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“Race is a construct, yet the impact of it on human beings is very real”: A Conversation with Namrata Poddar
“Instead of engaging with the white gaze, my fiction is interested in exploring the various ways in which our brown communities have endured marginalization . . . ”
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Kweli The Los Angeles TimesElectric Literature The Kenyon Review
Nikhita Obeegadoo: Ambitious in scope and global in nature, is a mosaic of different characters whose lives are entwined in what feels like intricate zari patterns stretching across the globe, from Manila to Boston. You draw striking connections between places as seemingly disparate as Southern California, Mumbai, and Mauritius (77). Could you tell me about the planning and writing processes? Did you begin with a master plan of how these different voices and spaces fit together, or did the pieces of the puzzle fall into place as you went along?
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NO: Following the epigraph by Martinican poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant, does indeed come to us in “snatches and fragments.” You weave a delicate literary chiaroscuro: There is a lot you leave unsaid, and whole sections of lives and journeys remain occulted from the reader’s view. How do you pick what to tell and what to hide?
NO: In addition to Glissant’s theory of rhizomatic relationality, what are some of the other major influences on your fiction writing?
The Thousand and One NightsThe PanchatantraBorder LessThe House on Mango StreetThe Book of Unknown AmericansThe Dew BreakerHope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
NO: It is impossible to read without developing a richer sense of the plethora of meanings that brownness can take, as mediated through diasporic belongings and gendered bodies. You are particularly attentive to “the equations of power and privilege within the shades of brown” (98): Your characters range from a poor Nepali housemaid to American-born professionals and a Mauritian mother-to-be whose life feels like a constant struggle against stereotypes. You also underline the “language of blame” (69) and the particular burden to “adjust” (102) that immigrant women face: As your novel depicts, women sometimes inflict this suffering upon each other and sometimes help each other through it. What does “brownness” mean to you? How do you deal with it differently as a fiction writer, as an academic, and as a brown immigrant yourself?
NO: While deserts are often conceived as empty and arid, reveals them as fascinating locations of artistic creations and migratory encounters. How is the desert connected to the archipelago, the other important geographical realm in your work?
The TempestRobinson Crusoe
NO: Excessive heat and air pollution are omnipresent in , and throat cancer is woven into the narrative landscape as a symbol of the worsening air quality in many major Indian cities, including Mumbai, where part of the novel is set. Can you elaborate on the environmental concerns in your work?
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NO: is published by a small indie press, 7.13 Books. How did this choice of press come about, and how did the publishing process go?
Nikhita Obeegadoo is a fiction writer and literary scholar from Mauritius. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Romance Languages and Literatures (RLL) at Harvard University, specializing in Indian Ocean and Caribbean literatures. In July 2022, she will be Assistant Professor in Francophone Studies and African Transcultural Studies at the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO). Nikhita has reviewed books for World Literature Today and The French Review. Find her at nikhitao.com.
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