My family’s narratives, and therefore mine, have been shaped by multiple migrations. My Tulu-speaking paternal grandfather migrated south in British India from Kumble to Irinjalakuda, where there was a shortage of priests. He found work as a priest in a temple, and later got married to my Malayalam-speaking grandmother from a matriarchal community, and they raised their twelve children, including my father, in Irinjalakuda, which is in present day Kerala. On my maternal side, my Malayalam-speaking grandfather, who initially worked in the British Army, got married to my Gandhi-following grandmother. After he changed jobs to become a school headmaster around 1944, he was posted in Tamil-speaking Madras State, which meant their eight children, including my mother, moved around a lot and grew up in different towns and villages, learning both Tamil language and customs, in addition to the Malayalam language and Kerala traditions they followed at home.
My father migrated to Mumbai in independent India, and my mother came there after marriage. My sister and I were lucky to grow in diverse, cosmopolitan Mumbai or Bombay as it was called then, where people from all parts of India came to find work, earn a living and make a life. We learned Malayalam at home, Tamil from our neighbors, English, Hindi and Marathi from school and surroundings. My parents reinforced respect for diversity around us - "that is their way, and that is ok" was a constant theme. Mumbai allowed us to accept differences, and celebrate them – without judgement, and gave us access to opportunity through established educational institutions that shaped secular world views. Some of my fondest memories of Mumbai come from my days at the University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT, now UICT) where I studied to get my B.Chem. Eng. Degree in Chemical Engineering, as one of three girls in a class of 60 students.
Growing up in Mumbai and my time in UDCT certainly prepared me for the next phase of my life – travel to the United States to study graduate school in Chemical Engineering at Penn State University – and my new life as a minority in Central Pennsylvania. Seeing myself through the gaze of the majority was a new experience, and it took a while to see myself through my own lens again. But I did get there, and am happy to be living in State College, where my husband and I met , where our daughter was born and raised, and where we are now exploring life as newly-minted empty nesters.
WHY STORYTELLING IS IMPORTANT TO ME
My earliest memories are of my father telling us stories, my sister and I sitting at his feet on the floor, or on the long parapet of my grandparents house, or in sofas and chairs, usually along with a cousin or two or more. We hung on to his every word, as he skillfully introduced the cast of characters, created conflict, increased the stakes and used dialogue to reel us in and transport us into other worlds - from everyday life, history and Hindu mythology. The stories were always filled with possibility - even when there was anguish or disaster, the way out was usually around the corner. Sometimes the way out was accepting that which could not be changed, and at other times, the way out came by crafting incredible solutions that changed the world.
My mother introduced other stories to me, through her interactions with the world around her. Real life characters came into our house, and as they interacted with her and us, I saw and heard dialogue, points of view, problem solving, resilience, moving on. Thanks to my parents, I understood that every person has a story, and that listening to stories builds empathy. I understood that there are more sides to a story than any eye could possibly see. More importantly, I realized that we are all shaped by the stories we hear and read, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones we give ourselves permission to share with others.
Today, from my home in Pennsylvania, I write my own stories - fiction and nonfiction, mostly about immigrants who are pioneers straddling multiple worlds in space and time. I write about their individuality and their spirit, their distinct experiences, born out of universal daily routines that turn into memories. I write about the links that connect and bind us all together, even as we live our unique, individual lives. My stories for children and adults are born at the intersections of my varied experiences, as a person born in India, who migrated to the United States, and who has been lucky to travel the world; as a person who trained as a chemical engineer in Mumbai, India, as one of three girls in a class that had fifty seven boys; and who is now a writer and presenter passionate about our common humanity.
MY WRITING JOURNEY
Over the past decade and a half, I have written newspaper columns and spoken about both immigrant experiences and the multiple ways we are all interconnected. I am currently writing fiction and non-fiction children’s books based on the immigrant experience. I enjoy going on adventures with my diverse cast of characters as they live out their ordinary and extraordinary lives in my picture book and middle grade creations.
Being accepted to and attending the Fiction Workshop at the 2015 VONA/Voices in Miami is a treasured moment on my writing journey so far. I had the distinct honor of being mentored and taught by the amazing, talented, and generous M. Evelina Galang, who taught me to write the truth of my characters with courage, and inspired me to continue using all my powers for good. As I write every day, I heed her call to go past my fear, hear the truth of my characters, and find the heart of my stories. I also found inspiration in the eleven other fierce, spirited, compassionate souls who were part of the fiction group, striving to light up the world with their presence, their thoughts and their words.
I am also very thankful to my supportive community of writer-friends whom I met through SCBWI and WOW and 12 x 12, and wonderful teachers like Mira Reisberg, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Hillary Homzie, Kristen Fulton and Arree Chung, who have been instrumental in introducing me to the intricacies of writing for children.
I love to read, and enjoy solitude as much as I enjoy a chat with a good friend. I have lived in India, USA and Japan, and have been lucky to travel across a few continents. I still hope to visit Alaska and Botswana some day (in alphabetical order), even as I appreciate Tagore's idea of finding happiness in the dewdrops on the blades of grass dancing just outside my front door. In alternate and parallel universes, I can be found juggling my role of writer and speaker with my other roles of mother, daughter, wife, sister, aunt, friend, neighbor, global citizen and more. My family and friends give meaning to my life, and I am forever grateful for their presence and support.
DO STAY IN TOUCH - I look forward to hearing from you!