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Author Shobhan Bantwal   | Photo Credit: 19dmc shobhan

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Shobhan Bantwal grew up in Belgaum, Karnataka, a region known for — besides a beautiful landscape — the hostility between the Kannada and Marathi communities that rears its ugly head from time to time. This communal tension forms the backdrop for one of her six novels, “The Unexpected Son”, which came out in 2010. Based in Arizona, Shobhan’s books have a clear Indian American and Indian background. Yet they are popular with readers from a range of countries, because, the award-winning author points out, everybody loves a good plot, and hers are known as “Bollywood-in-a-Book”…

Do you have as many American readers as Indians/South Asians, and what kind of feedback do you get from these readers of varied backgrounds?

A large percentage of my readers are non-Indians, most of them from America, but also some from other continents. One of the reasons, I believe, is the fact that most Indian/South Asian readers prefer serious literary novels as opposed to light mainstream books and romances like mine. Despite the popularity of the Indian movie industry, romantic fiction is not considered attention-worthy by certain readers. Nonetheless my off-the-beaten-track books have captured the interest of lots of young Indian and Indian-American readers, especially women.

The feedback I receive from all my readers, American, Canadian, other nationalities, and South Asians, has been very positive and uplifting. This is the readership that wants to read an entertaining story with a plot while providing some insights into a diverse and interesting culture. Most of my loyal readers spread the word to their respective networks and create the necessary buzz for my books. American book clubs are one of my most valuable resources.

On stereotypes…

Thanks to globalisation, modern readers have started to look for something beyond the stereotypical images of India. Fortunately for writers like me, this phenomenon has opened up opportunities to create some interesting mixed genres that fall outside the box. For example, my books are sold as multi-cultural women’s fiction with romantic elements, branded as “Bollywood-in-a-Book.” This expansion of literary boundaries has allowed me to broaden readers’ perceptions about contemporary India and the Indian-American immigrant experience.

“The Sari Shop Widow” and “The Unexpected Son” feature fairly typical characters from contemporary India and the diaspora, but there are many others in this domain. People of Indian origin today can be seen to be a part of every section of the American mainstream -- be it commerce, finance, governance, arts, sports, academics or other arenas. Would these characters also find a place in your fiction?

Besides the usual cast of characters, I have indeed tried to introduce in my books some Indian-American players who don’t fit into the conventional mould. One example is my upcoming book to be released in India in July by Fingerprint Publishing, “The Full Moon Bride”. It portrays a hero who is a penniless playwright and a misfit in many ways. The heroine is an environmental attorney, again not quite your archetypal doctor, engineer, or software professional. In fact, here in the United States, my books are considered unconventional. When I started writing romantic fiction some years ago, it was rather risky because both publishers and readers expected conventional literary fiction from a South Asian writer. However, my calculated risk seems to have paid off.

What is currently in the pipeline?

“The Reluctant Matchmaker” was my sixth and most recent novel published in the United States (Kensington Publishing, Aug 2012). There are no new books in the pipeline since I retired from my full-time job a couple of years ago. At the moment I am enjoying retired life, travelling with my husband, and spending some time with our two young grandchildren. Nevertheless, I am thoroughly involved with the editors at Fingerprint Publishing in tailoring my books for Indian readers, therefore I still manage to keep a finger on the publishing pulse.

Feedback from India…

To date, three of my novels have been released in India: “The Sari Shop Widow”, “The Reluctant Matchmaker”, and “The Unexpected Son”. The fourth one, “The Full Moon Bride”, is slated for release at the end of July 2014. Fingerprint Publishing of New Delhi has purchased the rights to all six of my existing books, so the remaining two novels are expected to be published by them sometime next year.

So far the feedback from Indian readers has been wonderful, and more prolific than I had expected because of my new-author status in India. I am looking forward to their comments as each new book is released in the near future.

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2018 4:11:25 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/pulse-of-india/article6225402.ece