Sneak Peek of Train Friends

Here is a special sneak excerpt from the newly released essay collection Train Friends – Bombay Roots, Parallel Track, Shared Journeys. Specially for Mumbaikars!!

The Hussainsagar express train dropped me off at Dadar station at about six in the morning. I carried my light bag to the local train platform, determined to prove to my parents that I didn’t need to be escorted home. I was, after all, a Mumbaikar and everyone knows that Mumbai trains are a safe option, even at that early hour. 

A group of college students were the only evidence of life on an otherwise deserted platform. They talked and poked each other in the ribs, laughing aloud at their inside jokes. I was transported back to my Agarwal class days, wondering if my group had been equally boisterous. My reverie was interrupted by a hoarse voice.

“Aunty, Bandra kaun se side aayega?” Which side will Bandra come?

The question was a common one, one that I had often asked others. But had this boy really called me Aunty? Me? Aunty!!

In typical Mumbai style, the response rose in my throat involuntarily.

Aunty hogi teri maa.” Your mother is an aunty.

After a sixteen-hour journey, with a night spent tossing around on a train berth, in my crumpled salwar kameez and messy hair, I knew I wasn’t looking my best. But Aunty??

Grab your copy here.

Not the Brown Girl with the Red Dot

Photo credit: Shailaja Chilappagari

More than two decades ago, I was the only girl on my college campus in the US who wore a prominent bindi on her forehead, a choice that earned me the nickname of “the girl with the red dot”. Writing an essay about this experience helped me delve into defining my identity by trying to understand my reasons for choosing to stand out this way, so far away from home. I revisited this topic again in light of the current focus on identity which seems to be defined primarily by our skin colour: Not the Brown Girl with the Red Dot.

Not Native by Murali Kamma

This is a review of “Not Native: Short Stories of Immigrant Life in an In-Between World” by Murali Kamma. Five stars!

What I found refreshing about the stories is that they are not about nostalgia and they are not ruminations on identity. Rather, the stories illuminate aspects of everyday lives, ranging from reconnecting with long-ago friends or acquaintances to coming to a new understanding of the old Indian society and the new American one.

“Holi Day in America” is a heartwarming story that portrays a low-key yet deep friendship between Rohan, a young newly arrived man, and David a casual friend of his who, knowing about the Holi festival, offers to celebrate it with him. An exchange between Rohan and David, about their differing views of America’s promise of opportunity, is a gem. Only too aware of America’s underbelly, David is jaded. But Rohan’s can-do spirit is a distillation of the hope with which millions continue to dream of America.

… Being a recent immigrant, the path is more challenging for me, David. I have to pay my dues — at least, that’s how I see it. I made a conscious decision to come here, so I accept that. I was willing to give up certain advantages, because I knew there would be other advantages.

“Fragments of Glass” is a notable story as it delves into India’s caste system and the progress that is possible when individuals take it upon themselves to act with intention to challenge the system. Finally, “Brahms in the Land of Brahma” is about a relationship that develops between an American working in a high-tech city and his Indian host.

In summary, the stories in Not Native are quiet and gentle. But, they are far from weightless. I think immigrants of all stripes will relate to these stories. So will others who are curious to understand the inner lives of the immigrants who live unobtrusively among them with their stories tucked quietly inside.

Today is Women in Medicine Day!

Today (September 5) is Women in Medicine Day. The entire month of September has been designated as Women in Medicine Month.  #WIMMonth.

I am honoring Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee, the first woman from India who became a doctor. My book about her, titled Radical Spirits, is due out at the end of 2019.

Here is a brief summary of the story that my book tells:

In 1883, an unschooled Indian teenager named Anandi Joshee sailed from Calcutta to New York. This was a time when there were no schools for girls in India. Also, doctors (who were all male) could not treat female patients. Having witnessed the suffering of women, Joshee decided to become a doctor so she might provide medical care to her “country-sisters.” Through her achievement, she hoped to help create a culture that saw women as deserving, and capable of, equality with men.

Anandi faced critics in India and skeptics in America. Her two champions were her husband Gopal who had tutored her and fostered her ambition, and Theodocia Carpenter, a New Jersey housewife who had initiated a correspondence three years before, offering “all possible help.” With her determination and grace Anandi won the support of all—American, British and Indian alike—who crossed her path. Three thousand people attended her 1886 graduation from the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia, and Queen Victoria sent congratulations from London.

Based on original letters, diary entries, archives and newspaper accounts, the book draws a textured portrait of British India and post Civil War America and the rich relationships that thoughtful Indian, British and American individuals managed to forge by bridging cultural, political and class boundaries.

Who are some of the women in medicine that you want to honor today?

Writing about Writing

My first guest post. Also my first post on the craft of writing. In this piece I offer practical tips on writing a powerful personal essay using tools used by fiction writers. Author Damyanti Biswas whose debut novel You Beneath Your Skin is available for pre-order on was kind enough to feature me on her blog.

Read my take at: How to Write a Powerful Personal Essay Using the Craft of Fiction

Are you a fiction or non-fiction reader/writer? How do you approach the your writing tasks? 


Is it telepathy or serendipity when your thoughts (and actions) match those of someone far away? To our great surprise, we discovered that Khabar magazine, published in Atlanta, USA had the same idea as us – to feature a story about the endlessly fascinating Mumbai local trains on their cover.

At Story Artisan Press, we had been working behind the scenes for the last few months to launch our new book Train FriendsBombay Roots, Parallel Track, Shared Journeys. Check out this essay collection for insightful reflections on growing up (in Mumbai, of course), going away and finding the meaning of home: here.

Mangalyaan – Movie first, book later

Image result for mangalyaan ladies image

It wasn’t until I saw the trailer for the Hindi movie, “Mission Mangal”, that I realized that the story of the women behind India’s spectacular success in launching the Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan, was a story worth depicting on the big screen. When I watched the movie last week, I was pleased to see a sari-clad version of Hidden Figures, the Hollywood movie about women mathematicians who supported NASA for the moon landing fifty years ago. 

Like many movies that feature an underdog or a losing team overcome all odds, this was a feel-good movie. The movie succeeded in highlighting the fact that it was a group of women who spearheaded this effort, a fact that needed to be celebrated. However, the movie failed to educate the masses about the dedication and deep knowledge that is required for such an endeavor. It also failed to highlight the human interest stories that underlie the motivations of the people involved, by making their characters into caricatures.

When books get made into movies, they take away the depth and nuance of words and turn them into a visual spectacle with pretty people, big sets and computer graphics. But is there a book about these women, I wondered? Turns out there is. 

“Those Magnificent Women and Their Flying Machines” by Minnie Vaid. Buy the book through our affiliate link here.

I have bought the book and plan to read it soon. Stay tuned for the review. What do you think about books and movies? Which one do you like better?