Rasana Atreya, Thanks a lot for being our guest on Spotlight tonight, do you want to tell us something about your writing history, when did you seriously start writing, did you write anything when you were at school or in college?
Rasana Atreya Thank you for having me here!
Rasana Atreya I worked in IT for 6 years before quitting it to write full-time. When I worked in IT, I worked on making user manuals the best they could be. Geeky, I know!
Rasana Atreya This novel came about because of my annoyance with advertisements.
Indian television is overrun with commercials from the manufacturers of skin lightening creams, called fairness creams, that promise everything from good grades to nirvana, if only you use their particular brand of product. This baffled me enough that I wrote a tagline, then a whole novel, with this as the theme.
The tagline in question - Fairness Cream: Finding Solutions to Life’s Vexing Problems, One Application at a Time
Shah Fazli Very exciting indeed, tell us about your first novel in details please?
Rasana Atreya My first novel, Tell A Thousand Lies, is about a girl dark-skinned girl whose only aim in life is to be married. But dowry is a problem because her parents are dead, and her widowed grandmother has 3 girls to marry off. My protagonists sisters are pretty, and therefore more marriagable. That's how the story takes off. I have superstition, black magic, politics etc thrown into the mix.
Shah Fazli Now tell us about the boy of her dreams, is there any in your book, or it's a quite different story?
Rasana Atreya In India there isn't any dating, not in the villages anyway. Arranged marriages are how people get married. I've been told this custom is barbaric. If you've not grown up in the system, you cannot get it, but people who've grown up with it are quite happy being in arranged marriages. Anyway, all this girl, Pullamma (which means 'twig girl' -- read the book to know why! ) -- all she wants in life is a man who can provide her with a municipal water connection that doesn't dispense water at 3 in the morning!
Shah Fazli Where is the story taking place, and tell us a little bit more about this story please, it's quite fascinating?
Rasana Atreya The story takes place in rural Andhra Pradesh (a state in India). I had multiple triggers for this story. I read in the newspaper about a woman who was stoned to death for being a witch. I remember thinking, a witch - in this day and age. I was so appalled that the witch also went into my story. Here's an excerpt from my book:
A favourite pastime of ours [Pullamma and her best friend, Chinni] was to sneak past the house of our local oracle, Ranga Nayakamma, daring each other to go inside her house for a ‘session.’
Four days a week Ranga Nayakamma was an ordinary woman.
For the other three, she transformed from a meek housewife tending three children and a goat into a whiskey guzzling, chicken-leg chomping, cigarette puffing oracle. She started her day by going into trance, out of which she erupted with frenzied dancing – lips curling, diamond-studded nostrils flaring, kohl-lined eyes flashing, bejewelled arms slashing – sort of like Goddess Kali after she had killed a demon, except I didn’t think Goddess Kali drank, smoked or ate meat. This trance-and-dance routine continued for a good three or four hours before the oracle collapsed on the floor, ready to bless people with whatever it was they wanted – in return for gifts of whiskey, chicken (never any other meat – for, on her days off, Ranga Nayakamma was a staunch vegetarian) or beedis – the coarse, tendu-leaf cigarettes the villagers favoured. Her mostly-male followers were many.
Chinni and I couldn’t imagine what would make a housewife give up a respectable life with a husband and children, for this kind of spectacle.
Shah Fazli Thanks, now tell us about the polictics side of your novel, what happens, how it turns to get this big that politics get involved?
Rasana Atreya A local politician who has been out of power for many years and is getting quite desperate bribes the village oracle (above) into declaring that Pullamma is really a goddess descended from the heavens to endorse this guy in the elections.
This isn't as farfetched as it sounds - such things have happened.
Shah Fazli How has it been taken by the readers in India or outside, what do say about it?
Rasana Atreya The unpublished ms of my novel was shortlisted for the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia award. I also had a publishing contract, which I chose not to accept. My book has been quite well received. I have 131 ratings on Goodreads, 83 reviews on Amazon (none of which have been paid for, I'm forced to add because of what's been happening). A lot of book bloggers have blogged about my book, bless them! It has really helped with the sales.
Shah Fazli Thank you so much, who else is involved in your book, does your main character get a man at some point, name a few more characters and their roles please?
Rasana Atreya Yes, she does get married but her path to happiness is long and torturous. Pullamma has a fraternal twin, Lata, and an older sister, Malli. The older sister doesn't have much of a role, but the Grandmother and twin do. The twin wants to study to be a doctor, but the grandmother wants to marry her off and be done with her obligations. This thwarting of Lata's dream has grave consequences for everyone involved.
Shah Fazli Anyone sympathetic towards these girls, family, friend, neighbour, the local government, do they get any help at all?
Rasana Atreya Oh yes, despite all her problems, she always has someone she can lean on. Towards the end her grandmother introduces her to a guru who helps put things together for my 'twig girl.'
Shah Fazli Thanks, why did you write this book, do you personally know a lot of such families with such problems, how did you put all these realities into a novel, it must have been hard for you?
Tom Gillespie sounds fascinating Rasana
Rasana Atreya No, I wrote this *because* I'm so removed from all of this. I have college education, I've always had to freedom to choose my life, to work (or not) - it is all what I choose to do.
But I know a lot f women in India do not have this choice. My novel is a small effort on my part to give these faceless women a voice.
Rasana Atreya Thank you for your kind words, Tom
Shah Fazli Certainly, what else do you want us to know about your novel?
Tom Gillespie Your book is doing very well indeed.. Do you think your shortlist helped? Where do most of your readers come from and how do you spread the word?
Rasana Atreya India is about spiritualism and Gurus and the like, but that's not all there is to it. There are countless women who have no choice in what they eat, wear, say (and I don't necessarily count arranged marriage in this because men choose this option, as well). My novel is a tribute to them.
Rasana Atreya Thank you, Tom. Most of my readers have been from the US/UK. And women seem to 'get' my book more than men do. Almost all my 4 & 5 star reviews are written by women. As for spreading the word, it is through book bloggers and reviewers.
Rasana Atreya And the shortlisting helped, absolutely. A lot of reviewers were interested only because of it (lost internet connection for a bit)
Shah Fazli Tell us about a few things people have said about your book, what do they like very much about it please?
Rasana Atreya Most people who've left the glowing reviews like it because it is fast-paced, and it has humor in it. A woman from Mexico said that this could could have been set in her country - they have the same issues with sexism, superstition etc. A lot of men couldn't believe the situations in my book could be true. I don't know why, but a lot of women don't seem to have that problem.
Shah Fazli What have you learnt from writing this book that you may want to share with us please?
Tom Gillespie Thank you Rasana.. High quality Reviews can make all the difference.. it's waiting for them to come in which can be a little painful!!
Rasana Atreya I have learned that I writing about women's issues doesn't have to be dull & dreary. Adding a little humor to tense situations goes a long way in making the book memorable (a reader said this to me)
Rasana Atreya I know what you mean, Tom. But I'm in it for the long haul. My latest review was left by a top-1000 Amazon reviewer. It took her 6 long months to review my book, but her 5-star review was intensely gratifying.
Shah Fazli Thanks, what is your message to your readers, anything you want to tell them?
Tom Gillespie Absolutely.. It's a long game..
Rasana Atreya Gosh, that's a tough one!
I had a couple 1-star reviews on Amazon. I was shocked to see I had so many people come to my defense on that one. One of them has 24 comments. Thank you, dear readers!
Shah Fazli Such a pleasure to have you with us, thank you so much for taking the time, hope to see you again.
Shah Fazli Visit: http://shahsightshop.blogspot.de/2012/10/tell-thousand-lies.html
ShahSight Literary Book Shop: Tell A Thousand Liesshahsightshop.blogspot.com
October 10, 2012 at 5:46pm · Like · Remove Preview
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Rasana Atreya Thank you so much for having me here, Shah! The pleasure is all mine!