one group tour overseas each year. Though the itinerary for the tour described in Skeins is similar to that of a group tour I undertook with Cosmos© in 2015, the similarity ends there as the tourists in the latter included men and women of varied nationalities. Also, when I had traveled to Ireland in 2016, my suitcase had not been transferred in time to the connecting flight by the airline staff at Munich airport during transit. These experiences sparked off my imagination, which led to the birth of Skeins.
There is a great collection of women from several generations in this group. Who was your favorite character to write for?
It’s like asking someone who is your favourite child. Each woman character is alive in my imagination with her own distinct personality, dreams and circumstances. They are all resilient as I don’t sympathize with whiners. I like women who get back on their feet after a hard tumble and find their own path in life without seeking sympathy or support. However, I particularly empathized with the characters Sandra D’Souza and Vidya Rao who are caught in a conundrum and need to make tough decisions.
I enjoyed how the characters each had their own story that contributed to the depth of their character. What were some themes you wanted to capture in this book?
Though the novel is a breezy read, it deals with serious societal issues related to women. I feel very strongly about the thwarting of women’s emotional, professional and intellectual independence and expression by a patriarchal society and a dominant partner who limit her role to that of a mother and a comfort provider. The novel also depicts the generic issues of social hierarchy, aspirational lifestyles, the violence within and without our homes, loneliness and dementia.
What is the next novel that you are working on and when will it be available?
I have a few ideas that I am exploring. When that creative spark is ignited, I know I will not take longer than two months to pen the story and edit it.
With a galaxy of identifiable characters from modern urban India depicted with light-hearted mirth in a travel environment, the novel explores serious issues, such as the quest for an independent identity and economic independence, the violence within and outside our homes, the loneliness of old age and the need for constructive channelization of youthful energy. Spanning events across a little more than a year, Skeins depicts how self-expression and a supportive environment trigger a cataclysmic effect and stimulate the women to realize their dreams.
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Pyre to Fire follows two stories, the fate of a Spanish village during the Inquisition and the contemporary story of a Cuban girl trying to find her roots. Why was this an important book for you to write?
This was the story of my own family with information that I gleaned from all the archival material that I found while researching my own genealogy. While the trajectory of the family, their occupations, names, etc are the not fiction, I had to embellish on the scenes and fill in the blanks. The little girl in Miami is me and it was important to show the relationship between me and my ancestors in as real a way as possible.
I enjoyed the detail in your vision of the village of Fermoselle during Spain’s sudden and devastating conversion to Catholicism. What kind of research did you undertake to ensure your book was accurate?
All my material is primary sourced. I have every single birth, death and marriage certificate as well as land purchases, notarial deeds and last wills of testaments going back to 1545. I then have just wills, notarial deeds and Inquisition records in the archives going back to 1405 Spain and Portugal.
Maria’s character was one that I thought was well developed and captured her soul. What was the inspiration for her character?
I am Maria. The whole description of incidents is exactly as they happened to me.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My next book is The Recipes of the 15 Grandmothers. I was able to locate recipes that were passed to my Mother from Crypto Jewish times through today. The are special in that any keep the kosher laws even when the family was Catholic and are clearly showing a sign of their times. This book is finished and in the editing process.
A compelling work of historical fiction that engages the reader to follow the story of a family from the burning Pyres of the Spanish Inquisition to a young Cuban Catholic girl in Miami, Florida whose soul was ablaze with a desire to return to its’ rightful place among the Jewish people.
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Phoenix tells the story of Sonam and her trials and tribulations as she builds her life as a woman in India. What was your inspiration for this heart-felt novel?
I have been inspired by experience and observation. My family background has been similar, and I have closely observed the lives of urban well-educated women in India. Despite a progressive education and multifaceted skills, they are expected to conform to obsolete family norms and not allowed to make life choices. This is especially true for the year 1983, when the protagonist Sonam wants to extricate herself from an abusive marriage. Indian society then was full of paradoxes: on one hand was the evolution of a knowledge society and unprecedented technological advancement and on the other deeply entrenched dogmatic beliefs in gender stereotypes. Instead of sympathising with a woman who was a victim of circumstances, her family and friends blamed her for her misfortunes and ostracised her.
I felt that this novel confronted gender stereotypes in a bold way. What themes did you want to capture while writing this book?
I have always felt strongly about the unequal playing field provided to women, even in the educated elite class, and the perception that they are appendages to male family members, whether father, brother or husband. Why should women be accorded respect only if they have empathetic men to battle for them? This discrimination is especially difficult to combat since one is pushing against one’s parents and closest family members whom one loves and respects. Through this novel, I wanted to highlight the need to cherish and support daughters as individuals regardless of the presence and status of their life partners.
I felt that Sonam was a multilayered character that was judged by her failings rather than her success. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
While her parents despair of what will happen to Sonam after she leaves her husband and judge her by her failure in relationship, she demonstrates exceptional skills and shines in her workplace as an achiever. Her personality growth from 1983 to 2017 despite all odds illustrates the triumph of the spirit over ostracism, bigotry, negativity and injustice. She is rejuvenated from the ashes, just like the mythical bird, phoenix.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
My next book, tentatively titled ‘A Journey Within’ has a very different story though it also deals with women’s issues. The lives of 16 Indian women of varying age groups intersect when they go on an all-women’s trip to Spain and Portugal. As events unfold during and after the trip, each of them reaches a realization that changes her life forever.
Caught in an abusive marriage, Sonam Aggarwal finds no family support when she struggles to break free. However, with unwavering grit, she makes a place for herself in the world and rises like a phoenix from the ashes of her dead marriage to discover true companionship and professional success.
The evolution of a knowledge society in India that places a premium on human knowledge and skills regardless of gender finally bequeaths her a coveted place in the sun. The novel focuses on the core strength of a woman that asserts her value despite external trappings and women characters who go through their individual struggle with the inevitable challenges that threaten their existence.
Phoenix, a novel, traces the life of Sonam and her upper class family in South Delhi from 1983 to 2017. It highlights the curious paradoxes in Indian society: its global leadership in digitalization contrasted with antiquated prejudices and gender stereotypes.
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