Perfectly Untraditional is New York City-based author and poet Sweta Srivastava Vikram's first novel.
The protagonist, Shaili Kapoor marries the perfect guy, migrates to New York, but falls in love with an Iranian woman artist in self-exile. We speak to the author about her protagonist whose lesbianism forms the mainstay of the book.
What led you to write a book about a lesbian?
There were multiple factors. I didn't want to write about stereotypical villains like infidel husbands or wretched mothers-in-law or witchy wives. I aspired for the book to be about ordinary people: their emotional evolution, relationships, and journeys. Secondly, I wanted to write a different, immigrant story. Immigration, to me, is an individual migration of thoughts and experiences. Though the change might be discomforting for some, it might not be the worst thing to happen to every person. I think it's unfair to add all immigrant experiences under the same melancholic bucket of challenges and tears. Shaili Kapoor, the female protagonist, finds herself once she moves to New York, both personally and professionally.
Why the overwhelming justification of Shaili's lesbianism?
While doing research for the book, I realised that no two people from the gay community had the exact same experience irrespective of their gender, skin colour, and ethnicity. Some believed they were born gay; others thought their circumstances made them who they were. Sometimes abuse at home turned them against a certain gender. There was never a single, simple answer. My female protagonist, an Indian woman brought up under strict and abusive regimen, was never given the opportunity to explore her own identity. She wonders maybe she could have figured herself out earlier if she was allowed to date men. In the '90s India, when Shaili was in her twenties, dating wasn't as acceptable as it is today. Most women, despite all the modernism, were conditioned to appease. I couldn't imagine Shaili Kapoor having clarity on how or why she turned out to be gay. She was never allowed to think until such time she moved to New York.
What are the implications of introducing alternate sexuality protagonists in mainstream fiction?
People with alternate sexuality are as much a part of my daily life (many of my friends are gay) as are heterosexual people. I don't consider the gay community "different." I am interested in telling stories about people and relationships, and the emotional depths consuming the human mind. I hope readers can learn that you do not have to understand everything in life to become accepting.
Perfectly Untraditional by Niyogi Books available in bookstores. Rs 350