The Mahabharata is one of the world’s oldest epic poems, dated back to the 8 or 9th century B.C., and also a core text of Hindu mythology. Let’s just say a lot happens in it. Deaths, births, drama, wars, romance, revenge, more deaths! As my mother likes to say, “Ja nai Mahabharat-ey, ta nai Bharat-ey” — “if it’s not in the Mahabharata, it’s not in India.” So it should come as no surprise that India has a thriving third-gender and transgender community and that the Mahabharata, which is thousands of years old, features many important trans* and non-binary characters.
Today, on International Transgender Day of Visibility, I just wanted to talk about a few of these characters. They’re not a “trend,” not some fancy, modern, newfangled phase the young folks are going through. They have always been with us, just as trans* people have always been with us in real life. Are the portrayals one hundred percent positive or accurate? No. Ancient people are jerks, too, and translations go through many permutations and many hands. But we do have a strong case for how trans* people are, at least in Hinduism, an aspect of God.
I’m not Nalini. But how cool would it be if I were?
More than a year ago, I published a post on my own blog about how multicultural fiction is not a monolith. “I am not Nalini Singh who is not Brenda Jackson who is not Shelly Ellis who is not Jeannie Lin,” I said. “And just because Nalini and Brenda are superstars doesn’t mean the POC Author Quota has been filled.”
And yet…that attitude in publishing persists. “Oh, we’ve got our favorite brown author, so we don’t need more.” Do you know how disheartening it is for those of us who aren’t Mom’s Golden Child? Why keep at it if the position has been filled?
I don’t know if I have some sort of seasonal disorder, if I’m low on Vitamin D, or if I’m actually in one of my depressive mood disorder episodes this time around, but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my funk-tastic situation. It’s March, it’s still cold here in the northeast, and the shit has literally just hit the fan in my life. I just want to stay in bed and read Sylvia Day or Nalini Singh until this is all over.
Let me paint the scene:
My love for reading led me to write, and I continue to be first and foremost a reader. I love finding a book that sucks me in and rocks my world. When I finish reading such a book, I want to tell the whole world about it. So this post is about a YA fantasy that left me breathless and craving for more – An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.
What made this book a delicious read for me? The story was a fantastic read. It hooked me from the start, kept me turning the pages way past my bedtime, and I was utterly devastated…I wanted MORE! Since I didn’t have a sequel to move on to, I google stalked the author and thought more about the read…
So, the world was outraged for the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and went on its worldwide mission to advocate Freedom of Speech. I get that. And I am completely with the program. Or, I was.
[Trigger warning for talk of rape after the break – Suleikha]
Let’s be frank. I don’t cook Indian food all the time. Now, before you label me a “disgrace to my race”, let me explain why. One, I’m a lover of culture and cuisine, so dinner is usually an around-the-world treat. My favorites include Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and Thai. Two, I’m horribly displaced from other Indians. Since I don’t have the constant pressure to cook for Indians, the stigma of having to prepare Indian food everyday is absent. Three, cooking Indian food takes a long time and sometimes I don’t have the time or the patience for it. Four, who cares what I cook as long as it’s diverse, delicious, and healthy!
We know how this goes, right, Sari Sisters? Once you pass the big 3-0, all the birthdays start to blend together a little, only marked by the extra wheedling notes in your desi mother’s voice when she wonders if you’ll ever get married. (That’s “never” and counting, for yours truly.)
It can get frustrating.
John’s angry face is all our faces.
Exactly eleven days ago, I received my edits for my upcoming YA novel ‘My So-Called Bollywood Life’ which comes out next summer with Crown Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House Imprint). These are what my editor calls ‘large scale changes’ which will affect the plot of the book. This is before we get into the nitty gritty line editing stuff.
You’d think I’d be ecstatic right? Things are finally moving along! Whoot!
Wrong. Continue reading
Two Bollywood themed books made Library Journal’s Best Books of 2014 List! My A Bollywood Affair and Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter. If that doesn’t call for a celebration and giveaway, I don’t know what does! So, Susan Kaye Quinn and I are giving away lots of Indian goodies for being fellow bestie-listie-besties. (scroll down for the giveaway)
While making the list is fantastic, the other half of this amazing news is that our books are as different as two Indian set romances can be, proving the infinite possibilities in terms of premise and promise of the sub-genre. Third Daughter is steampunk (I know, it’s amazing!) and mine is a family saga set in Bollywood, the actual Indian film industry. Can you imagine the spectrum of stories between those two?
Of course there are common themes, like arranged marriages and complex familial bonds, so Susan and I try to answer some questions about writing Bollywood romance and our take on the inevitable arranged marriages.
To carry on Mina’s Djinn theme of where one can find inspiration for a story, blog…what the hell.. even for life, I’ll take you through my personal “novel” journey.
Don’t know if any of you know, but I pretty much stumbled into novel writing much like Alice in Wonderland fell down a rabbit hole. I woke up one morning, nigh on five years ago now, called my Mom in India. She repeated her lecture on how I was wasting my “brain” and the kids were reasonably grown and I should “do something worthwhile with my life” and not simply be the “housewife” I was extremely content being. (See, my mother’s the busiest bee I know. Not one to sit at home when the world is spinning furiously.)
Most of which was true. Not that I agreed with Mom’s assessment that I was “wasting” away, but something prompted me that day to evaluate where I was and what I wished to be doing. I have long loved reading. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had a book in my hand or a movie that I’m watching. What better option had I than to combine that love of reading with “doing something worthwhile.” For an Indian parent that would mean getting a degree of some sort. Which I haven’t got even now, but I did set out on the path to obtain one…before I stumbled headlong into wonderland.
I scrolled through a short list of online classes on Literature and the Classics at the local community college and what do you know? I found my Djinn…my magic lamp…where I rub rub rubbed and produced a treasure. I stumbled onto a course called “Romance Writing Secrets” and I was so intrigued that I had to take it. It was a short 6 week course, but what it did was remind me how much I loved to create a fable, spin a story, make magic with words. I had homework and that taught me discipline to sit down and write every day, even if it was for just five minutes.
The 6 weeks flew by but I was addicted. I took a grammar refresher course and another course on plotting. I don’t remember much after that expect the day, less than a year later, that I had a finished manuscript on my hands. Like an actual, bonafide, full fledged MANUSCRIPT!
Then came the hard part. Holy hell! I’ve written a freakin’ book! What the hell do I do with it now?
And that, Dear Readers, will be the title of my next blog post. Until that time, stay warm. Stay inspired. And don’t be afraid to jump down a rabbit hole or listen to your Moms.