Debut novelist Ranbir Singh Sidhu has made an ordinary life extremely extraordinary in his tremendously engrossing book, Deep Singh Blue. He has crafted a story that is simple yet layered with many emotions. His characters are well-defined, and each has idiosyncrasies that make them even more compelling. Be it the mother in denial, the silent brother, the peculiar uncle, the married lover or the dominating father, the characters in the book and the situations created collectively help the protagonist, Deep, find himself.
Award-winning writer Ranbir has written for various magazines and is the author of the story collection, Good Indian Girls, which won many accolades. He is also a winner of the Pushcart Prize in Fiction and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship.
I got a chance to connect with him to learn more about the inspiration behind Deep’s journey and his dysfunctional family.
You have written stories, essays, and plays so when did you realise it was time for a novel?
I’ve always written novels—they just haven’t gotten published. In the US, with a name like mine, expectations are pretty damn narrow as to what people think you’re gonna write about, so when I write about a wild child found in the mountains of a nameless and imaginary Asian country or a staggeringly fat satellite TV magnate who gets swallowed by an even bigger fish, most publishers have no idea what to do with it and those books go nowhere. Getting Deep Singh Blue published was a painfully long process—again, in the US, no publisher wanted to read about Indians who weren’t doctors or lawyers and whose days didn’t revolve around the delicate emotional crises or nostalgias of their upper middle class lives in New York or Massachusetts. It was only picked up in the US after VK Karthika, the true visionary publisher of HarperCollins India, bought it for the Indian market. Even then, no big US publisher wanted to touch it—but the publisher we did get, the independent Unnamed Press out of Los Angeles, couldn’t have been more suited—they’ve been an author’s dream to work with.
Can you give us a blurb on Deep Singh Blue?
At its heart, it’s about a 16-year-old in California in the 1980s trying to find a way in the world—while the world around him really makes no sense at all.
What inspired your debut novel?
That’s a long story—but I’ll give you the short version. I was working in Sri Lanka for the UN, and living in a friend’s sprawling house, where it turned out that when we were away, the maid was running a brothel out of it. The situation quickly became a much larger mess because at least a couple serious Sri Lankan VIPs were involved, and their reputations and marriages were at stake if their names became known. Anyhow, soon death threats started flying, along with a hunt across the country for the maid, who had disappeared. To distract myself in the middle of all this madness, I wrote a short comic story about a Sikh kid named Deep Singh who announces to his family one night that he’s decided to become a Jew. It was the first time I’d ever written a story that drew in some vague way on my life as a teenager, and I enjoyed what that felt like, plumbing those depths. That story never really went anywhere, but I couldn’t shake Deep as a character and kept thinking about him, and it was my interest in his character more than anything that pushed me to write the novel.
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