Identity matters

Sweta Srivastava Vikram describes her novel, Perfectly Untraditional, as a happy immigrant tale

Published - August 21, 2011 05:07 pm IST

Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Sweta Srivastava Vikram — an award-winning writer who has been based out of New York — is enthusiastic about her new novel — “Perfectly Untraditional” (Niyogi Books, Rs. 350).

Launched last week at Landmark, “Perfectly Untraditional” is a happy immigrant story”. With the theme of identity dominating writing in English in India, how is Sweta's book any different? “People don't always move away from home in search of a better life or for earning more money. For me, distance gave me a perspective. After moving to the States, there were many aspects to India that I began to discover afresh.”

That said, the novel is character driven. It revolves around Shaili Kapoor – a writer working in New York trying to connect to India after her mother's death. The book portrays the extreme emotions of a girl who struggles to bond with her father back in Pune. “I've viewed my characters from the lens of circumstances. There's a Jekyll and Hyde in all of us. Depending on the nature of the circumstance the character is put through, either of those sides is manifested,” says the Columbia University graduate. The novel also explores relationships among women. Shaili discovers she is a lesbian in her late twenties. “Shaili can't understand why she was unhappy despite being in a happy marriage. It's only when she moves away and gets intimate with her friend that she realises her conflict.”

Sweta researched extensively on the gay community. She speaks of some of her findings: “I have met 25-year-olds who were unaware that they are gay.” Sweta says that though she can neither claim to be an activist nor an authority on social issues, she contends that her sensitivity and her respect for different life choices is one of her strengths as a writer. “The book helped me to grow as a person. I have many gay friends and I understand their struggle completely. Besides, it's essential for writers to have a high emotional quotient. Unless you believe in or cry over your characters, you can't relate to your writing,” says the Pushcart Prize nominated-poet, novelist, author, essayist, columnist, educator and blogger.

Though Sweta is well-versed in all forms of writing, poetry comes naturally to her. But inspiration matters to her. “I can't write poetry sitting in a city!” she laughs and says, “I need to be around Nature to listen to my inner voice.”

Turning to full-time writing happened much later for Sweta. “My father is a poet by night. I grew up with words. I worked a day job and wrote on the side. But when I moved from India to New York, I realised I couldn't deny myself what is dear to me.”

Sweta's strict about the quality of her writing. “I don't like reading stuff that makes me feel like a dim-wit. And I wouldn't want to subject my reader to that.” Sweta calls herself a “nerd”. “I'm a stereotypical Indian child. I love collecting degrees that has added to my writing.” It's not as if Sweta spends all her time writing. “I don't go into autistic moments as a writer. I've learned to create fragments.” Like Jane Austen, Sweta wants to write “books that are far ahead of its times.”

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