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San Diego Author Anisha Bhatia On Writing About Culture, Empowering Women

 July 14, 2021 at 10:30 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The San Diego writers festival kicks off on Saturday with virtual events, bringing together local writers and nationally known. And award-winning authors discussions range from the practical, how to find a literary agent to the philosophical, how books can help us through life crises, San Diego author, and bought to as debut novel. The rules of arrangement was published just yesterday. She'll be participating in the writer's festival on Saturday as part of a panel on writing about culture. And she joins me now. Welcome to you. Speaker 2: 00:32 Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on, on your show. Speaker 1: 00:36 Aneesha first. Congratulations on the book. Thank you. Yeah, this is your first published novel. And since we're talking about the writers festival, I wanted to ask, what was your experience like writing the book and getting it published? Speaker 2: 00:50 Um, this is my first piece of long fiction that I've ever written. And, um, I did not realize how lucky I was to find an agent and get a publisher. So I am feeling a lot of gratitude these days. Um, I went through the usual channels of editing and re-editing and, um, the absolutely despairing query process and, um, found my agent worked on the book with her a little more, and then we had a publishing deal. So, um, the usual channels and I'm grateful that it was published. Um, you know, when it was, Speaker 1: 01:26 Hmm. And your book is called the rules of arrangement, and it tells the story of 26 year old Zoya Sahni who lives in Mumbai. And she has achieved a lot of success in her academic and professional life, but at that a ripe old age, and she's still unmarried, uh, which creates a problem for her family to solve. But it's not necessarily a problem for her at all. Why did you want to write about arranged marriages? Speaker 2: 01:51 Um, I come from a deeply traditional, um, south Asian, um, culture and not getting married or not marrying is just not an option on the table. It isn't something that you speak to your parents about and they'll be like, um, yes. Have you thought it through all right, then we're good to go. This, if you would say something like, I do not want to get married, or I just want to have a different life. People would look at you like, oh, I'm there. Is there something wrong with you? What's what's going on? So, um, that's something that I wanted to explore. Um, how you, um, sort of take both the traditional and the modern and, um, create something out of it for yourself. Speaker 1: 02:34 And you know, this is a novel, but it's also a social commentary on beauty standards, colorism, body image, and expectations for south Asian women. What message are you hoping re readers take away from this book? Speaker 2: 02:49 Um, absolutely. There's there's like, um, there are two things that, uh, were foremost in my mind when I was writing this book. One was, um, for women, the women everywhere who've been made to feel less than because of their appearance or weight or skin or anything. I just wanted readers to take away from this book that you are enough, you deserve all the good things. Don't shrink yourself and take all the chances you get. Don't hold yourself back. Um, the second one was, um, as a young person, I grew up with a lot of aunties around me and, um, I ended up, I remember seeing them as sort of, why are you watching over me so much, but as a young person, it is difficult to see someone older, um, as a person rather than just sort of, uh, place, head or figurehead in the family. And I just wanted to bring about the thing that all of the people, whatever they do, there's always a reason behind it. And they are who they are because of what has happened in their life. And that everybody has a story. Hmm. And Speaker 1: 03:52 What you're talking about there is the book's message of compassion. Why is this important to the story? Speaker 2: 03:59 Uh, we often, uh, and you're right. You're absolutely right. And, um, we often go through life. Um, I don't want to say without compassion, but it is very essential in, in the world just to see other people and to know that everything that is coming from them good or bad has a reason behind it. And, um, we just need more compassion in our lives and our world these days. Speaker 1: 04:25 And the rules of arrangement is met for an American audience. And it's largely about a cultural tradition that isn't so common here. So how did you approach writing about this topic when you knew it might be unfamiliar to many people reading it? Speaker 2: 04:39 So, um, I chose a specific kind of narrative the way the main character speaks, um, simply to make it more relatable. She she's this modern, uh, girl who has a career. Who's doing things with her friends. Who's going out drinking, who also has a boyfriend with benefits. And, um, and I used sort of an irreverent voice, um, to talk about things that are considered, um, not irreverent or almost sacred of very serious topics to basically show what she feels inside her head, what she cannot see out loud, which is also a universal thing. There are lots of things that we cannot say out loud, but we're thinking them in our heads. So I kind of use that narrative narrative to make it a little more relatable to the audience. Hmm. Speaker 1: 05:27 And you'll be speaking as part of a panel on Saturday on writing about culture. How do you draw from your own personal experience as an immigrant to San Diego? When you think about writing about culture? Speaker 2: 05:41 Um, I've been in San Diego for about 20 years now. And, um, personally I feel that anything that I do as a south Asian, as an Indian reflects upon my culture. So, um, you know, that always comes into how I'm writing and, um, I simplified some things in the book. Um, certain concepts of say, like arranged marriages, which are so new to this audience and how the family plays a very central role in why arranged marriages are important and why they occur in societies like ours. Um, so, um, and I used, you know, a lot of, um, a little bit of explanation in, uh, within the narrative sort of, um, explain what is going on. And, uh, and our society is very, uh, what do you, what do I say south Asian society is very collective and American society is very individualistic. So, um, it was great to sort of bring those together in a balance in that narrative. Speaker 1: 06:46 And, you know, anytime you're on a panel or you're writing about your culture, um, you are a representation of your culture. Is that ever a heavy weight to carry? Speaker 2: 06:57 Yes, I see. Sometimes it is. Um, it would be a lot more, um, it, it wouldn't be as much if I was living back home, but I've been integrated in, um, you know, San Diego's life, the American way of life for a long time now. So it isn't as much of a burden now as it was before. And, and I've, it's been really enjoyable to be able to introduce some of the culture that I love so much to a new audience. Speaker 1: 07:27 I've been speaking to San Diego author, a Nisha bot, Ja whose debut novel, the rules of arrangement is out. Now. She'll be taking part in a panel discussion on Saturday at 1115 as part of the San Diego writers festival. And you can find more information about the writer's festival and her book on our website and a Nisha. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Thank you so much for having me on your show.

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Bhatia's debut novel, “The Rules Of Arrangement,” uses the lens of an arranged marriage to voice a social commentary on beauty standards, colorism, body image and expectations for South Asian women.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments