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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Short Question and Answer with Shilpa Agarwal

To compliment Fantasy Book Critic's Blog Tour of Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal, Mihir Wanchoo had a few questions that he wished to ask Shilpa.

Fantasy Book Critic would like to thank Shilpa Agarwal for taking the time to answer these questions.

Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Haunting Bombay Here.


Your background and childhood, I read that you were born in Bombay & then relocated to the US so how did it affect your thinking process & thereby the story as well?

I was born in Bombay and grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was a quiet, studious child and felt pulled by two worlds. At school, I had to fit into the western world which wasn’t always welcoming or accepting of differences. At home, we were part of a larger Indian community and we used to gather at social or cultural events. I never truly felt at home in either world, and perhaps because of this I became interested in the twin concepts of belonging and crossing – whether east and west, centers and peripheries, or that between the unknowable realm of the living and the dead.

The setting of this novel, 1960s Bombay & the surrealism associated with the story, what made you fixate on it & the genesis/aim of the story.

At the moment of India’s Independence in 1947, Prime Minister Nehru said, “We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.” I wanted to set my novel thirteen years after this moment, as the nation moved into its adolescence. The Mittal family’s bungalow is a microcosm of the Indian nation. Who belongs in this bungalow? Who has voice? And who is excluded or silenced?

What would happen, I wondered, if we could hear the voice of the child who drowned or the child’s ayah (nursemaid) who was sent away after she was blamed for the death? Their versions of how/why the child drowned haunted me, and my story took a turn into the supernatural. My protagonist’s struggle to hear the voice of the dead child and the missing ayah is a journey to finding Truth itself.

As far as the supernatural, I was always interested in the unknown world and intrigued by stories that brought in this mysterious, unexplainable element. I did not write a ghost story in the traditional sense but a literary ghost story as the ghosts are metaphors for the dispossessed, those who have little or no power in a family, community, or nation. Haunting Bombay is about how a family’s unspeakable past continues to haunt their present-day lives.


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