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The Rediff Interview/Kavita Daswani
August 10, 2004
Kavita Daswani lived in Hong Kong for over three decades, before moving to Los Angeles in 2000. She says Mumbai is an emotional home for her as well as her Hong Kong-based parents.
Daswani, 36, who started her journalistic career at 17, writing for the South China Morning Post, is the author of two novels.
The Village Bride of Beverly Hills, set in India and America is her newest. It is published by Putnam that also brought out her first novel For Matrimonial Purposes.
The new novel revolves around Priya who comes to America following marriage, and starts discovering marriage isn't working. Even while she thinks her disintegrating marriage is more important than her reputation as a Hollywood reporter, there are serious decisions she must make about life.
She spoke to Senior Editor Arthur J Pais in New York.
You spent about three months in Mumbai a few years ago, looking for a man. What happened?
The mission failed. Everyone around me was so desperate -- far more than I was -- that I should get married. I had a proposal from a man from Nashik, who couldn't be more unsuitable -- particularly when we found out that he had spent two nights in prison for having strippers in a bar he owned.
I did not realise there were bars in Nashik. When my mother turned down the proposal, his aunt said, 'What? She's 30. Does she think she can do better?' Otherwise, there were plenty of men of the thick golden chains/lurex shirts/flower-embossed pants variety, whose first question to me was, 'Can you cook?' There were men I liked but who did not like me. And men who wanted to marry me but I couldn't like them enough.
You say you fond some humour in the whole thing?
Well, I got plenty of laughs. There were a few other women in my situation. We knew each other quite well. We traded and exchanged information. There were a few men who did not like me because of my dark complexion. My acquaintances and friends knew them. We exchanged notes and often laughed at the absurdity and hypocrisy.
How did you meet your husband?
A common friend introduced him. We dated for several months. We have a two-year-old baby. My husband, a businessman living in Los Angeles, is interested in writing.
How does he help you?
In many ways. The new book's title came from him. He is very clever with words.
Does the book have the same title abroad?
In England, it is called Everything Happens for a Good Reason, a line the grandmother uses so much in the book.
Some of your experiences looking for a husband must have found a place in your novel, isn't it?
Yes but much of that experience was used in my first book.
Is it possible a casual reader may think this is yet another book on village brides and dowry?
Soon the reader will discover it is much moren. It is about life's realities, and how a young woman is challenged by a lifestyle that is far different than the one she was used to in India. The story is very contemporary. It is told from a woman's point of view.
What do you expect readers to take from the book?
The book is meant to entertain but it also has a social commentary. It looks at some misunderstood institutions such as a joint family in India in an honest and interesting way.
What does the book tell Indian readers in America, England and elsewhere?
It tells many young women, who face the predicaments Priya (the heroine of her novel) faces that they are not alone. That they don't have to stifle themselves. There are many opportunities to strengthen oneself and still be part of a traditional family.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Jhumpa Lahiri, for her featherlight touch. She manages to get a point across without pounding the reader over the head with it. I like Amulya Malladi (The Mango Season, A Breath of Fresh Air) for her forthrightness.
Have you thought of writing a novel that has no Indian characters?
I have, and even started one, but set it aside for now. I thought it would be fun to do something different, and much more mainstream, without any culture clash. Perhaps I'll tackle that later.
If there is going to be a movie based on the Village Bride� who would you want to play the lead roles?
I can't say I've thought that far ahead.
Sometimes people read too much in a novel. Are you afraid that some of what you write could be misinterpreted?
All the time. But I try not to let it get in the way of what I'm doing, although I always want to be 'fair and balanced.' In the end, it's always the writer's perspective on something, right or wrong.
The writer Paul Theroux once said he was never worried about not getting ideas. But he was afraid of writing a boring book. What fears do you have as a writer?
All of it... not having a good idea, writing something awful, having publishers pass it on, heartbreaking reviews, poor sales. I don't think there is anything, every step of the way, that doesn't cause me some degree of anguish.
You are a widely traveled person. What do you look forward to most in a journey?
Getting there. These days, with a two year old, I'd rather not travel. Getting in the car to buy groceries is a production itself.
Priya had to undergo a lot of changes in America. Though you come from a different background and have lived abroad for many years, it may have been quite an experience settling in America, isn't it?
In Hong Kong, I felt part of a community. In America, I never have. My community here is my husband, child, our assortment of home help, and a few very close friends I have had before moving here. High taxes, not being able to jump into a cab (I live in LA), paying a fortune for housekeepers, coming from a user-friendly place like Hong Kong, it has been a bit of a shock.
What were some things that demanded a lot of energy and time by way of adjustment?
I was a newlywed when I moved to the US. There was a lot of time and energy going into making THAT adjustment. Learning how to cook and take care of the house. Learning how to navigate freeways (I still fear them), knowing I wasn't exactly going to be booked for lunch every day because I have so few friends here. Having to be more self-sufficient, really.
What do you admire in the Indian-American community?
The way they hang on to their culture, and go out of their way to connect with other people. I have had members of the Indian-American community here want to take me under their wing when they found out I was new to the country. I appreciate that.
What do you dislike?
Everyone is so spread out. It's not like you can call someone and say 'come over for tea now' because they either live far away or they are working.
Do you believe in astrology?
I am a great believer in astrology. I was told I would write a book, and I used that as an impetus to get it finished. In terms of timing, astrologers I have been to were absolutely right. Apparently there is at least one more book in me yet.
Photograph: Rediff Archives
Image: Uday Kuckian
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