I was born in New Delhi to a Malayali family - father an officer in the Indian Air Force, mother a schoolteacher and one brother two years older than me. When I was one, we went to England for a two-year stint that I can't remember at all but most of my growing up years were spent in a sort of happy haze between Delhi and Bangalore.
My first novel, Ancient Promises, is semi-autobiographical and describes a Delhi upbringing, interspersed with idyllic holidays in Kerala, which is pretty much how life was. The story is, however, 'book-ended' by an unsuccessful arranged marriage and a divorce that followed ten years later (read the book if you're struck by sudden curiosity!).
My daughter, born with a severe learning disability, led me to the world of Special Education and, in 1990, I left for England again, this time to do a post-grad diploma at the Institute of Education in London.
After divorce and a dream-remarriage to my first love (I keep telling you, you must read Ancient Promises), I moved back to England in order start a new life there. A motley succession of jobs followed - embarrassing at the time, although I can now safely say I was developing a writer's cv. I taught adults with special needs, did child care work in a Social Services department, worked as a radio journalist at the BBC and, most recently, was a film classifier at the British Board of Film Classification in London. Satisfying and exhausting as much of it was, I was moonlighting almost continuously in those years as a novelist. Don't ask why. Writing is like the tap I have in my bathroom in Delhi that I simply can't turn off completely.
Which brings me to where I am now: in Delhi, finally beginning to achieve my Big Dream, which has for long been to help set up a long-term residential home for adults with learning disabilities. I've been here since November 2009 and am happy to say that much ground has been covered, thanks mostly to the group of parents I joined at Muskaan. The Delhi government had leased us a disused community centre on three acres of land to get the project going and, incredibly, our first six residents have been living on the premises for over a month. It's not without challenges but a very exciting leap forward nonetheless.
Trying to maintain a writer's life in Delhi is a distracting business - I spend inordinate amounts of time waiting for VIPs like plumbers to show up, for instance - but I managed to meet my three-books-in-three-years commitment to Harper Collins who published my seventh book of fiction in May 2011. Where do these books emerge from? It's a mysterious process I don't analyse too deeply lest it should, unlikely my drippy tap, suddenly dry up. Never mind that it's an even greater source of wonder to me that all these books get read at all. Where do people find the time??
For those of you unfamiliar with my writing, there's more on my novels elsewhere on this site. If you get around to reading any, please do use the feedback section as I like knowing what readers think of them (erm ... I'm robust and can take criticism).
Or so I thought - until my most ambitious book so far, a big historical novel based on the life of Rani Lakshmibai and set in nineteenth century British India, was banned by the Uttar Pradesh state government! Though deeply impressed by TV scenes of pandemonium in the UP assembly, I was, all said and done, terrified by what I'd set off. And upset that people who had clearly not read the book were accusing it of being disrespectful of Rani Lakshmibai, a figure I had in fact grown to like enormously while researching her. Additionally, there appeared to be misunderstandings in India about the genre of historical fiction in which it's usually considered fair game for writerly imagination to fill in the gaps left behind by recorded history. But a love story (albeit unexpressed and unfulfilled) between a widowed Indian queen and her British political agent was considered inflammatory by some. 'A subtle metaphor for Empire' was the kind of description I'd have preferred personally but never mind. Luckily, sometime after the cinders of those rather plump effigies had been swept away, I sold Rani's 'film rights to a Bollywood company and was instantly filled with the most gratifying sense of divine justice.
You'd hardly blame me, however, for hastily reverting to contemporary life and manners in the books that followed. These were a set of books commissioned by Harper Collins in the UK for their Avon imprint that specialises in commercial fiction. I had to bid a teary goodbye to friends at Penguin and, don't tell Harper Collins, but I still miss that perky penguin on the book jackets. Worse, I lost a whole tranche of readers who were oddly angry at my departure from that (sort of) lit-fic territory of Ancient Promises and Afterwards. But, c'mon guys, I was never going to be Salman Rushdie, was I? Besides, would any sane writer (admittedly, not many of those around) turn down a three-book-deal? In the middle of a recession? With an agent cracking her whip like crazy in the background?
Anyway, the first of these three novels, Secrets and Lies, was released in June 2009 by Avon's quite fabulous team of appropriately gorgeous women. It's a book that celebrates female friendship, following four women who lead seemingly glamorous lives in London and Bombay but who are haunted by a dark secret from their school days. I'm pleased to say that the book sold very well in the UK and went onto the Heatseeker's list in the second week of its publication. In India too, it appeared on various best-seller lists - so a huge heartfelt thank you to all those lovely people who bought the book.
Secrets and Sins followed in the summer of 2010. It's again a love story of sorts - I'm beginning to think that luurve might be kind of my thing although I tell more serious readers that this book is a 'study of infidelity'. Please, please would a film-maker have a serious read of it; it's tailor-made for Bollywood with its hero conveniently being ... a Bollywood star!
A Scandalous Secret is the last in that series (phew) and reverts in a curious way to the territory of my very first book, being about mothers and daughters. Quite unlike Ancient Promises, however, this is about a woman who tries to suppress the memory of the child she gave away at birth. She thinks her life is under control when she subsequently marries a man who knows nothing about her past ... until the girl, now eighteen herself, turns up in Delhi on a mission to find her mother. This bit should ideally be accompanied by a suspenseful soundtrack to make it sound like a truly irresistible story. Nevertheless, I hope you're dropping everything at the minute to rush out and grab a copy.
A bigger book, hopefully, but I can't tell you more about it just yet - mostly because it's still at the 'total nonsense' stage. Doesn't help that I'm happily distracted by also playing editor to an anthology that will be crammed full of India's most glittering female writers describing different aspects of motherhood. The proceeds will help Save the Children employ more health workers in areas where children are still dying of easily preventable diseases (incredibly, we lose an Indian child every 17 seconds, I am told). The book will be published by Zubaan, keep your eyes open for it in March 2013 and remember that purchasing it will help a few desperate mothers and children.
For now, keep reading!
PS. Oh, I should also say that there are pictures of me (under the 'Home' button on the top of this page) that you can use with my permission. WARNING: The studio photographer, Saurabh Dua, is the most talented man I know who works with smoke and mirrors and I look nothing like that face-to-face, alas.