A Chit Chat with Indira Ganesan – Interview


Indira Ganesan
Indira Ganesan, the author of As Sweet as Honey speaks about herself and the global families that her work revolves around:

Indira Ganesan Interview

Tell us something about yourself. Where did you grow up, what did you study and what do you do for a living?

Indira Ganesan: I spent my first few years in Srirangam and Bareilly, before moving to the States. I learned English in kindergarten in St. Louis and grew up largely outside NYC. In college, I went back to Madras to study one year at Stella Maris College, in Fine Arts. Returned to complete my degree in English at Vassar College. I went to the Iowa Writers Workshop for an MFA in Fiction. And I write and teach at the university-level.

When did you gravitate towards writing?

I was lucky to have very encouraging teachers in grade school.

Explain me the title of the book, how does it relate to the story or the characters or is it just a feeling that you intend to leave the reader with.

The title comes from a line of the Grandmother’s to explain what the island city is like, compared to what she sees as the negative aspects of big city life in Bombay or Delhi.

How much of the story is autobiographical? Cliche question, can you write fiction without a piece of your own life in it?

Your values imbue your work. I write about women because I identify as feminist. Usually, the ideal nature of the grandmother figures and homes reflect my memories of Srirangam. Otherwise, the characters live their own lives and plots.

A woman who is unusually tall, was this supposed to be metaphoric too? And do unusual people tend to act unusually too according to you?

I think the children see her as very tall and gift her with supernatural talent. In reality, Meterling is not abnormally tall. In some ways, I did want her height to give her outsider status, which leads to her independence.

Do you somewhere feel the loss of connection with the roots as the families spread globally and while we have someone everyone but no one back home?

Yes, I think the extended family has morphed into diaspora. We are global, stay in touch virtually, yet are physically further away. We can Skype, but we don’t have conversations.  My mom tells a story of how when my uncle got mad at their dad for something or the other as a boy, he would run off to their uncle’s house. After a few days, he’d come back. Family as loose and encompassing as that might indeed be a thing of the past.

Talk about the role supernatural elements in realistic stories? Do you think we inherently believe in them no matter how much we may deny them in public?

That’s a great way of looking at the supernatural or the seemingly inexplicable – what do we admit to, and what do believe when pressed? We are subject to an atmosphere, to mood, weather. And we give our imagination more scope in the dark. We can spook ourselves. Today I read about a contemporary Mennonite community that believed its women were being raped by demons. Women would wake with torn clothes, blood, but could not remember anything. Turns out it was a group of men who systematically drugged entire households to rape the inhabitants. How awful if the women were still not believed if demons were blamed? So there is both the romantic charm of the supernatural and the horrific possibilities of delusion.

Indira Ganesan, Why did you choose a fictional setting for your story?

I invented the island of  Pi in 1983 when there were more fantastical settings in fiction. I loved the freedom to stray from India’s facts and make up my own history and geography. It is a microcosm of the society of course, like the island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. I want people to come to the Island and leave transformed, as do Shakespeare’s characters in The Tempest.

What books do you read and have they had any influence on your writing?

As Sweet As Honey was influenced by the structure of Virginia Wolf’s To The Lighthouse. The comedy of manners as seen in Austen and Forster also influenced me. When I am really engaged with writing, I will start to read mysteries. Right now, I am reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Are you working on any other book at the moment, if yes, please share some details with us?

Indira Ganesan: I am working on a sequel to As Sweet As Honey. I’m excited to revisit some of the characters again, though it might be a shade darker than the original.

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