Today I'd like to introduce you to Kashmira Sheth, an award-winning author who writes beautiful heart-warming stories set in her native home of India. I have had the privilege of being in a critique group with Kashmira for the past six years. Lush descriptions add an exotic feel to her books as she weaves together stories of love, family, tradition and daily life in India.
Since English is not your first language, Gujarati is, are there any challenges in translating your stories into English?
You are absolutely right. English is not my first language. I do hear my characters speak in Gujarati, my mother tongue, often. That is not to say they don’t speak in English at all, but the “voice” I hear is colored by the language they speak and that is often Gujarati, so I do have to translate for them.
There are many things that can’t be translated from one language to another without changing the meaning. Most of the food items (chapatti - flat Indian bread), some of the clothes (saris, six yards of material that women wear) and objects (janoi - a sacred thread that men of upper caste wear over their right shoulders and around their bodies) are also very specific to the region and culture where my stories are set. I prefer to use the Gujarati words for them.
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~ Novels ~
When twelve-year-old Seema Trivedi learns that she and her family must move from their small village in India to Iowa City, USA, she realizes she will say good-bye to the only home she’s ever known. India is home to the purple-jeweled mango trees and sweet-smelling jasmine, to the monsoon rains and the bustling market. Most important, it is home to her beloved family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins . . . all of whom she’ll have to leave behind. Yet the adventure of moving to America unfolds before her like the bloom of a new flower. A world of new experiences and challenges lies in wait. In time, will she begin to plant roots in the foreign soil that feels so strange?
- 2006-2007 Iowa Children's Choice Award Nominee
- Oklahoma's 2007 Children's Sequoyah Award Masterlist
- The Paul Zindel First Novel Award
- 2005 Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award
- ALA Great Middle School Reads
- CCBC Choice 2005
Tell us about the road to publication for your first book Blue Jasmine.
Blue Jasmine is the most autobiographical. I immigrated from India when I was seventeen and had to face many of the same challenges that Seema, the protagonist in Blue Jasmine, had to face when she moved from India to America.
It was the first novel I wrote and when I sent it out to publishers they liked the story, but thought my writing style was stiff. After I finished my second novel, I went back and revised Blue Jasmine. I rewrote it from third person to first person and sent it out to a contest (Paul Zindel First Novel Award) that Hyperion Books For Children had started. It won the contest and I landed my first contract.
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Jeeta's family is caught up in the whirlwind of arranging marriages for her two older sisters, but the drama and excitement leave Jeeta cold. She knows that tradition demands the parade of suitors, the marriage negotiations, the elaborate displays, the expensive wedding parties - but where is the love and romance that the movies promise? She dreads her turn on the matrimonial circuit, especially since Mummy is always complaining about how difficult it will be to find Jeeta a good husband, with her dark skin and sharp tongue. As Jeeta spends more time with her new friend from school, Sarina, and her educated, liberal parents, she begins to question her tradition-bound family's expectations. And when she falls in love with Sarina's cousin Neel, Jeeta realizes that she must strike a balance between independence and duty and follow her own path. With its gentle humor and a rich sense of place, Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet is an engaging coming-of-age novel set in contemporary Mumbai.
The cover for Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet is gorgeous, a work of art in itself! Could you tell us a little about that?
I have received many compliments about the cover of Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet and I am thankful to the design team at Hyperion. They were flexible and open to my suggestions. The cover is special to me because those are my daughter Neha’s hands. A friend of mine, Vinitha Pittala, did the amazing mehndi design. It took over an hour for her to paint and then we took the pictures.
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In Gujarat, India, during World War I, Mohandas Gandhi has opened an ashram attracting followers to his movement for Indian self-determination. In a nearby village, Leela, 12, married at age nine, looks forward to moving to her husband’s home. When he dies unexpectedly, Brahman custom requires her confinement at home for a year, “keeping corner.” Prohibited from ever remarrying, her head shaved and pretty saris put away, Leela faces a barren future. Her loving family is heartbroken, but only Leela’s brother has the courage to buck tradition, hiring a tutor to educate her. This powerful and enchanting novel juxtaposes Leela’s journey to self-determination with the parallel struggle of her family and community to follow Gandhi on the road to independence from British rule. Among the vivid and appealing characters is India itself. Natural and human cycles—dry and monsoon seasons, landscape and animals, customs religious and secular—are rendered with a rich sensual palate. We leave Leela and her country poised to cross the threshold of autonomy at that enchanting moment when anything seems possible. (Fiction. 12+)
- 2007 Parent’s Choice Award Gold Winner
- 2008 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts
- Booklist Top Ten Historical Fiction for Youth
- CCBC Choice 2008
- IRA Notable Books for A Global Society (International Reading Association)
- 2008 Friends of American Writers Award
- Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature (Honor Book)
In addition, Keeping Corner has received starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist and Publishers Weekly!
How did you get the idea for Keeping Corner?
When I was young I met my great-aunt who was a child widow. The unfairness of her situation, her suffering, her widow’s sari, always stayed with me. When I began writing this story, my father gave me many details of his aunt’s life and widows’ lives in general. These stories were not only the ones he had witnessed, but also the ones he had heard from his grandmother and his aunt. My mother also filled in details about customs and rituals.
For the political aspect of my book, I did a lot of research. I traveled to Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad, visited the house he stayed in when he came to Mumbai, and read many books about him and by him. It was a challenge to weave these two parts of the story together. It took a lot of time to write and revise this story.
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~ Picture Books ~
Every day, Rupa’s grandmother wears a beautiful sari. Dadima wears her saris around the house and around the town. Some are made of cotton and some are made of fine silk. Each is brightly colored and very beautiful.
Don't you ever want to wear a gray skirt and red blouse with round buttons like Mommy or a green dress like me? Rupa asks. But Dadima prefers to wear her traditional saris. She shares with her young granddaughter all the wonderful things that saris can do - from becoming an umbrella in a rainstorm to providing a deep pouch to carry seashells collected from the beach. Soon Rupa's own imagination is sparked as she envisions saris protecting her in the scary Gir jungle, bandaging up an injured knee, and holding a special secret for her and Dadima to share.
It is monsoon season in India. Outside, dark clouds roll in and the rain starts to fall. As animals scatter to find cover, a young boy and his dadaji (grandfather) head out into the rainy weather. The two sail paper boats. They watch the peacocks dance in the rain, just as the colorful birds did when Dadaji was a boy. They pick mangoes and Dadaji lifts up his grandson so he can swing on the roots of the banyan tree, just as Dadaji did when he was young. Finally, when the two return home, hot tea and a loving family are waiting.
My Dadima Wears A Sari and Monsoon Afternoon: Your picture books are lyrical and beautifully illustrated. Are there any family stories behind these books?
Definitely. I was inspired to write My Dadima Wears a Sari, because my mother wears saris and has passed this tradition on to my daughters, Rupa and Neha. They have heard many stories about different saris from their grandmother and that has connected them to their past. My daughters are grown now and love to wear saris on special occasions.
I created Monsoon Afternoon from my own collage of childhood memories. My grandfather taught me how to make paper boats, I played in the rain, saw peacocks dance, and kids swing from banyan tree roots. I took all those images and wrote a story.
I can’t take any credit for Yoshiko’s Jaeggi’s beautiful illustrations but I did send her pictures of my mom and daughters for My Dadima Wears a Sari, and pictures of Indian houses, streets, and banyan trees for Monsoon Afternoon.
What are you working on now?
I just finished writing a story about an eleven-year-old boy set in contemporary India.
I also have a picture book, Tiger in My Soup, under contract with Peachtree.
Thank you, Judy, for this interview.
I also want to thank you and all the other critique group partners, my family, agent, and editors for your insight, comments, and support.
You can find out more about Kashmira and her wonderful books on her website.
Thank you, Kashmira!
~ Wishing you continued success ~