I’ve been interviewed on Open Book: Toronto by the wonderful Dorothy Palmer. Here’s an excerpt:
“After completing my MBA, I worked for a while in large corporations (last with Citigroup), till I started believing I was entitled to do what I really wanted. I wanted to read and to write, and not just on stolen hours on weekends. So I got myself a Masters degree in the arts, and then I started sending out my work.
Clark Blaise says about Indian immigrants to [North] America that material success “has been the easy part. After all, they were programmed to study hard, invest wisely, and live frugally. But that other Constitutional promise, ‘happiness,’ has been elusive.” I’m a product of the Indian upper-middle class that Blaise so astutely portrays, and in some ways, I had to give myself permission to be happy and to believe that things would work out. And you know what? They did. Sure, it’s been a bumpy road–I initially received nothing but rejection from every Canadian publication I approached. (Fortunately my work got picked up in the US, otherwise I might have returned to banking.) I now work as a freelance writer and spend much of my time reading and writing.”
If you feel so inclined, you can read the whole thing here.
This weekend, I attended a round table conversation at IFOA on the topic “The Individual in Society”, featuring authors Bharati Mukherjee, Lauren B. Davis, and Johan Harstad. In essence, the three authors discussed why they (and their characters) chose not to conform, their respective motivations and reasoning, and the consequences of questioning the values of the societies they belonged to. I was (predictably) most interested in hearing Mukherjee–I’ve been reading her since high school, and “The Management of Grief” still tears me up.
I was particularly intrigued by Mukherjee’s response to Harstad mentioning that self-effacement was part of his manifesto of living. Harstad said (I’m paraphrasing liberally here) that he always endeavored to cause the least amount of fuss, to minimize his societal footprint, if you will. For instance, he said that when his flight landed, he always remained seated till the passenger in the aisle seat was ready to disembark. Mukherjee replied that it took a certain confidence to behave in such a manner, and that sometimes, in some societies, the only way to succeed was to claw and grasp at the most fleeting opportunites. Here’s the thing: Harstad is from Norway, while Mukherjee’s protagonist is a girl from small-town India. Pushing and shoving are perhaps both inevitable and necessary in a society featuring scarce resources, one that imposes draconian consequences for bucking tradition. I think a small-town girl would be mincemeat if she chose to be self-effacing rather than brash-bordering-on-selfish.
The tricky part, I suppose, is recognizing when to abandon that sort of mindset. I think some are so conditioned to having to fight for the least glint of opportunity that twenty years after, they’re still jumping the queue at the $9.99 India Palace lunch buffet despite earning six-figure incomes.
Anyway. After the talk, I briefly met with Mukherjee and asked her to sign my book, and I didn’t have to spell my name out for her. And of course I gushed like an idiot; poise: when will you make my aquaintance?
Some of you may have noticed a pleasing symmetry in the above post: Clark Blaise and Bharati Mukherjee are husband and wife. I’ll be hearing Blaise read this Thursday at the Rogers Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize event.