Real life can trigger fiction

Updated: Nov 18, 2019, 08:57 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

With a much-lauded debut novel set in Pune that explores a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship, Dubai-based writer Avni Doshi readies for its Mumbai launch

Avni Doshi
Avni Doshi

You began writing the first draft of Girl in White Cotton (HarperCollins India) in 2013 as part of the Tibor Jones Prize. Did you think about the expectations attached to a first novel? 

I've actually thought of myself as an outsider in the literary community. I started out in the art world and came to fiction writing later. So, I didn't have a lot of the pressure that someone in the literary world would've experienced; there weren't that many people asking me about my debut. 

The pressure came internally — every draft I wrote, I knew wasn't the right one. Then, finally when I came to the right draft, it was a relief because I thought there was something I could stand behind, and that really happened through my main character's [Antara] voice.

Having grown up in the US, you lived in Mumbai and are now based in Dubai. As is evident in the novel, you've got a connection to Pune as well. How have diverse locations complemented your craft?

I don't know if it has complemented or confused my writing. When you have lived in so many different places, memories keep getting layered upon one another and it becomes difficult to distinguish one place from the other.

I don't even know how true to Pune I was [in the novel]; I have very specific memories but there are huge gaps in my knowledge base since it's not a place I'm living in day-to-day. That comes across as Antara is going into memories of her childhood. Dubai is interesting because it is a pretty sterile city in a lot of ways; it acts as a canvas and can give your voice a pared-down quality. I started my last draft in New York and finished it in Dubai. I'm not sure I would've been able to write this draft in India, even though it is at the heart of this book. I don't think I could have written it without some distance.

Would you regard your debut work to be autobiographical in some way?

The question of autobiography in fiction is interesting and complicated. This is definitely not an autobiography in the straightforward sense because my life is nothing like my protagonist's but at the same time, so many of the emotions are true. Real life often acts as a trigger for writing fiction.

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RSVP shabnam.srivastava@harpercollins.co.in

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