I noticed in a previous interview you mentioned that you were a hybrid between a pantser and a planner and that for your short fiction you are a total pantser. This story was so well crafted that I can’t believe you were a pantser while writing it. So, did the journey of Aunt Anju, Tamar, and Tara lead your pen, or did you carefully outline this story?
Thank you, but I did not outline it at all! This story was borne from a single image I had of this trio of refugees, searching desperately for a place of safety, and from the title of the story itself. I wrote a few pages and then put it aside, and the rest of it came to me some months later. This seems a rather inefficient way of writing, and I would not really recommend it, but it appears to work for me, especially for short stories. I do end up having to revise a fair bit.
Aunt Anju, who would risk everything to protect her niece and nephew, and Bird, a high-level soldier, are strong women in this story. How does feminine power compel you to write?
I was born and raised in a deeply patriarchal society. I was taught to be nice, to speak softly, to put others before myself, to conform to expectations. It makes me angry, because that patriarchal society is rotten to the core, unsafe for women, and highly inequitable. Unlearning these unwanted lessons will take a lifetime. My fictional women, at least, will be unburdened by such dangerous nonsense.
On your blog, you mention that fiction can be “an escape, a transport into another universe, and, at its best, a mirror we hold up to ourselves and the flawed world we live in.” This story is a close-up of how and what many migrants contend with while seeking asylum or better yet “paradise” or maybe even the “American Dream.” As a mother, did the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, where children are ripped from their parents’ arms, inspire you to write this tale?
I wrote this story before Trump became President. My inspiration comes from the deadly Kashmir conflict that has taken and continues to take so many lives in the Indian subcontinent. That said, the experience of refugees the world over is sadly the same: Fleeing from conflict and persecution, all they want is safety for themselves and their children—a chance at a normal life, such as you and I might take for granted. As of 2018, there were over sixty-eight million displaced people in the world. A “zero-tolerance” policy essentially means damning them and their dreams of a safe home, far from violence. So many people the world over lack the most basic necessities: clean water, adequate food, a roof over their heads that won’t get blown up during the night. It is these simple desires that propel the characters of my story, too.
The Diwali myth is basically how good triumphs over evil. People light lamps, firecrackers, candles all over their homes to welcome the deity Lakshmi to enter their houses with good luck. So, do the lighted-jelly-fish aliens represent Rama to defeat nuclear proliferation?
That is an interesting viewpoint. I can’t say I ever thought of it like that. I really was thinking more of actual aliens. But reader interpretation will vary, and I am sure will continue to surprise me.
I’ve noticed you have various Indian mythology threaded throughout your story, such as the Tawi, the Diwali. How does Indian mythology inspire you to write? Do you have any more stories based on Indian mythology coming out soon?
My work is deeply influenced by Indian mythology. I grew up in my grandmother’s house, listening to stories from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the Puranas. It’s one of my core inspirations, apart from all the science fiction and fantasy I consumed as a teen. My favorite stories are of the Mother Goddess in her myriad forms, especially Goddess Kali, the destroyer of evil.
I have written two books influenced by Indian mythology. My Asiana duology—Markswoman and Mahimata—features an Order of assassins who worship Kali and keep the peace in a post-apocalyptic, alternate version of Asia. She is, for me, the epitome of feminine power, and it was so delightful and satisfying for me to be able to weave myths of the goddess into my books.
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