This might have been the toughest book launch event Tishani Doshi has had to attend.
“It’s very unnerving to be in a position where I know so many people in the audience,” she said with a laugh during the launch of her debut novel,The Pleasure Seekers at Taj Connemara. “I feel you already know so much about me — it’s almost better to have anonymity to start with and have the audience get to know you!”
It was a little unnerving for a couple of other people in the audience as well — her parents, since the book for the most part is inspired by their Gujarati-Welsh marriage and the ‘hybrid’ family that resulted.
“My parents are here and I know they’re squirming in their seats,” she said with a smile. “But it’s an amazing story — I know I’ve never met any other Welsh-Gujaratis!”
Launched earlier in the U.K. to considerable acclaim, The Pleasure Seekers tells the story of Babo, a Gujarati boy who leaves his traditional family behind in Madras to study in London only to fall completely and irrevocably in love with Sian, a Welsh girl from an equally traditional family. How Sian comes all the way to Madras to make her life with him (and his family), and how they create their own little world with their daughters Mayuri and Bean in the “house of orange and black gates” forms the rest of this warm and heartfelt novel.
“This is not a memoir — it’s a re-inventing of their story,” said Tishani, in conversation with musician Susheela Raman. “I took the bits I found interesting and layered and added to it until, over time, the real people faded away and I was left with the characters of my own making.”
The book has been nearly a decade in the making, during which time Tishani has, of course, done a number of other things, including journalism, dancing with the iconic Chandralekha and writing poetry. Naturally, some influences from these other experiences have seeped into the novel — particularly, it appears, in the central character of Ba, Babo’s grandmother, a wise and almost mystical figure in the book.
“I’ve always maintained that Chandralekha was the biggest influence in my life,” she said. “Ba isn’t a portrait of Chandralekha, but does have elements of her. Her house, especially, was my inspiration for Ba’s home in Ganga Bazaar — a place to discover stuff, to heal.”
The book is also an exploration of Tishani’s own experiences of growing up as a ‘hybrid’. “It came out of my own need to answer the question — where do I come from?” she said. “Now, being from many places is much more accepted, but growing up, I was quite perplexed by it.”
Unsurprisingly, the question and answer session that followed focussed quite a bit on the blurring of lines between fact and fiction.
“As a writer, you’re interested in telling stories, and real life has great stories,” said Tishani. “You’re a magpie, stealing all these memories, yours and other people’s, for your nest… the blurring happens quite organically.”
So what’s next for the writer, dancer and poet? More multi-tasking, it appears. “I find wearing multiple hats liberating,” she laughed. “Writing a novel can feel like you’re teetering on the edge of despair, so I’m happy to be writing poetry again, and to be doing a dance performance at the end of the year!”