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Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind

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The Author on her debut book The Heavens we Chase

'I spent seven years in financial services, got thoroughly disillusioned with it and decided to give it all up—to write. I did a life-changing Masters in Creative Writing [from the City University of Hong Kong] and began my writerly journey about six years ago. My short story, The Crystal Snuff Box and the Pappadum, won the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize [2011] for the Commonwealth theme, Women as Agents of Change. I love experimenting with narrative voice and I am working on a collection of short stories written entirely in second person. Currently I am pursuing a Masters in Women’s Studies from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. I love the academic space and I hope to create a body of feminist literature as well.

The Book
The Heavens We Chase is set in pre-partition India under the British colonial rule. One of the protagonists, Satya is what one would call a Brown Sahib or a coconut [brown ‘outside’ and white ‘inside’], that is, someone who is sympathetic to the colonial cause. As the Educational Inspector of Schools of the Bombay Presidency, his job is to promote western ideology in education. So, it’s Pythagoras instead of Panini, Galileo instead of Aryabhatta, Aesop’s fables instead of the Jataka tales or the Panchatantra, Shakespearean kings instead of Emperor Asoka and so on. But, both his children are part of the freedom movement. While his daughter Saraswathi sings patriotic songs, his son is arrested under a charge of sedition. The other narrative is the story of Saraswathi. Born with six fingers in her right hand, she’s convinced that she’s abnormal and unlovable. She accompanies her father on a school inspection to Lahore and falls in love with a man 19 years older but he disappears, and she’s sure her father has something to do with it. Heaven is used as a metaphor for many things. We’re all after something that we believe will complete us, and our entire life becomes this journey to chase down this ‘thing’ so as to feel nourished, and that would seem heaven-like?

The Inspiration
I was practically raised by my maternal grandmother because both my parents are doctors, and because of their work they’d be away most of the time. My grandmother would tell me the story of her father who was the Educational Inspector of Schools in the 1920s. Her many anecdotes stayed with me, and many years later I realised that I had a story to tell.

The Hope
I’ve worked really hard on the characterisation. The characters don’t fit into binaries of absolute good or absolute bad. They are all vulnerable and strong at the same time. And they’re in all sorts of trouble, constantly trying to reconcile their internal and external worlds, negotiate with various structures including the familial space…much like life. I hope the readers understand their choices and don’t judge them.

On shelves now
Published by Roli Books

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