So I finished reading The Pleasure Seekers and so wanted to know more about the writer and how did the book was born. Here’s a short interview with Tishani Doshi via email. Hope you enjoy. I certainly did. Thanks Tishani. How did the title come to you?
How did the title come to you?
There’s a quote from the Bible on a billboard outside a cheese shop in Kodaikannal, which I use in the book: “In the last days, men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, proud, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” There was such wonderful cadence in that line unholy lovers of pleasure. Perhaps that’s where it began.
You have also written a book of poems, “Countries of the Body”. I have always had the opinion that poetry for most part gets lost in our country. Why is that? Was your book of poems received as well as the novel?
I’m not sure why poetry has gotten so sidetracked in recent times. Perhaps there’s a prevailing notion that it’s inaccessible or old-fashioned, but that’s completely untrue. Song lyrics and rap owe their origins to poetry. If Seamus Heaney can applaud the poetic powers of Eminem, then I think it should work the other way around too.
Mixed Parentage also to a large extent means being seen as an outsider from almost both sides and may be that’s what Bean and Mayuri largely feel. Is that true?
Straddling two worlds is a large part of this novel, and for me personally, yes, the exploration began because I’m a product of two cultures. But I think being the outsider is a universal human experience. You don’t need to be a product of different religions or caste to long for a sense of belonging. It’s the most natural human emotion: to try and find your place in the world.
My favourite character/s in the entire book were Sian and Ba. Which ones were yours (though I realize it is not easy to choose) and why?
I think I was fond of all my characters, even the ones that were a bit pernickety and difficult. For me, the story really begins once you create the characters; they make things happen. Ba was initially a minor character, but as I wrote she took over! It’s always interesting to see how the direction of the narrative changes as you go along. Chotu was another character that surprised me. I felt a great deal of tenderness towards him.
I loved the vibrancy and use of colours in the book. Right from the blues of the peacocks to the reds of the lizards. Did you live those during your childhood as well?
I think most people in India have had some experience with lizards, right? I personally love lizards, although I’m not sure about peacocks. I’ve always hated the sound they make, like babies crying, and they’re such awkward birds – beautiful but slightly absurd. As for colour, it’s probably the reason why I moved back to India from London. Once you’ve lived life in Technicolor it’s difficult to get used to a palette of greys.
My most favourite part in the book is at the end of chapter 6 about “Six Months of Waiting”. Which one is your most favourite part. How did the title come to you?
The title for the chapter you like is: This is the world. Have Faith, and it’s taken from the Dylan Thomas poem “Our Eunuch Dreams.” One of my favourite chapters is So this is where, at the start of Part Two. It’s a fast forward vignette style growing up of the two daughters, Bean and Mayuri. I’ve always loved how in Hindi films they use a song to show a passage of time – at the start the hero and heroine are young kids, and by the end they’re grown up and are in love. It’s a very effective tool to speed up the narrative, and I guess that chapter was my attempt at a song. Some of the titles are taken from bits of poetry and philosophy, others are my own concoctions.
What is the true essence of Sian? Was the character based on someone you know?
When I was growing up in Madras I got to know a great deal of foreign women, married to Indian men, who had made India their home. My mother, of course, was part of that community, and a lot of Sian’s story – the small village in North Wales etc, is taken directly from her experience. But there were so many stories I heard from women born in Sweden, America, Denmark, Germany, England – all who had met their husbands in the 50s or 60s, and who had decided to make their families and home in India. I felt their stories were very different from the immigrant experience of say, the Indian abroad. This was a reverse immigration story in a way. Because their motivations to come to India were not economic. They came for love, and they mostly stayed, with a great deal of difficulty of course – some never went home again, some lost touch with their families. And I was always touched by the ways in which they tried to integrate themselves, by the way they dealt with the immense separation and sacrifice. They were all remarkable women.
How did the book come to you?
I think I went after it, actually. It was a very slow process, lots of layers and edits and re-thinking.
Writers often put themselves in their first book. How much of the book is you?
This book is in part a reinvention of family history, and so there’s a fair bit of me and other members of my family in it. But there are bits and pieces of other people’s family and experiences that have also fed into it. While I was writing the book I spoke to other people about the love story of their parents and all of it gradually grew in my mind as one grand story about a gigantic, idealized kind of love, which became Babo and Sian.
How close is dance to the form of writing?
Both are a form of creative discipline in a way, but the practice is very different. There’s a wonderful physicality involved in dance – daily rehearsals, performance, realizing the body’s limitations and possibilities. With writing, you’re doing the same thing without actually breaking into sweat. Writing is harder, I think, because it’s solitary and sedentary. Perhaps not if you’re one of those writers like Hemmingway, who stands up while they work – but I tend to crouch over a desk or write splayed out on a bed – very bad for posture. So I’m thankful for the dance element in my life. It keeps things in balance.
Next book in the pipeline?
A collection of poems, I hope.
Any literary influences?
Artistic influences, I would say – across the board – painters, musicians, writers, philosophers, photographers, dancers, architects, sculptors….
Most romantic book ever read?
Pride & Prejudice in any form always makes me a bit gushy. But I think I probably read most books as love stories. I’ve just read Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story and Skippy Dies by Paul Murray – both tremendous books, which have love at the centre of them (dysfunctional love, but still, love).
Most favourite book? and why?
Alice in Wonderland. It’s poetic, imaginative, whacky, wonderful, and works on many levels.