NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - Snooping around as a teenager, Tishani Doshi came across a bunch of love letters written by her Welsh mother to her Indian father and thought it would make a good novel.
“The Pleasure Seekers,” just launched in India, was several years in the making for the 30-something Doshi, a debut novel for the poet, dancer and journalist who has also co-authored a biography of Sri Lanka bowler Muttiah Muralitharan.
The novel tells the story of the Patel-Joneses, of the Indian Babo who falls in love with the Welsh Sian and how they navigate their way through the uncharted territory of a “hybrid” Indian family in the latter half of the 20th century.
Doshi, who worked in London before moving to India in 2001, spoke to Reuters about “The Pleasure Seekers” and why her parents’ cross-cultural marriage was perfect for her first novel:
Q: How much of “The Pleasure Seekers” is autobiographical?
A: “I think to be fair there’s a lot of real elements in the book, a lot of the characters began with an idea of a real person. Particularly the main love story of Babo and Sian, that was very loosely based on younger selves of my parents. But sometimes reality can bog you down and I was not interested in writing a memoir or biography and the fictional part is really exciting because you can take real things and make them into even better things. So yeah, it’s hard to say what’s real and what’s not because after spending a lot of time with it, that line blurs and it almost needs to blur if it is going to be fiction.”
Q: As a teenager you discovered your mother’s love letters to your father. Did that inspire the novel?
A: “This story of my parents, I always thought it was full of all the requirements of a good novel because it had the drama, it had the love story, it had the conflict. Actually, I think when I was growing up, I wasn’t really aware of all the backdrop of that because everything was presented very hunky-dory, like it’s all natural. When I discovered these letters, I guess I was snooping around when I shouldn’t have been. I realized I caught the undertone of the fact there were a lot of hardships and sacrifices and conflict on both sides because it was this cross-cultural marriage and because they both came from fairly conservative families.”
Q: Did it require a lot of research?
A: “Not a great deal. It was just sort of basically historically having to peg certain events in the world to certain events in the characters’ lives. Those had to be obviously consistent with what really happened. But there were some really interesting things that I had heard. For example, my mother saw the Beatles before they became famous. That’s in the novel. I thought that it was a great detail because seeing the Beatles, the greatest rock band ever, before they became famous but obviously then you embellish that and you make it into something else.”
Q: Did your parents know about the novel?
A: “My parents always knew that I was scribbling away on something. I did give them a warning, a heads-up that they might have something to do with the story. But they are very open people, they were very supportive. They haven’t read the book yet and I am not pressurising them to read it. Hopefully, at some point they will read it. And I think they’ll let me know what they think.”
Q: You are a published poet, dancer and now a novelist. Which do you find the most fulfilling?
A: “I think for me the combination of all these things has been really important and I like the idea of being able to straddle both. I like to try to do other things as well. If you are just doing one thing, it is a sort of univision. You are too much involved in that world, whether it is dance or writing. I like the idea of getting your influences from other art forms, other sources.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: “I am back to poems. I am working on some poetry which has really been wonderful because after the novel which was quite exhausting, fulfilling but exhausting.”
Q: What is your writing schedule?
A: “I have trained myself to become a morning person. I believe that I work best from when I wake up and up until lunch time. I try to work for 4-5 hours in the morning at a desk. After lunch, I just leave it. I don’t go back to it. I eat a big lunch and then I feel sleepy and nothing is fresh.”
Q: Any advice for aspiring writers?
A: “Everybody has to find their own way. But one thing you can’t go wrong with is to read as much as you can, as widely and deeply as possible. I think not enough people read and too many people want to write books. In order to write good books, you have to read good books so that you can recognize what they are.”
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith