Tag Archives: #nehakirpal

Indian Artists Confront Fast Fashion in Desi Communities

One cotton shirt uses up to 3,000 liters of water to make. One denim jacket takes 7,500 liters. That’s enough drinking water to last one person for six years! The fashion industry is the world’s second-largest polluter. The fast fashion industry, particularly, wastes around 93 billion cubic meters of water every year, which is enough to meet the needs of around 5 million people.

Recently, seven Indian artists and graphic designers came together to create specially commissioned artworks and comic strips that underline water consumption by the fashion industry. The participating artists—Priyanka Paul, Aditi Mali, Manasi Deshpande, Mehek Malhotra, Vinu Joseph, Param Sahib, and Sonali Bhasin—launched their artworks on their social media handles. The artistic intervention was organized by The ReFashion Hub, a collective working to bring together multiple stakeholders—including fashion businesses, textile bodies, industry leaders, young designers, artisans, and consumers—invested in wastewater reuse and management in the textile industry with long-term positive climate impact.

The aim was to raise awareness around the pressing issue of wastewater stewardship with a focus on bringing climate action to fashion.

Talking about the initiative, The ReFashion Hub’s Divya Thomas says, “By 2050, fashion will become the second-largest water polluter. It’s imperative for us as consumers, to come together to talk about the consequences of fashion on climate, as well as what each of us can do to make fair fashion choices.”

The artists were invited to design comic strips that capture a sarcastic take on producing a T-shirt, and the resources that it drains, with a key focus on water wastage. The resulting works showcase the absurdity of the industry, hoping that viewers take note and make responsible decisions.

As a child, Pune-based webcomic artist and freelance animator Aditi Mali fondly recalls being more excited to receive clothes that her cousin sister would outgrow than buy new ones. In fact, she finds reusing what she has so therapeutic that she has pretty much stopped buying new clothes. “I would like to revamp my T-shirts into cute tops and make them into bags instead of buying new ones,” says Mali.

Comics by self-taught illustrator and poet Priyanka Paul and Mumbai-based designer and visual artist Mehek Malhotra (Giggling Monkey) bring attention to the amount of water that our clothes consume. Through the project, Paul explored the ethicality and constant tryst we have with capitalism and fast fashion in terms of everyday practices and the functionality of clothing, the rise of thrift shops, and what makes up eco-consciousness. Malhotra’s artwork was made to start the conversation around the grim reality of the fast fashion cycle. “We can afford a 300 rupee T-shirt but we can’t afford to repair the damage it does to the environment. Buying responsibly and investing in the right fabrics is the key to being more understanding of the environment,” she says.

Political satirist, independent journalist, and video storyteller Vinu Joseph’s main objective was to make his audience aware of something they might have taken for granted all this while. “It’s challenging to convey something this serious in a funny comic video without losing the essence of the original subject,” he says about the experience. Designer and mixed media graduate Param Sahib agrees that millennials need to know that the damage is being done. His series is a fun take on how things are being made, and where we are going wrong—with a plea to start looking out for sustainable options.

Mumbai-based artist Manasi Deshpande’s sarcastic comic addresses the issue of greenwashing in the fast fashion industry. The ironic comic portrays a garment worker making a ‘Save Water’ T-shirt. The idea, according to her, was to show the hypocrisy of the fast fashion industry, the environmental cost, and the water pollution that tags along.

Further, Delhi-based cartoonist and illustrator Sonali Bhasin’s amusing piece has polka-dotted frogs narrating the cause of the loss of their aquatic habitat—a comment on the impact that wastewater from dyeing has on our natural environment. “What if nature talked back? What if you could see the impact of every impulse buy you’ve ever made, and how would that feel?” she asks.

The artworks are part of a series of dynamic, youth-focused programs and initiatives to raise awareness about water usage, including public video projections, installations, and the Fashion Forward Fellowship, India’s first fellowship focusing on wastewater stewardship. The five-week fellowship program ends in April with one winning sustainable capsule collection.

The next project by The ReFashion Hub and YWater launched a photo series by photographer Prarthna Singh to inspire young fashion-conscious people to rethink fast-fashion consumerism with more fair and sustainable choices. It will continue to promote traditional crafts and support local artisans through its textile exhibit Karkhana Chronicles.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 


 

Maulik Pancholy’s Book ‘Best At It’ Confronts Being a Gay Indian American In the Midwest

This delightful debut novel by award-winning actor Maulik Pancholy is the story of Rahul Kapoor, an awkward 12-year-old Indian American gay middle-grade boy coming into his own in a small town in Indiana. One of Time Out‘s “LGBTQ+ books for kids to read during Pride Month,” The Best at It has also garnered a coveted Stonewall Honor from the American Library Association.

Pancholy, based in Brooklyn, New York, has a career spanning hit television shows (30 Rock, Whitney), animated favorites (Phineas and Ferb, Sanjay and Craig), the Broadway stage, and films. He also served on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and is the co-founder of the anti-bullying campaign Act to Change.  

As an LGBTQ kid, Pancholy never saw himself in the books he read. And so, while it’s a work of fiction, this is also a deeply personal book that reflects his own struggles, coming to terms with his LGBTQ identity, and the joy of discovering how to be the best at being oneself. Moreover, it’s a love letter to his grandparents. 

Home denotes everything that’s safe and comforting for Rahul. His world consists mostly of his 72-year-old wheelchair-bound grandfather, Bhai, who is full of life, and almost like an older brother to him, as well as his best friend, Chelsea. Like many young second-generation (‘ABCD’) children his age, Rahul is embarrassed by his ethnic identity and wants to belong with the cool (read ‘white’) kids in school. 

Telltale signs of his being somewhat different from the others begin to show up early on—when he’s terrified of dancing with a girl and can’t help staring at a boy. His bullying classmate, Brent Mason, constantly picks on him for being different – making jokes about his culture and asking him if he’s gay. And then there is also Justin Emery, another classmate who Rahul is secretly attracted to, and wants to emulate.

Amidst all this confusion, Rahul’s grandfather tells him that if he dedicates himself to something that he is good at and becomes the best at it, then nobody can stop him and stand in his way. After many trials and errors—football team tryouts (which he fails miserably at) and professional acting auditions (where he faces racial discrimination)—he finally discovers his true talent and joins his school’s Mathletes’ team. Ultimately, Rahul finds that being the best is about finding something you love and doing it until you get better at it. 

Pancholy lightheartedly touches upon several serious themes, such as ethnicity, inclusivity, bullying, and sexuality. There is also a reference to the 2015 film The Man Who Knew Infinity, based on the life of the famous Indian mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who faced racism, bullying, and prejudice in the early 1900s—which he managed to overcome, and came out as a winner.

The book is also filled with lots of stereotypes that good-humoredly poke fun at the Indian community, such as nerdy Indian kids who get perfect scores on their math homework, Indian ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ hooked to Bollywood song-and-dance numbers, and all Indian grandfathers having a “Mr. Rogers-worthy supply of cardigans”. 

Towards the end of the book, rainbow colors mark the celebration of Holi at an international carnival of dance, music, art, and food with participation from people of various countries. The festival of colors commemorates the triumph of good over evil—“the chance to forgive people and repair relationships.” And so, an important takeaway from the book is: “Being different is what makes us fun.” 

Overall, reading this fun and the breezy book is a pleasurable experience, largely due to Pancholy’s playful and infectious writing that is filled with childlike energy and enthusiasm.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Azaan Sami Khan’s Debut Album is Adnan Sami’s Musical Legacy

Composer Azaan Sami Khan recently released his debut solo album Main Tera. Son of popular singer, musician, music composer, and pianist Adnan Sami, Azaan is known for giving the Pakistani entertainment industry hit after hit in critically and commercially acclaimed films such as Parey Hut Love, Superstar, and Parwaaz Hai Junoon

The album will be released under the banner of HUM Music, an initiative established by HUM Network Limited to support and highlight the incredible music and diverse roster of creative musicians that Pakistan has to offer. Its nine-song tracklist also includes a collaboration with the legendary maestro Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

In this exclusive interview, he talks about the idea behind the album, his relationship with his father, and his recent anthem of hope “Tu Hai Mera”.

You are Adnan Sami’s son. Tell us about your earliest musical influences, and the relationship you share with your father. 

If anything, I am a huge fan of my father’s work, I am probably his biggest fan. I listen to every single thing he’s ever made and study it thoroughly because after all, he is my musical legacy. It’s my responsibility to understand what all he has done in his musical career and hope to live up to that standard. That in itself is very important to me, and I am very proud to be his son. 

Tell us about the experience of collaborating with the legendary Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

It was incredible, to say the least. I feel truly honored to have worked with him and to have learned so much from him in the process. He added his own magical touch to the song, and it is something I feel his fans would surely enjoy as well.

Your recent track “Tu Hai Mera” is a kind of anthem of hope that was sung by some of the most sought-after names in the industry. Tell us more about the song, the idea behind it, and its process of collaboration. 

It will always remain one of the most important songs of my life. As I finished the song in the studio, I felt proud and happy that I had the honor of working with the artists that I did. It’s a song that really went beyond my expectations, and will always hold that special place in my heart. 

I got to work with Sufi legends, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, and Hadiqa Kiani, who will always hold a very special place in my heart because she sang for my father many years ago. I also worked with Ali Tariq, who’s a fantastic singer and a great friend. And Hadiya Hashmi, who is absolutely mindblowing. 

Tell our readers about our debut solo album Main Tera.

The album is basically a musical amalgamation of my personal experiences. It defines who I am and who I’ve been up to this point. Whoever listens to it would probably get to know me better than they would when they hear me speak or any other way. It gets very dark in some places and is super happy in some, so there are reflective points in every song. Fortunately, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some tremendous music producers and artists from around the world, who have all put their hearts and soul into bringing this album to fruition.

Main Tera is about the innocence in the first steps of falling in love. The album is a rollercoaster ride of romance. It’s love and romance in their different forms, and you’ll get to see different shades of love being explored. No matter what the language of the songs is, it’s still catering to the feeling.

What is the idea and inspiration behind it?

Everything in this album is a personal experience. Each song has its own personal story. I was motivated by feelings that took over the key moments of my life, which I also feel the audience might resonate with. The main idea was to be vulnerable in this album and to put out a side of me that the audience hasn’t seen before.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box.

Preeti Vasudevan Dances Stories of Ethnic Folklore to Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello

New York-based award-winning choreographer and performer Preeti Vasudevan is known for creating provocative contemporary works from Indian tradition. Founder and artistic director of the Thresh Performing Arts Collaborative, her mission is to create experimental productions that foster a provocative dialogue with identity, and our relationship with heritage cultures and contemporary life. 

Preeti has been recognized by a number of prestigious institutions in the US for her outstanding contribution to dance. Cultural diplomacy is key to her work through education. As an artist alum of the US Department of State, she leads groundbreaking educational initiatives encouraging self-expression and artistic risk through cross-cultural creative exchange among artists and the community.

Preeti partners her educational and creative leadership with world-impacting organizations, such as Silkroad founded by legendary musician Yo-Yo Ma and the National Dance Institute founded by celebrated dancer Jacques D’Amboise. Recently, she started The Red Curtain Project (RCP), a new initiative from Thresh dedicated to sharing stories from around the world. Born during the NYC Covid lockdowns, RCP’s innovative digital stories highlight universal tenets, inspiring children to see connection and unity between cultures, while also encouraging them to live by the principles featured.

In this exclusive interview, she talks among other things about her earliest influences, her new operatic musical theater production, and the process of presenting ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop.

How did you get interested in Bharatnatyam, and who were your earliest influences?

I was always interested in dancing, any dance would motivate me. My mother always says that she saw me dancing even before walking! I had this high energy that would make me want to move all the time. As we are from the south of India, I think my mother wanted me to learn the culture from where we are. At that time, I was growing up in New Delhi. So, it was all the more reason not to lose the connection to one’s roots. 

My earliest influences were dances I saw through the cultural exchange programs between India and China and India and the USSR. Living in the capital, we were exposed to some of the most incredible dances, something I had never seen before. The dynamism and costumes all were mesmerizing. I grew up watching some of the Indian greats as well from Kelucharan Mohapatra to Birju Maharaj to the Jhaveri sisters, teachers from the Kalamandalam. 

My first proper influence was my own teacher, the late Shri U.S. Krishna Rao who made me see dance for its own beauty and didn’t make it over precious. He loved cricket and was a chemistry professor, so he put it all in perspective as something all humans must do – dance! My own gurus, the Dhananjayans, were like my second parents. I owe a lot to them beyond dancing. They taught me how to look at life and where movement can come from. These further opened my eyes to the world of human expression through movement.

How did your dance evolve with the influence of a western and eastern range of dance and theater forms while you were teaching in Japan?

Japan made me grow up! I was used to traveling by then, touring and performing a lot. But these were mostly in India or the west. The Far East was still a mystery to us in the 90s. When I got a cultural scholarship to go there, I was partly nervous and excited – I love adventures! Japanese dance, Nihon Buyo made me experience my own body differently. The kimono, which first confined my body, taught me how to use my spine to liberate myself from the inside; the fans held during dance taught me how to channel the energy of emotions through my fingers onto them as an extension of my body. Thus, when I did perform the Bharatanatyam, I felt all these changes from the inside and made my dancing more three-dimensional and alive than before. 

Prior to Japan, I was a cultural delegate at the India International Dance Festival where the American dance festival came to New Delhi for three weeks to teach Indian dancers modern dance. Almost everything was new for me – falling, lying down, and moving, touching another dancer…between giggles and shocks, I learned to open my eyes to see movement as one of the most amazing energies there is! After these two crucial influences, I felt it seamless to collaborate and continue investigating my own approach to dance. Over the years, I have cross-trained in various forms of movement, theater, and voice to keep searching for the next meaning.

Preeti Vasudevan Choreographing at the Joyce Lab.

What is the idea behind your company Thresh, and tell us about some of the work that you do with it?

Thresh is like the threshold – it is about the present – the now. We come with a past and we go into an unknown future. What’s important is how we see and experience the present. It’s the liminal zone. That’s how Thresh came about in 2005 after I completed my Master’s from the Laban Centre in London. It’s an experimental platform to bring international artists together to create a provocative dialogue on identity and our relationship between our contemporary lives and heritage cultures. It’s about finding the universal experience and truth from the diverse voices as a collective.

Tell our readers about the Red Curtain Project, your recent initiative of sharing stories from around the world that was born during the NYC Covid lockdowns.

The Red Curtain Project (RCP) was born due to Covid. When all performances shut down, we had to find out what we stood for and what we could do for the larger society. Digital storytelling came out of this. My husband, Bruno Kavanagh, does online learning and therefore, he jumped in to help Thresh develop this amazing online platform. We have created 14 stories to date including one of our highlights with the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Through RCP, we have also done similar work for a Lebanese organization on stories from the war. Now, we are embarking on a new social impact venture called First Voices where we are working in partnership with the Indigenous people of Montana in the US to create a series on ancestral creation stories. This will lead into school workshops within the reservations to empower the youth with leadership skills through the arts.

Describe the process you use to present ancient, contemporary, and mythological digital stories through movement, theatrics, music, visual art, and a simple red curtain as a prop?

Thresh has a great network of artists globally who share a common mission of sharing a story. For RCP, we work with children’s book publishers to select stories based on chosen themes and then license them. We then seek composer and visual artists to work alongside me as I do the choreography. This year, I have been the sole dancer due to distancing and restrictions. But from next year, I will be seeking other dancers who can be a part of this incredible sharing. The Red Curtain is a metaphor – in theater, we reveal everything once we open the curtain and the color red has multiple symbolisms the world over. In my apartment in New York, we have a red curtain. I simply used it, and it became the indicator for our project!

What are you working on next?

As mentioned, we have created our project First Voices. On December 10th, we launched the first performance online. We welcome everyone to come to see this and be part of our new adventure. Apart from this, we are also in residence creating a new operatic musical theater production called L’Orient: Search for the Real Lakme. This is a 21st-century take on the 19th-century French opera, Lakme. It looks at gender and Orientalism, and plays with Bharatanatyam, ballet, opera, and Carnatic music. It hopes to be a really fun production with a lively cast of unusual performers. We have received a residency commission from Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, NY.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box.

‘I Want My Work to Encourage People to Stop & Think’ Says Michelle Poonawalla

(Featured Image: Michelle Poonwalla and Circle of Life Artwork)

Artist, businesswoman, philanthropist, and socialite Michelle Poonawalla recently showcased a series of her new artworks at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. Michelle’s four oil on canvas works—Blue Wave, Desert Rose, Forest Flutter and Flutter Fly—come from the artist’s Butterfly Series, and feature three-dimensional, sculptural elements affixed to the canvas. Painted in bold colors, the works feature gold-effect butterflies.

Futter Fly

Poonawalla lives and works between London and Pune. Her practice combines cutting-edge technology and traditional artistic mediums, often utilizing sound, video mapping, projection, motion sensors, and other techniques. She has previously exhibited her work at the Saatchi Gallery, London; Alserkal Avenue, Dubai; and as a collateral project at the Kochi Biennale, India. More recently, Poonawalla has also begun exploring work with shorter digital format films.

In this exclusive interview, she spoke to us among other things about her earliest artistic influences, nature as inspiration, her favorite art medium, and the butterfly symbol in her works.

Tell us a little about your oil-on-canvas works at the Tao Art Gallery’s exhibition The Tangible Imaginative for the Mumbai Gallery Weekend.

MP: The four works come from my Butterfly Series which evolves beyond traditional 2D painting, incorporating sculptural elements that bring the artworks off the canvas and into the viewer’s space. A lot of my work features the butterfly symbol which for me represents both beauty and freedom–an ephemeral creature that is the result of a metamorphosis.

What was the idea, inspiration behind them?

MP: The works all have different inspirations and stories behind them. For example, Blue Wave is inspired by Mumbai and references the city through its free-flowing language and color. Desert Rose, which also features butterflies, represents the inherent beauty in nature’s patterns as I allowed the butterfly sculptures to fall naturally on the work before affixing each one where they landed.

A theme often addressed in my work is the strength and beauty of nature and the importance of preserving it. This is perhaps most obvious in Forrest Flutter. Painted in dark earthy hues and greens, the work celebrates the forest. 

You are the granddaughter of the iconic south Mumbai architect Jehangir Vazifdar. Tell us about some of your earliest artistic influences.

MP: From an early age, I was taken to some of the greatest museums and galleries in the world. I have always loved art and painted throughout my life and studied Interior Design at university. I was perhaps most inspired by my grandfather, Jehangir Vazifdar, a renowned painter and architect. My grandfather had a very special technique in oil painting with a ruler which he shared only with me, and it is important for me to carry on his legacy.

Your work is known to explore universal, socially engaged topics. Tell our readers about some of these themes.

MP: Art is a universal language with a powerful voice, and I’m conscious my work is used to spread a positive message. For example, I have recently produced a series of video works that explore environmental change and other issues around us today. I want my work to encourage people to stop, think, and introspect. Be it climate change, water scarcity, or violence in our world, people should always stop and think.

Desert Rose

Which is your favorite art medium? Do you feel that digital art is the future of art?

MP: I enjoy acrylic and work in acrylic for my butterfly paintings. However, I wouldn’t say I have one favorite medium. I’ve worked in oils a lot and I am looking forward to exhibiting some drawings at the 079 Stories gallery in Ahmedabad soon.

Digital art is certainly something we are seeing more of but I think physical painting will always have a place – it is important to be able to physically engage with artwork in person. I’ve always been interested in combining cutting-edge technology and traditional art forms, and digital art has allowed me to create huge immersive installations where the viewer is completely emerged in the visual image. Technology gives an artist the freedom to explore endless possibilities; it allows a greater feeling. I also think digital art speaks the language of the younger generation, and it keeps their interest in art growing.  

What are you working on next?

MP: I’ve got several projects coming up, including showing work in a drawings exhibition at the beautiful 079 Stories in Ahmedabad in February. Later in the year, I will also be showing work in a group exhibition in Delhi. Alongside this, I am exhibiting work online with several platforms including digital work with SeditionArt.com and several new works I have just produced for House of Culture. Hopefully, there are a few international projects on the cards which I will be able to announce later in the year. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

Love: A Many Splendored Thing

(Featured Image: Debotri Dhar and her book, Love Is Not A Word)

“In literature, culture, history, metaphysics, politics, and their interstices, ideas about love abound,” writes Debotri Dhar who teaches Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. The idea led her to thread together a book — Love Is Not a Word: The Culture and Politics of Desire — a unique collection consisting of twelve well-written essays by scholars, critics, storytellers, and journalists. The idea for the book first occurred to Dhar as a graduate student at Oxford University, and then again while teaching at Rutgers University in the US. It was while she was teaching at the University of Michigan that pieces of the book started finally falling in place. 

The anthology consists of serious yet engaging essays on love, its many definitions, moods, themes, and interpretations. Each chapter is a detailed account of a different aspect of love—tracing both its historical background and contemporary relevance—making it a deeply researched and truly comprehensive read.

In ancient epics, through the practice of the Swayamvara, women such as Sita and Draupadi would review a number of suitors and select one as her husband. And yet, India is known for its arranged marriages and patriarchal attitudes towards matrimony. Marriage is a kind of business in India — thus, giving rise to a lucrative industry of matchmakers, astrologers, horoscope readers, matrimonial advertising, and wedding planners. What’s interesting is that in the same country, Bollywood dreams of romance and love marriages also thrive. In such a context, the living mythology of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata influences modern lives as much as mobile phones and Netflix, writes Malashri Lal, a retired professor at the Department of English at the University of Delhi.

In contrast to the chaste Ram-Sita and Shiva-Parvati pairings in Indian mythology, there is the secret love couple, Radha and Krishna. Then there is Amrapali, the legendary dancer—the most seductive and powerful courtesan in Pataliputra. While writing in Amrapali’s first-person, academic and museum curator Alka Pande traces the history of the Kamasutra, considered the mother of all erotic writing in India. The essay is enlightening as it debunks the myth of this sexual-yogic manual, giving it a much higher status—that of a handbook to help live life to its fullest.

The city has time and again become the backdrop for many a love story. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, much of the tale is influenced by Verona’s streets, piazzas, balconies, and dance halls. Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Bordeaux-Montaigne University, Didier Coste writes a literary, cultural, and global exploration of love and the city through space and time. “Only the stereotypes of light romantic comedy can perpetuate indefinitely the wonders of bumping into each other on Times Square or the Champs Elysees, or fighting for a cab and ending up in bed together for the weekend,” he writes. 

The ghazal has always associated with love, and ideas of the beloved thrive in the ancient poetry of Urdu poetry’s famous exponent Mirza Ghalib. It is ironic then that in the present-day ideas of love, Jihad have negatively colored and taken over daily realities of interreligious love. Delhi-based print, television, and news media journalist, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay traces the politics of love in the aftermath of various historical movements, such as the Partition, the Babri Masjid demolition, and the 9/11 attacks. “Love and Jihad per se are incompatible words,” he writes. 

While the tone of the in-depth essays in the book is mostly academic and scholarly, some are also personal. Through the larger debate around Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Delhi-based author, Parvati Sharma writes about her personal experiences of being a young gay person in India. “When you love without the trappings that turn private ecstasy into social routine — marriage, family, children — when you insist on ‘living in’ or being flagrantly lesbian, when you harbor the kind of love that depends upon itself to survive, you do, of course, unsettle the world; and that is no bad thing at all,” writes Sharma.

Further, Christina Dhanaraj, a Christian Dalit woman, talks about her peculiar experiences in love as a Dalit woman. She argues that modern-day apps like Tinder only create an illusion of breaking barriers when it comes to caste and that it plays a huge role in one’s romantic relationship. It brings out the idea that love is, after all, a choice that one makes based on who we are and where we come from. “Loving and being loved, in all its glorified beauty, is a matter of privilege,” writes Dhanaraj. 

Overall, the book provides some insightful perspectives on various dimensions of love. We can’t wait for Volume 2! 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

MAALicious: Love Your Artisan Jewelers

Those who love jewelry and the world around them, have something special to celebrate with this Valentine’s Day month.

Designed in New York City and made for the global Indian woman, Maalicious Jewelry was born two years ago out of a desire to empower women artisans in India. The brand aims to innovate and create quintessential jewelry with a rich dose of tradition. Its inspiration is Indian, tribal, and historic. All of its earrings are 24K gold-dipped. Some of its artists get over 50% of the proceedings from the jewelry, and a few of their earrings are made using sustainable material like clay.

Poonam Thimmaiah, Founder of Maalicious

Maalicious’ Founder, Poonam Thimmaiah, spent her childhood hopping across India as her father would get transferred every three years. Growing up in different states developed in her an aesthetic that’s appreciative of and deeply rooted in various Indian subcultures. “I have immense appreciation for Indian handicrafts, and have always dreamt of making products work with women artisans using dwindling art forms that were chic enough to cater to the urban crowd,” says Thimmaiah about the idea behind her handmade jewelry brand.

Born as a pet project, Maalicious was conceived at Poonam’s home in New York while mending a broken heart caused by a miscarriage in her 36th week of pregnancy. “As they say, adversity leads to opportunity, and delving into arts helped me during those dark times,” she recalls. This was combined with her longstanding desire to create and wear her own designs. 

Poonam partnered with differently-abled students studying jewelry in Mysore on her visit to India a few weeks later. She then worked with women artisans to integrate various Indian art forms into the jewelry. A lot of research, learning, sweat, and blood later, they have grown into what Maalicious is today. The brand has had some amazing moments in the last few years, including being featured in British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, and more. Last year, they also showcased their jewelry at the New York Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week. This year, it has again been selected for the New York Fashion Week in February. 

Maalicious Jewelry

What sets Maalicious apart from others in the market is its goal of giving its customers beautiful, lasting jewelry while holding the values of quality, labor rights, and sustainability paramount. Maalicious is also making efforts to support women artisans and rejuvenate their traditional arts. Its goal is to provide talented women artisans with a platform to shine, thrive, and succeed. A women-only run firm, the brand has around six women artisans that it works with on a regular basis in India, and has also collaborated with a few others in Italy and Ukraine. Their long-term goal is to stand in solidarity with skilled women and build a platform where they can support each other. “We would love to give back more to marginalized women and help with their sustenance,” says Thimmaiah. 

Further, Maalicious uses responsibly sourced and sustainable materials in their products, such as terracotta clay or red baked earth, silk thread, and wood, which have been part of our culture for centuries. Its distinctiveness also stems from their need to innovate in this space. “Everything is handmade and so, imperfect but that’s what makes them unique,” says Thimmaiah. For instance, their Vintage earrings are made of terracotta clay and then hand-painted. Their customizable Alice earrings can be personalized with pictures from their customers. Further, most of Maalicious’ signature pieces have a story from India’s glorious past behind them.

One of Maalicious’ earrings is a tribute to a unique and fascinating community called the Drokpas, about 5,000 of whose members today survive in the high altitudes of Ladakh. Believed to be the oldest and purest human tribe, the Drokpas inhabit the cluster of seven villages located down the Indus River. They are known for their liberal views, elaborate jewelry, chiseled features, and beautiful gardens. The Amrita Sher-Gil piece is a tribute to the famous Indian painter known as the pioneer of modern Indian art. Often known as “India’s Frida Kahlo”, she painted many self portraits and captured the daily lives of Indian women in the 1930s, often revealing a sense of their loneliness. 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

Mooch Ado About Nothing

During the ongoing pandemic, several people have been ditching their usual shaving, threading, and waxing routines, donning their natural, back-to-basics avatar. With one barely stepping out of one’s homes, “lockdown looks” have become all the rage—and moustaches, beards, and other facial hair have become quite the norm among both young and old. It is interesting that during such a time, there is a new children’s book that simply explains this very timely and relevant concept of body positivity.

Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand and Nabi H. Ali is a delightful little new picture book about a young Indian American girl’s journey to accept her body hair and celebrate her heritage. Shelly Anand is an Atlanta-based human and civil rights attorney who fights for immigrants and workers from marginalized communities. Nabi K Ali is a Tamil-American digital illustrator who enjoys creating works about various cultures and people.

Young Laxmi is a young girl, whose peers in school, Zoe and Noah, get her to notice her facial hair one day while they are playing farm animals at recess. During the game, they ask her to personify a cat, as she has tiny hairs— like whiskers—on her upper lip. All of sudden, Laxmi becomes conscious and all too aware of her “mooch”. In no time, she begins to notice hair all over her body—her arms, knuckles, legs, and between her eyebrows. When she reaches home, she tells her mother about it.

It is then that her mother tells her about several powerful girls and women from history, all of whom sported moustaches—“from Mughal empresses and stately ranis to village girls and city girls.” She tells her about the benefits of having hair all over one’s body—as it protects and keeps us warm. Her parents even tell her about the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo who had hair between her eyebrows. 

The next day in school, Laxmi tells Zoe that she wants to play jungle animals. This time, she volunteers to impersonate a tiger (“with my long silky mooch!”). She also shows Zoe the tiny blond hairs on her lip and asks her to pretend to be a lion. They draw an artificial moustache for their friend Noah who doesn’t have one yet. And soon, the entire class is queuing up to get “world-class mooches” drawn for themselves! 

Thus, through an incident of teasing and body shaming, Laxmi actually manages to overcome her fears and inhibitions, turning it into a positive outcome for herself. Moreover, she teaches her classmates an important lesson to embrace one’s bodies and rejoice in its so-called imperfections. As a result of this “mooch revolution”, her classmates who had natural mooches begin to flaunt them proudly to everyone else.


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.

The Age of Religious Fanaticism: The Tonic

Newly released book The Tonic (Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd, 2020) is an intriguing story set in 1992, against the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots. Shuttling constantly between the past and the present, the story shares some vivid imagery of the city of Mumbai, complete with its local trains, chawls, high-rise condominiums, and “cutting chai” culture. The novel’s 30-year-old author, Mayur Sarfare, is a Professor of Mass Media at Mumbai’s Usha Pravin Gandhi College of Arts, Science, and Commerce. Passionate about subjects of metaphysics and philosophy, Sarfare regularly hosts events and moderates panel discussions. 

The story runs between a diverse cast of characters. Raem Andrew, who lost his parents in the 1985 bomb blast of a Delhi-bound Air India flight arriving from London, stands out due to his unusually fair complexion and blue eyes. When he moves to a Muslim dominated locality, Raem befriends his neighbor, Masher P Bhasker, a young student with a speech disorder. Masher’s father was burnt by religious fanatics for being a Hindu who was in love with a Muslim woman. Further, due to his stammer, Masher is often bullied and mocked by his classmates. Raem and Masher relate to each other, as they are both outcasts in society, something that becomes a strong basis for their friendship.

Destiny begins to change for them when Raem’s uncle, Sam, gifts him a box of cryptic Bolivian chocolates. The chocolates work like magical pills, giving them extraordinary courage and confidence to do things that they normally could never imagine. Masher manages to correct his speech under their influence, and Raem wins over the girl of his dreams.

However, when Masher’s mother and mute Hindu girlfriend are killed in the 1992 Bombay riots, he is overwhelmed with grief and despair. Decades later, their lives collide with Reymerg D’Souza, a militant atheist cum media tycoon,  who believes that religion is an infection of the worst kind—it has crippled man, robbed him of scientific temperament, and stultified progress. Thus, his mission is to eradicate the malaise of religion altogether. Over the years he has been secretly masterminding the abduction of various celebrated spiritual leaders belonging to different religions in an effort to execute them.

“The foundation of faith is fear. If there is no fear, there is no faith.” The book is filled with several such philosophical outbursts, and could easily work as a racy script for a thriller film or web series. When Reymerg plans a wicked and twisted silver jubilee commemoration of the infamous riots, by scheming something so sinister that could endanger the lives of millions, and it is up to Raem to prevent this colossal damage.

 “The riots didn’t just take a lot of lives; it took with them a lot of hopes, dreams, and ambitions.” The book throws light on possibly hundreds of such untold stories about the notorious riots and the havoc they wreaked in the many lives that they touched. Overall, it is a passionate statement on contemporary religious fervor and the sheer power that it wields upon human minds.  


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’. 

Diksha Basu: ‘Immigrant ExPat Is a Spectrum, Not a Binary’

“It was easy for my parents. They wanted to live in America when America was the clear choice, they wanted to get married when marriage was the only acceptable option, and then they wanted to get divorced right around when divorce became socially acceptable. The times rolled with them. Now there are no rules. I can do whatever I want, be whoever I want, and I don’t know if I want that freedom.”

– ‘Destination Wedding’ by Diksha Basu

Internationally bestselling author and actor, Diksha Basu is originally from New Delhi and currently based between New York City and Mumbai. She holds a BA in Economics from Cornell University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. In a phone interview, Neha Kirpal recently spoke with Basu about her experience writing about immigrants in a globalized world, the great Indian middle class, and using humor as a tool to explore contemporary India.

Diksha Basu

Neha Kirpal (NK): Your new book Destination Wedding is all about “family, careers, and belonging.” Tell us how you came up with the idea for the story.

Diksha Basu (DB): One of my points of inspiration was my own big wedding in New Delhi a few years ago, which was such a wonderful and mad experience with all my loved ones from all around the world for one week in one place where I had grown up. It was such a whirlwind in a way, and this book was a way for me to relive parts of that. I didn’t quite get to live in the moment, because the bride and the groom never really get to enjoy their wedding the way their guests do. This book gave me the chance to go back and experience it all over again. 

NK: Tell our readers about how you use humor as a tool to explore contemporary India.

DB: I live in Bombay most of the time. A lot about India can be so frustrating, and I think that if I didn’t write about it with humor, it might be easier to get angry or annoyed. That said, I feel a deep and great affection for the country and all my characters. And I think my humor comes from affection and never through mockery. I write about my characters with a big heart. I love my characters, cities, and settings. I’ve always felt like I’ve belonged in both India and America—I split my time now between New York and Mumbai. I understand now that home is an idea, not a place. My feeling of home comes from my family. That also allows for humor and comedy.  

NK: Your book The Windfall reportedly started off as a collection of short stories that you were writing during your master of fine arts (MFA) at Columbia University. How did the structure change to a novel? What elements of the story collection do you think remain in the final book?

DB: Yes, that’s right. The book started off as a collection of short stories that I was writing during my MFA and it slowly became a novel in the year and a half after I graduated. From the original story, hardly any of them remain. But that’s when I discovered my characters. I needed to write the stories in order to understand, know, and love my characters as deeply as I now do. But the structure of the novel changed completely.

NK: The Windfall is about the changing aspirations of an average Indian couple. How did you come up with the story?

DB: Before I started working on The Windfall, I was stuck in the void of writing about twenty-something women, because everyone says “write what you know.” Twenty-something women were just not interesting to me, and other writers had done it much better than I ever could anyway. I handed one of the first short stories from this collection very nervously to my professor Gary Shteyngart. Not a lot of people at Columbia were writing through humor but Gary came back to me a week later saying that he read it on a flight to China and found himself laughing out loud on the plane. I am so deeply indebted and forever grateful to Gary for reading and giving me the encouragement—and the permission, really—to write from the perspective of a middle-aged Indian man. His feedback gave me the confidence to keep writing these characters and to keep using humor as a tool to explore contemporary India. Later, I am forever grateful to my agent Adam Eaglin for reining in some of my attempts at humor. The book, I hope, is very different from a lot of the work coming out of the subcontinent right now. 

NK: How do you think your books speak to the current moment in India? What worlds, or collision of worlds, are they invoking?

DB: We live in a globalized world where the terms “immigrant” and “ex-pat” are quickly losing meaning. Indians in America no longer live afraid. They’re not on the peripheries, and non-Indians visiting or living in India are doing so for reasons other than tourism or volunteerism. There are a large number of immigrants that now defy definition and stereotype. There are people from all over the world who choose to live in countries different from those of their birth, but they still carry within themselves a sense of self-identity that isn’t necessarily tied to a nation or a race—and even if it is, it’s a source of confidence rather than a reason to apologize. 

There’s a global tongue emerging that goes beyond language. While parts of the world are also getting increasingly divided and frightening, some boundaries are also dissolving. The points of reference for a certain wealthy global elite are all the same. We live in the era of global citizens and that is a world that I really like to explore, which is what I do in my books. I know I’m making heavy generalizations here, and of course, I know there’s a worrying global refugee crisis on, there’s a lot of racism that the world is being forced to confront and contend with, and the luxuries of global citizenship feel so indulgent to speak about—but that is the world that I happen to write about. Fortunately, there’s room for all stories. Immigrant ex-pat is a spectrum, it’s not a binary.

NK: In a sense, your books bring out the plight of the great Indian middle class—neither rich nor poor. Please elaborate more on this “middle ground”, one that is “too confusing to explain to an outsider”.

DB: I write about a cross-section of society. My characters are never sitting in ivory towers. They live, breathe, and interact with the cacophony of the cities where it’s impossible to stay separate. The reason I like to write about and am currently living in a very urban Indian city like Bombay is that you have to be a part of the complicated fabric of the city—you can’t avoid it. The crossroads of property and wealth, the haves and the have-nots, the blurred line where the marginalized meet the mainstream—this is what I’m most drawn to in my work. There are so many windows through which one can look at the world, and this is the one that I choose. I love exploring how people from different worlds connect with each other, what humans have in common when there seems to be nothing at all in common. Do we surround ourselves with people who are mirrors or windows? How does that change how we see the world around us? I don’t have an answer for that. But it’s something I like to explore and keep coming back to in my work.

NK: One of the characters who is featured in both your books, Mrs. Ray, is a young widow who defies the stereotypes of widowhood. As someone independent and unconventional outside of social norms, what was your inspiration behind her character?

DB: Oh, I love Mrs. Ray! The idea of widowhood, and especially young widowhood, fascinates me. Women of Mrs. Ray generation in India are so often defined in terms of their relationships with other males—their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. What happens if you end up without any of those? Who are you? Who gets to define you? And what if it happens to you when you’re still young enough to have more years ahead of you than behind you? It’s almost as if Mrs. Ray has to keep it a secret that she is okay being widowed, that she’s happy living life alone, that she has her own sense of self that she doesn’t want to apologize for, and that she enjoys drinking whiskey!  

NK: Your father, Kaushik Basu, was India’s Chief Economic Advisor. You also studied economics at Cornell University. In a sense, was it inevitable for you to write books about Delhi’s explosion of extreme wealth?

DB: My father and I are very close. I’m very inspired by him when it comes to making things accessible. My father is a very technical economist. When he writes for newspapers or gives talks, he has the ability to engage people who have no background or interest in economics, and I’ve always admired his ability to do that. He’s an economist while also being a storyteller. Growing up, he often helped me with my math homework, and I developed a real love for math while studying it with him. He doesn’t allow his own breadth of knowledge to make it boring for others. So, I suppose I have grown up thinking about and discussing economics at home—but more on a micro-level, not on a macro level. So, I don’t know if the stories of my books are necessarily because of my conversations at home but definitely the fact that I am a writer is very much because of my parents who are also storytellers and readers. 

NK: Apart from being a prolific writer, you are also an occasional actor who has reportedly acted in two plays, a TV show titled Mumbai Calling, and a film called A Decent Arrangement. Does your acting help your writing, or the other way round?

DB: I love writing dialogue. I love the space between what people say and what they think they are saying and what they actually want to say. That space is where the stories are. In mainstream Bollywood, the stories are not in the space between the lines—and there’s no room for subtlety. I really like the television and film industry and I think the entrance of streaming networks like Netflix and Amazon are changing the kind of television and films being produced and consumed.

The Windfall is currently in pre-production with anonymous content in Los Angeles to be turned into a TV show, and I’ve also just signed a development deal with a very exciting team for Destination Wedding. I am going to play a more active role in the screenplay of Destination Wedding, because I think that’s a very obvious progression for me—combining both my career in acting and fiction.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Environmentalism Through Kid’s Kathas

Living in the world that all of us do today, it goes without saying that children across the spectrum need to read books that create awareness surrounding the environment and its inhabitants. 

When I think of an Indian publishing house for children, the name that first comes to mind is Katha. What sets Katha’s books apart from others is that it is known for facilitating learning through the power of storytelling. Storytelling is a beautiful way to address some of the most pertinent issues related to the environment and climate change, and the 32-year-old publishing house has time and again called for attention towards our planet through this distinctive approach, in books such as Tigers Forever!, The Mysteries Of Migration, and Polar Bear

Books that Make You Fall in Love with Nature

Sonam’s Ladakh

One of the most effective ways of getting children to care about the environment is to simply help them fall in love with it. Some of Katha’s older books instill a love for nature with their stories and themes. Each of their books has a varied message: In Run Ranga! Run!, one gets to explore the grasslands with the fearless baby rhinoceros who needs a friend; Walk the Rainforest with Niwupah and Walk the Grasslands with Takuri are tours of rainforests and grasslands with a hornbill and an elephant, respectively; On the Tip of a Pin Was… uncovers the science behind wormholes; The Gift of Gold is a mythical story from South African folklore is about a little girl who saves her village from drought. 

Manish Lakhani’s Sonam’s Ladakh tells a story through exquisite photography about a girl belonging to the semi-nomadic Changpa tribe, wandering shepherds in Ladakh. Young Sonam informs readers about animals in the Ladakh region that are her closest friends and “better than boxes of money”. She mentions goats, dogs, her father’s pashmina herds of sheep, and yaks that help grow food and whose wool make their tents. She also points out other animals in the region—the rare Eurasian otters, horses, and Himalayan wolves. The story that is bound to fascinate most children with its sheer novelty and imagery. The books ends with a section that discusses Ladakh’s many glaciers that are gradually melting due to the earth’s global warming, increasing pollution levels and the cutting of trees. The questions posed are aimed at making children think of ways in which all of us in our own way can contribute to caring for the environment.

Keeping it Simple

In a world filled with an overwhelming amount of information on environmental degradation, young children are most likely to gain sensitivity about the situation most through personal experience. Katha’s books have constantly aimed at bringing out simple storylines with characters that relate to most children.

In Who Wants Green Fingers Anyway?, Geeta Dharmarajan explores a mother’s obsession with her potted plants kept in her verandah. When her plants start mysteriously wilting and drooping, her husband researches the subject of how to keep them happy, leading him to attempt re-potting them. What follows is a comical saga, however, the key message has been surreptitiously slipped in—that the roots of plants get tangled up when their pots become too small for them.  

More recently, in The Mystery of the Missing Soap, Tobakachi, the wicked Asura and GermaAsura, along with their Coronavirus Army, make soap disappear in Dakshinapur, one of the happiest villages in the country. By tricking people in this way, they ensure that no one washes their hands, which makes them all very sick. That is until the helpful elephant, Tamasha and the fearless girl, Lachmi, show everyone how to make soap in order to win the battle against the Virus Army. The story, beautifully illustrated by Suddhasattwa Basu and Charbak Dipta, is followed by a simple recipe for making soap at home using reetha berries. By explaining the importance of washing one’s hands in order to prevent coronavirus, the book then dives into Katha’s famous “TADAA” (Think, Ask questions, Discuss, Act, and Take Action for the community) section which details what coronavirus actually is and what one can do to prevent oneself from getting it.

Big Ideas with a Heart

After getting kids to fall in love with nature through simple stories—and hence, getting them to care for the environment—the next step is to focus on concepts that help them think about pressing environmental issues that are affecting the world. Every narrative in Katha’s books is filled with common themes—or what the publisher likes to call ‘big ideas’. For instance, all of Katha’s environment books have recurring themes such as empathy, affection, kindness, collective action, and cues to switch to alternative eco-friendly habits.

Ma Ganga and the Razai Box weaves environmental concerns like pollution, soil erosion, and desertification with mythology. The Magical Raindrop humanizes and gives emotions to Mother Earth, formulating her character in a way that the readers feel she’s a person who feels happiness, sadness, anxiety, and joy just like all of us. Katha’s Thinkbook Series has been designed in a way to introduce young readers to big ideas such as “climate change, gender, and kindness through stories that inspire, aspire, and engage.” 

Educating through Stories

Katha’s founder, Padma Shri Geeta Dharmarajan, is an award-winning writer, editor, and educator. Her published works alone include more than 30 children’s books, many of which are Katha publications. Needless to say, environmental issues are very close to her heart. She is credited for having created Katha’s unique concept of StoryPedagogy, which combines India’s oral traditions and the 2,000-year-old Sanskrit text on the performing arts, Natya Shastra; an idea that she has seamlessly integrated with an earth-friendly curriculum.

While the stories get children to empathize with the characters and their situation—and thus, understand and imbibe an environmental concept—Katha’s final goal is to make children think deeper and take initiatives to act and make a difference. The insightful exercises that appear at the end of each book are created using the SPICE model (Student-centred, Problem-based, Integrated, Community-based, Electives, Systematic) as well as observations, teachers’ feedback, and research among children in the Katha Lab School.

Katha Lab School is a model and a center of creativity for the slum cluster of Govindpuri in New Delhi. Thus, Katha takes the storytelling approach a step further beyond its books too. The Katha Lab School, for instance, uses no traditional textbooks or a one-size-fits-all syllabus. Instead, its system of education is based on StoryPedagogy, a technique that is delivered through Active Story-Based Learning, which helps children to learn language, science, and mathematics, while developing general awareness and critical thinking skills through various stories and activities.

Katha’s StoryPedagogy is the new age of education – one that we can all benefit from adopting.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. 

Radiologist by Day, Poet Laureate by Night

Ohio-based novelist, poet, translator, essayist, and diagnostic nuclear radiologist Amit Majmudar has served as Ohio’s first Poet Laureate. In a candid chat, he talks to us, among other things, about his latest book ‘Soar’, how he juggles multiple roles, his fourth poetry collection that is forthcoming in the US, and his favorite Indian American authors and poets.

A diagnostic nuclear radiologist, poet, novelist, and essayist, you were also the first Poet Laureate of Ohio. Tell us how you balance all these different personas.

It’s really just a question of time management. When the shift starts, I’m a radiologist. When the shift ends, I’m a dad. When I can sneak away or when everyone’s asleep, I’m a writer. As for the different kinds of writing, I regard them all as ways of sequencing words. You can accomplish some things with poetry that you can’t with fiction, some things with fiction that you can’t with an essay, and so on. I pick my form based on the effect I wish to have.

Your latest novel ‘Soar’ is about the friendship between a Hindu and Muslim soldier in the British Indian Army during World War I. How did you come up with the story?

I wrote it so long ago—2010, in fact—that I can scarcely recall the specific genesis of the story anymore. I have always been a World War I buff, and I remember the first time I read about Indian colonial soldiers being sent to theaters of war in places like Europe or Africa. How strange it all must have seemed to them! What innocents abroad they were! And yet sent there to shoot and be shot at; there to have their innocence stripped from them. That was probably the starting point for the novel.

Your earlier book ‘Partitions‘ is also about communal differences and harmonies. Is this a theme that you are particularly fond of?

‘Soar’ came immediately after ‘Partitions.’ They treat a similar topic in drastically different ways—one dark and tragic, the other light and tragicomic. I am very interested in the difference between person-to-person friendship and love; and the diametrically opposite group dynamics that can co-exist beside and behind that relationship. That contrast is the basis of so much in literature, going all the way back to Romeo and Juliet. Trust is built easier on the micro-level, person to person, than on the macro-level, group to group.  

Your book ‘Sitayana‘, a retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective, focuses on Sita’s fierce resistance. How did you come up with the idea for the book?

The story is well known, but the kernel of the idea was to write the Ramayana epic in many different voices. So, it’s not just Sita’s perspective; her voice is central, but it is one of many. ‘Sitayana’ was a challenge of storytelling architecture that I set myself. From chapter to chapter, I jump, Hanuman-like, from perspective to perspective. Yet the book as a whole maintains a single, rapid, forward momentum.

Tell our readers more about your fourth poetry collection that is forthcoming in the US, ‘What He Did in Solitary’ (Knopf, 2020).

I write in a lot of styles and themes, and that book collects a large portion of my work written between ‘Dothead’ and now. There are poems about identity, love, loss, communal violence, politics, and the solitary nature of being. Everything under the sun.

Who are some of your favorite Indian American authors and poets?

I have one favorite Indian American author, and that is my wife, A. B. Majmudar. Her debut novel is coming out from Puffin Books India. It’s called ‘The Torchbearers’, and it’s a YA novel that’s an action-packed mythological romp that involves three kids (based on our own three kids) as well as Gods and Demons. It’s an astonishing story, but the back story is astonishing too: She had never written fiction before, submitted her first completed draft without an agent, and got a book deal on her first try. The book really is that good; she’s like an Indian-American J. K. Rowling. Between us, she is soon going to be the famous one, and I look forward to standing in her shadow!

What are your creative inspirations?

Other writers, usually dead ones. I am stirred to create my own work in the spirit of emulation and competition, yes, but above all, I am stirred by the ways in which other writers show me what can be done with the language. Shakespeare, Cormac McCarthy, Borges, Hilary Mantel, Ovid—countless others. Everything I read and love inspires me in some way.

What are you working on next?

I have a lot of works planned, and a few new books already completed and currently submitted to publishers. But I’m very superstitious, so I won’t be too specific—I want to avoid jinxing my chances. But I am always working on poems, even when I’m not physically writing them; that work is always ongoing. Language possesses infinite generativity, and I try to take advantage of that in the finite time I have. 

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.