Tag Archives: South Asian writers

Hop-On, Hop-Off

I saw the man for the first time in Budapest on the Széchenyi Bridge. The chain bridge connected the western and eastern parts of what was once two cities, Buda and Pest. We exchanged a smile, as any two people might. Standing a few feet apart, we saw the Parliament House and Margaret Bridge on one end, the Freedom Statue and Royal Palace on the other, and the quiet, flowing Danube separating and connecting the two cities. We watched the same things, like lovers seeing the moon on a dark night thousands of miles apart, yet together.

A Creative Commons Image by Brian Harrington Spier

A few hours later I saw him again, entering the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus my husband recommended. “This is the best way to see the city by yourself,” my husband said. He would be busy at the conference for the next few days and felt guilty about my being alone. Oh, how he wanted to see the city with me, he said, but I was glad to be on my own, free and independent, my sensibility so different from his.

From the upper deck with the open roof, my eyes followed the man who was heading toward the upper level. I turned and saw him walking toward the front, looking for a seat with perfect views, where I was seated. His eyes wandered to the one empty seat beside me. He gestured, asking if he could sit.

“I was hoping you’d ask,” I said with unaccustomed boldness and then hoped he might not understand English after all.

“And I was hoping you’d say okay.”

His voice was deep and full. He reminded me of my favorite Hindi actor, a tall, handsome man I fantasized about, a man of few words, confident on the outside, with a childlike vulnerability inside.

“First time here?” he asked.

“Yes, you?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re alone?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t ask me the same. I was tired of defending and justifying why I was alone—why I didn’t have a partner before I was married, why I was alone without my husband while I was married. The man didn’t ask, and I was relieved.

“Yes, always alone,” he said, shrugging casually and putting on his headphones.

How comforting he made it sound—alone, like an exotic indulgence.

Alone, I thought as I sat up straight, tucking my chin, feeling intoxicated instead of burdensome.

The man had an educated, traveled accent. His olive complexion and dark hair could have been from three-quarters of the world. His sense of style was European—a crisp blue shirt, narrow linen pants, and a printed scarf around his neck. He looked professorial with his black-rimmed glasses. He smelled like fresh rain, and I breathed him in.

A bit later he tapped my shoulder and pointed at the open map in my hand. I took off my headphones.

“How many days here, tell me again?” he asked as if I had already told him.

“Three.”

“A lot for us to do in three days, huh?” he said, peering over his glasses.

I liked his confidence.

“What would you like to see? The Gellért Bathhouse for sure, yes?” he continued.

“Hmm, yes.”

“I’m Raoul, by the way.”

“Revati.”

It was strange, even absurd, that this man invited me, a stranger, to be a part of his journey. He was either very dangerous and I, apparently, easy prey; or he shared the familiarity and warmth I felt. Either way, he talked, I nodded, I talked, he nodded. With fascination I watched his arms, his long fingers, his clean, clipped nails, and his mannerisms. I let myself be hypnotized by his vocal undulations, his accent sounding like musical notes. I was glad I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring. I noticed he didn’t wear one, either. Together we chalked out a plan to see Budapest.

In the nearly two years I’d been married, my husband and I never planned a day together. He decided what we did, where we traveled, what and who we saw, even the menu when we hosted. He was a stickler for detail. I’d been a thirty-nine-year-old spinster (too dark, too educated, too short). If I were a woman of a younger generation, I might have worn my personality and my education as a mark of pride. Instead, when my husband graciously offered to marry me without a dowry and implied I should be grateful, I acquiesced.

“Wait for me,” I said as we stepped off the bus at the bottom of Gellért Hill.

“Not going anywhere without you,” Raoul replied, offering his arm.

I took his hand and we walked up Gellért Hill to the Freedom Statue. For once I didn’t hear the voices I’d heard all my life—what will people say, what will they think, think of your reputation, please don’t bring us shame. For once I wasn’t a student, an employee, someone’s wife, someone’s daughter. For once I wasn’t the responsible, sensible one. Even as I was distracted by my thoughts, I realized this was the first time in twenty years I was excited by a man.

The liberation monument looked eastward, her metal hands holding a palm leaf above her head. She was majestic, exuberant in liberty. The monument was installed by the Soviets, who freed Hungary from Nazi occupation. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the monument was preserved and reinvented. A new plaque read: “To the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary.”

“What would you do to reinvent yourself?” I asked Raoul.

“Become your pet, of course. A little Chihuahua that fits in your handbag,” he said, making me laugh.

“You want a photo with this view?” I asked, my hand still holding his.

The city below looked like a picture postcard. The sky was blue, and beneath it lay the Danube. On either side of the river were buildings old and new, each with a distinct style and built during different times.

“No, because all beauty can only be captured here,” he said, tapping his chest.

“Then you’ll take one of me? I want the river and bridge in the background, okay?”

I thought of my husband, of showing it to him if he asked.

I posed twice for Raoul—once for a photo on my phone, once for his.

“Want to see?” he asked, showing me his phone.

I didn’t recognize myself. My complexion looked radiant, my height seemed befitting rather than mockable, my hair cascaded–my “crowning glory,” just as my mother always said. I looked chic instead of homely. I had a smile I hadn’t had in so long. I blushed. He put his phone away, took my hand and locked it around his elbow, and in step we walked back toward the bus stop.

Raoul was an Italian-English translator. He was in his early fifties and single, though I found it hard to believe he didn’t have someone significant in his life. He was about six feet tall with a head full of peppered hair and a well-trimmed beard. Although briefly married when he was much younger, he said he had no children.

“Did you not find anyone else to marry?” I asked.

“Hard to live with a man who travels; it’s selfish, you know. And you?”

“I am a scientist, trying to change the world,” I said, surprised at my confidence and pride.

“Aha, no Chihuahua for you, then?”

“Oh, yes, yes, a Chihuahua-prince, like a frog-prince, of course,” I said. I watched him tilt his head back and laugh. I yearned to drop all caution and let go of the reserve that ruled my marital life.

I dreaded the thought of going back to the hotel room, of interacting with my husband. The room overlooked the busy street close to the old Jewish quarter and was central to sightseeing and public transport, yet it was dark, dingy, and claustrophobic. My husband didn’t notice. He came in late, did his work, and slept.

“Let’s change our room,” I said after we checked in.

He considered me fussy.

“What for?”

“I feel claustrophobic; the ceiling of the portico feels like it’s on my throat.”

“Aww, stuck in an elevator. Heard that story. Get over it.”

“Please,” I pleaded. “I find it hard . . . it’s like your OCD, you know,” I added, hoping he would understand.

“Oh, please, Revati, don’t compare my need for being clean to your silliness,” he scolded.

Once, early in our marriage, I suggested that my husband see a therapist for his OCD. Instead he called me lazy and clumsy.

“I’ll pack, I’ll get another room on a higher floor, it’ll be nice,” I persisted.

“Stop. Don’t waste my time,” he said, shooing me off without looking up from his computer.

An engineer from MIT, my husband assumed we would be a good match. Both of us were educated and independent. He was charming and convincing. I had heard of his brilliance in academic circles. He came to Budapest to negotiate an important contract, hopefully make enough money to retire and leave enough for our children, he said, then bit his lip. I didn’t believe he could ever retire, and by mentioning children, he made me feel like a failure.

At the hotel, after my first day sightseeing with Raoul, I was surprised to find my husband back early from his conference. I pulled out the Budapest map. I also wanted to show him the pictures Raoul took of me looking beautiful.

“Looks like these folks here are interested in closing the deal,” he said, his eyes on his computer.

“That’s good. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

I too was busy looking at my screen. That’s how it was with us. We carried on conversations as if nothing happened between us or ever would. A new email was in my inbox. Patent approved, said the subject line. My patent! Raoul brought luck into my life, I thought.

“I have good news too,” I said, but my husband didn’t respond.

I retreated to my world, recalling my mother’s words: “If he wants to share, good. If he doesn’t, excellent!” So I sent out some emails sharing the news of my patent, then showered and went to sleep excited about meeting with Raoul the next day. My husband worked well into the night. When I woke up the next morning, the room looked sterile. My husband had tossed out loose bills, receipts, brochures, and other trash. This was his routine.

Each morning I looked forward to meeting Raoul at the junction stop. I walked one level down from the street, went through the underground tunnel to the other side, climbed stairs, walked past coffee shops, and waited for him. We hopped on a bus and worked our way through the city, per our plan. No one paid any more attention to us than they would to any couple. Over the course of time, I rested my head on his shoulder, put my arm around his waist, wiped crumbs near his lip. His arm intertwined with mine, my hands interlaced with his. Like an entitled wife, I let him buy me lunch and care for me. I fussed and whined about my tired feet, and he indulgently got us foot massages. He sensed when I was cold and helped me put my jacket on. He watched me try on swimsuits, my first ever, so we could spend time in the bathhouse. I should have felt awkward or exposed, but I didn’t.

“Looks too old for you,” he said when I tried one on.

“Yes!” he said of another. “Perfect.” He pushed my wallet back into my purse, and I let him pay.

Ritually, each day he took two pictures of me, one on his phone, one on mine.

We got used to hopping on and off buses—green line, red line, purple line, yellow line—going to different parts of the city. We took breaks for coffee or lunch. We sat on park benches, people-watching, leaning into each other. Where had he been all my life?

On our last day together, Raoul and I pretended it was just another day. I hadn’t felt the need to talk about my life, and so I hadn’t told him about my patent or my past. We were like children with no concept of beginning or end. We were like the Danube—flowing on. That morning we were unusually quiet. We chose the longest route to the outskirts across the river. We held hands, as if letting go might jolt us back to reality. He guided me to the ferry, putting his hand on the small of my back. We cruised along the river and got off at Margaret Island and sat on a bench with our lunch bags. We watched the locals run and stretch, mothers and children at play, and young lovers lost in their own world.

I felt as old as the river and as young as a teen. I wondered if Raoul imagined a life with me, as I did with him. To have his baby, speak his language, sleep with him at night, grow old together, bicker about our pets and our kids. I stopped myself. Alone, I thought. Alone.

“We’ll stay in touch, yes?” Raoul said, as if reading my thoughts.

I held onto his arm as we walked back to the ferry. The evening sky was clear, and against it the Gothic Parliament House stood tall. The river reflected its lights’ glowing amber. Its Gothic steeples soared into the sky like dreams of all its people. Its Revival dome embraced old and new. With Raoul, my eyes opened to beauty. The din of life melted into silence, and we communicated without words.

As we approached the terminal, I dreaded our farewell. Would we make promises to each other? Would we rehash our time together? Would we ask each other questions that might or might not have answers? Would we exchange our contact information and plan to meet? Would this be a tearful goodbye? Did any of this mean anything to him? We would kiss, wouldn’t we?

I saw the hop-on, hop-off buses gathered, conductors removing their vests, marking the end of the day. A few of them sat at the roadside café, sipping coffee or beer. I was unable to let go of Raoul’s hand. We would always sit in one of the cafés—Raoul drinking beer, I sipping coffee—before we parted.

But before either of us could speak, I saw my husband sitting at one of the cafés looking at every passenger who got off the bus. I quickly retracted my hand from Raoul’s before my husband saw us. Then he came forward.

“Oh, there you are, Revati. I was hoping to find you here,” my husband said, hugging me uncharacteristically, his eyes scanning Raoul.

“Come, it’s getting late,” my husband said as he took my hand and led me away.

A Creative Commons Image by Nathan Hughes Hamilton

What happened then I don’t remember, just a few words like dinner, colleagues, contract, words I didn’t care to weave into anything meaningful. I turned around to look at Raoul, who still stood by the bus. When his eyes met mine, he pointed to the map in his hand and mouthed, “Your map has my contact info.”

That night at the company dinner my husband was in a good mood, probably because his male colleagues were impressed with me—beautiful, intelligent, funny, they said. My husband, talking with his boss, placed his hand on my back, claiming me. The evening came to an end inconsequentially, as all the company dinners did. Later in the night my husband stroked my arm… afterward falling comatose.

The next morning he was in a good mood. The meetings had earned him praise. He went down for breakfast, and I stayed to pack and to think about the previous day. I sat on the edge of the bed and closed my eyes. Over and over I replayed the last scene with Raoul. He wanted to stay in touch. He had a plan. He always did, and it was all on the map.

I toppled the contents of my purse onto the bed. I emptied my backpack. I opened my suitcase. I checked between the pages of my books. Where was the map? Then I remembered that I’d emptied all my papers on the bedside table before dinner last night. I looked there. Nothing. I looked under the bed. Nothing. I looked in the trash. Nothing. I left the room, looking for the housekeeping cart. “I lost something,” I said to the housekeeper, shaking her hand, and she looked at me with dread and pity. “Please find it. I lost something.” I ransacked her trash. She helped. Nothing.

Back in my room the phone rang. It was my husband, asking me to come down.

“The taxi will be here soon.”

“My map,” I said, “my map, the hop-on, hop-off map, where is the map? It’s red. Did you take it, did you toss it?”

“What map? I didn’t see any map,” he said. “I threw out some trash, that’s all. I didn’t see any map. Hurry up, Revati.”

I sat on the bed. Little plumes of tears sputtered down my cheeks, the room closing in on me.

After a few moments my husband came in, his expression shocked at seeing my clothes scattered on the bed.

I sat unmoving. “Where is the Budapest map? I want the map.”

“Enough of this nonsense!” he shouted, his spittle spraying. “Get up now, we have to leave soon.” He pulled at my arms to make me get up. I furiously punched his hands, and he swung his right hand across my wet cheek.

I stood up almost compliant, possessed by the ghost I’d become. But then I paused. I was shocked at what I did next. I grabbed his arm and bit deeply, then pushed him. He stumbled onto the bed.

“Don’t ever touch me again,” I said.

He looked bewildered. He took his right hand with his left and started slapping himself on his cheeks. I had never seen him do this. Then he kept hitting his head with the base of his hand. I wanted him to stop. “The bed is a mess. Clean it up,” I said, then took my purse, wiped my eyes, and left.

Photo credit: Vikram Valluri

Manikya Veena was born and raised in Hyderabad, India. She earned a master’s in economics from Osmania University, and authored a short story compilation for children, The Banjara Boys. She serves on the advisory board for Narika, a nonprofit in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose mission is to help South Asian victims of domestic violence. She also volunteers at Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA) in San Mateo, answering hotline calls. She is a master class student at the Writers Studio in San Francisco and works as an assistant editor at Narrative. First published in the Narrative Magazine. This story is reproduced with the permission of the author.

This story was originally published on November 14, 2019 and curated by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

The Visual Artists in the #SALA 2019 Festival

Lucky S.F. Bay area denizens of the high-brow variety, you have yet another event to look forward to that is sure to amplify your festive Dussera season this year. If you are scurrying off to the many poojas, family gatherings and Golus (display of dolls), be sure to add this event to your calendar!  

Starting Sunday, October 6th from 12pm – 5pm, the beautiful environs of Villa Montalvo is home to the South Asian Literature & Arts Festival – SALA 2019. This event, the first of its kind in the US, runs from October 6th – 13th, showcasing a grand variety of visual arts, performing arts, poetry, book readings and panel discussions. 

Visual Arts @ SALA 2019:

Rekha Roddwittiya

Visual arts enthusiasts have special treats that thrill and educate. This event presents a great opportunity to meet with award-winning luminaries like India’s leading contemporary artist Rekha Rodwittiya whose work with distinctly feminist narratives has received critical acclaim. In a discussion titled Rekha @ 60: Transient Worlds of Belonging, Dr. Prajit Dutta of Aicon Gallery, NY will be speaking with Ms. Rodwittiya. 

Priyanka Mathew, Principal Partner of Sunderlande New York – an art advisory with a focus on South Asian art, presents an exemplary exhibition titled ‘Revelations: The Evolution of Modern and Contemporary Indian Art’. The show highlights works by Jamini Roy, Sanjay Bhattacharya, Krishen Khanna, Anjolie Ela Menon, Shobha Broota and G.R Iranna to name a few.

Also featured is a conversation with Dipti Mathur, a local bay area philanthropist and well known collector of modern and contemporary South Asian art. She has served on the board of trustees of several museums and is a founding member of the Asian Contemporary Art Consortium, SF.  

Deepti Naval

One of the highlights of the program is well known actor, painter and poet, Deepti Naval. U.C Berkeley professor Harsha Ram, will moderate a program titled “An Elaborate Encounter with Deepti Naval”, as part of the Confluences – Cinema, Poetry and Art segment. 

Cinema @ SALA 2019: 

Vikram Chandra

Indian cinema has a great representation at SALA 2019! The festival offers up a chance to interact with the men behind the popular Netflix original series ‘Sacred Games’, in two separate programs.

The trio of Varun Grover, Vikramaditya Motwane and Vikram Chandra will be interviewed by Tipu Purkayastha on Oct 6th as part of the opening day of the festival in a program titled ‘From the Sacred to the Profane’

A special event on Friday, Oct 18th tilted ‘From Text to Screen’ will feature Tipu Purkayastha . In conversation with him is noted director, writer, and producer, Anurag Kashyap. This program offers us an interesting perspective into their creative minds!

Literature @ SALA 2019: 

The literary world boasts of several names from the South Asian diaspora who decorate the local, national and international stage. SALA 2019 proudly presents writers and poets like Vikram Chandra, Minal Hajratwala, Shanthi Sekaran, Nayomi Munaweera, Raghu Karnad, Athena Kashya and Tanuja Wakefield to name a few, who will share their work in readings and discussions. 

Also being represented at the festival is the emerging Children and Young Adult genre of writers. Curated by Kitaab World, Mitali Perkins and Naheed Senzai in a program titled The Subcontinent’s Children. 

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Montalvo Arts Center and Art Forum SF, in collaboration with UC Berkeley Institute of South Asian Studies are jointly bringing to us one of the largest collections of contemporary South Asian writers, artists, poets, and personalities from theater and cinema. 

The opening day features various programs like art exhibits, panel discussions with internationally renowned writers and filmmakers, hands-on art activities, henna artists and dance performances. There are food stations offering up the many flavors of South Asia. This family-friendly event includes book readings, storytelling and hands on crafts for children. Visitors can also avail themselves of an art and literature marketplace displaying Bay Area artists and Books Inc. book sellers.  

The festival, the largest of its kind in the US is brought to us by Art Forum SF, a non profit that strives to promote emerging  visual, literary and performing art forms from South Asia.

Montalvo Art Center is well known for its mission in advancing cultural and cross-cultural perspectives, nurturing artists by helping them explore their artistic pursuits on their historic premises.

Free shuttle buses are available from West Valley College to aid festival goers.

Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

India Currents is a media partner for SALA 2019.

Love Songs for a Lost Continent by Anita Felicelli

On a crisp December morning, writer Anita Felicelli and I meet up at Madras Cafe, where between sips of filter coffee and bites of steaming idlis, we discuss her debut collection of short stories, Love Songs for a Lost Continent (Stillhouse Press, October 2018). Felicelli’s prize-winning stories join a growing number of short story collections by South Asian writers and fill a critical gap in narratives by South Asian women. In Love Songs for a Lost Continent, we find thirteen stories that are a beautiful amalgamation of myth, magical realism, and present-day challenges that go beyond the realm of immigrant life stereotypes. Abuse, infertility, the loss of a child, casteism, gender, and identity politics, are just some of the themes in this riveting short story collection.

Felicelli is a graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Berkeley School of Law. Her short stories have appeared in The Rumpus, The Normal School, Kweli Journal, Joyland, Juked, and other journals. Her essays and reviews have been published in the New York Times, Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as India Currents. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and anthologized. Born in South India, Felicelli grew up in the Bay Area, where she lives with her family.

Anita Felicelli

Shikha Malaviya (SM): This collection literally had me jumping with joy. At last, someone is telling our stories in a unique and interesting way. What was the genesis of this collection? How did some of these stories come about? As a child of immigrants, I assume you’ve been inspired by real life, but you’ve managed to delve deep under the surface. Tell us more, please.

Anita Felicelli (AF): Thank you so much! I wrote the stories in this collection over decades without quite realizing that they would eventually come together as a collection.  After I wrote the title story, I realized that I kept writing about reinvention, about people who transgress the stories that society tells them about their identities. I noticed that I had an obsession with the kinds of people who want to tell their own stories, author their own lives, and yet, when they did try to break away from their identity, they often lost something of importance. And memory, too, had a role in these stories, the ways in which memory can hold us back from reinvention, but also how malleable memory is when authoring our lives.


SM: You said, ‘Identity is a story we tell ourselves until it gets disrupted by other stories.’ That is such a powerful statement. Can you elaborate? I love how you illustrate this through the reoccurrence of characters within different stories, which enables the reader to see different perspectives.

AF: In my fiction, I’m interested in how people of different identities and worldviews are forced into a reckoning of who they truly are and how solid their identity really is. The reckoning usually occurs through confrontation with someone of a different identity and worldview. I think many South Asian immigrant narratives are interested in telling stories of a particular community, where those in that community agree about their collective identity. But my interest is in how each of us has certain stories we tell ourselves, some of those stories received from a community and others we’ve invented from life experience, and what happens to our sense of reality when we run up against other people’s desires and stories.


SM: You’ve also mentioned how ‘outsiders don’t have fairytales.’ And, yes, I agree, this is true. So many of your stories are inspired by folktales and fairytales with elements of the fantastical such as “Deception,” about a woman whose marriage is arranged with a tiger, Once Upon the Great Red Island,” in which man and animal bond, ultimately fusing, and “Rampion,” which is a unique take on Rapunzel. As outsiders, what is the purpose of fairytales? As immigrants, isn’t the idea of a fairytale life what lured us across oceans in the first place?

AF: I like that, and yes, I think there is a fairytale America has exported about itself in the past that has drawn immigrants to it. Fairytales and folktales are stories that reveal what a society believes, or at least what a society thinks is important to express. And by society, I really mean the insiders of a society. For example, the fairytale Rapunzel is told from the perspective of a couple and their child, while my story, Rampion, is told from the perspective of the villain in Rapunzel, someone struggling with infertility and loss. So much storytelling is for the benefit of a society’s insiders, what will resonate with a majority of listeners or readers. With this collection, I wanted to generate the same rough magic for outsiders and told from the margins, rather than to and from insiders.

SM: Your stories are brimming with birds, flowers, and animals like the mysterious indri (Babakoto lemur). One senses this uneasy yet inextricable tangle between man, earth and animal, this primal yearning to find a way to strike a balance, and to also be consumed by what we don’t understand. How conscious were you of this aspect while writing your stories. 

AF: I wasn’t conscious of this while I first drafted the stories, but I noticed it during revision, and it was part of what allowed me to select certain stories for the collection and leave out others. While revising the final drafts, I was conscious of wanting to keep a certain fragile mysteriousness and wildness to the stories. I don’t enjoy fiction that is overly manicured or predictable or only about humans in their metal and wood and plastic manmade environments. I wanted to write stories that I would like to read.

SM: The characters in your stories are introspective. As readers, we follow their thought process and experience their emotions and epiphanies. All of these characters live disrupted lives and though they grasp for resolution, it’s hard to come by. Whether it’s Kathy from “Kathy and Hema,” who resents her friend for breaking the norm of a studious, ambitious Asian immigrant and running off with her soccer coach or in “The Art of Losing,” Maisie’s angst for her troubled son, Drew, who has met with a horrific accident or in “Love Songs for a Lost Continent,” the Fulbright scholar searching for mythical Kumari Kundam, who loses someone he loves. Did you mean for this ambiguity? What do you hope the reader will take from it?

AF: Yes, I love ambiguity in stories. I’ve been haunted since childhood by Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 anthologized short story The Lady or the Tiger, in which a king tries to punish his daughter’s lover by offering him a choice between two doors. Behind one is a lady he will have to marry and behind the other is a tiger. It’s not clear at the end which one the king’s daughter has told her lover to choose. Would she choose for herself the emotion of jealousy or grief? I love the space Stockton made for readers by leaving the question for them to answer for themselves. I love reading when it’s a relationship between an author and a reader, a relationship in which the reader is given a little wiggle room for his or her subconscious to provide some answers, rather than a kind of tyranny.

SM: You’ve grown up and lived in the Bay Area for years. Did the familiarity of home compel you to set many of your stories here? Your stories visit other locales also, like Madagascar, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Why did you choose these settings?

AF: Most of what I write is set in the Bay Area, but as an immigrant, I’m also fascinated by ideas of migrating to other faraway places. I often wonder what it would have been like to be my parents, making their choice to immigrate in the ’70s even though we didn’t have any close family here. I’m also fascinated at how often travelogues and fiction from the perspective of white American writers traveling or moving elsewhere are published, while we very rarely are given access to travelogues and literary stories from the perspective of brown or black Americans who move to other places. I’m fascinated by the question of whether my relationship to other countries would be the same as a white American writer’s relationship to those places. One set of grandparents resisted colonialism, and also resisted caste, and I’ve leaned left, actively so, my entire life, but I often imagine what it would be like to tweak aspects of my identity to see whether those tweaks, those changes in the story I tell myself about myself, might cause me to make different choices in the world. Could I be a colonizer? Could I be the Man? Could I be one of the many quietly complicit? Under what circumstances? I’m so intrigued by those questions.


SM: You started off with a career in law but then decided to pursue a career that is considered off the beaten path for South Asian immigrants. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer and how has the response been from your family and the greater community?

AF: I knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of five. It was the only work I’ve ever wanted to do or for which I’ve had a genuine passion. My parents have been mostly supportive of me though perhaps they’ve been made anxious and unnerved by my compulsive interest in writing about matters that South Asians don’t often discuss. But also, as immigrants who are not from wealthy backgrounds, they’ve always made it clear I would need to find a job to support myself financially and that I would need to try to be excellent at anything I did regardless of how I felt about it. Both of them worked extremely hard. I was never allowed to slack on finding jobs that would pay me, nor did they ever suggest it was in the realm of possibility to rely on a spouse. I started babysitting when I was 11 and I’ve worked many other jobs since age 15 (in graphic design and the law), trying to figure out how I might be able to sustain myself while continuing to write literary fiction. Litigation was really a second or third career for me, and from the time I dipped my toes into that world, I knew I’d be able to force myself to swim there no more than a decade.

SM: What are you working on now?

AF: I’m working on a family saga that centers on an engineer who immigrates from Tamil Nadu to Silicon Valley and invents a memory machine.

Shikha Malaviya (www.shikhamalaviya.com) is an Indo-American poet & writer. Her book, Geography of Tongues, was featured in several literary festivals. Shikha is a co-founder of The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, a mentorship model literary press dedicated to new poetic voices from India and the Indian diaspora. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in PLUME, Prairie Schooner, Water~Stone Review & other fine journals. Shikha was a featured TEDx speaker in GolfLinks, Bangalore, where she gave a talk on poetry. She has been a three-time mentor for AWP’s Writer to Writer Mentorship Program and was selected as Poet Laureate of San Ramon, CA, 2016. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.