My story begins in Mumbai, India. My slice of Mumbai in the early 1960s was a
rambling house built in the 1930s surrounded by coconut, guava and beetle nut
trees. I was raised in a Maharashtrian, joint family; my father’s parents and his
sister lived with us.
My father and grandfather were perfumers and sampling strips of sandalwood
and jasmine were always being sniffed and perfected. Making perfumes became a
part of my imaginative play. Didn’t everyone make perfumes of dirt, crushed
flowers and pebbles?
I grew up reading cross culturally. We were exposed to various children’s
series written by British author Enid Blyton. These were stories set in far away,
unseen, magical England. They were tales of boarding schools ,vacations in a
caravan and exotic foods like crumpets.
There were no explanations or author’s notes. Enid Blyton probably did not
realize that her books were being read by millions of non British children in Her
Majesty’s ex colonies. At times we were puzzled. My sister and I tried to figure out
the meaning of “blancmange”. Using context clues we guessed that it was some
kind of slippery British dessert. I also read plenty of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy
series. I was also bitten by the travel bug; I just did not know it then!
My grandfather influenced my reading choices as I got older. He introduced
me to Jane Austen, and P.G. Wodehouse. On my own I discovered American
Growing up I wanted to be a journalist and then an Indian classical singer. The
worst case of dust and other allergies soon torpedoed that dream. My choice of
profession crystallized after meeting an inspiring psychology teacher in tenth
grade, Mrs. Krishnaswamy.
On Sept 13th 1986, I came to America as a graduate student. I was young, naive
, and idealistic. I arrived at Lambert international Airport in St. Louis with two
suitcases, a few dollars and dreams. I was to be met by a representative in the
Foreign Student’s Office. After waiting for someone to show up for twenty
interminably long minutes, I dug out some quarters (kept in case of an emergency
that I hoped wouldn’t happen) and read strange directions to make a call to the
International student office. About an hour later a student walked up to me and
I blinked my tears away and nodded.
“Welcome to America,” he said.
We drove into Illinois in uncomfortable silence. His limited English made
conversation almost impossible.
I felt a frightening loneliness. Everyone I knew and loved was a world away. I
stared through the window at the alien surroundings whizzing past me on the
people less highway. Then I read, “Mississippi River”.
It spoke to me. The Mississippi was where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn played.
I had visited that river before. I started to babble about Mark Twain and Tom
Sawyer. My companion looked at me as if I was demented and drove a little faster.
But my fear had decreased, and my mouth was a little less dry.
That day Mark Twain made a girl from India feel less alone, and a lot less
scared. Such is the power of stories. Western writers have invited me into their
world. My adjustment to this country and culture was facilitated by my knowledge
of the language and my awareness of the culture through books, movies and music
and by the warmth and welcoming attitude of its people.
After a dozen intermediate years in which I got a Masters degree, worked as a
Counselor, got married, had two children and became a citizen, I started writing. It
was 1999, two years after my daughter was born; my son was five and I had fallen
in love with the picture book.