I was born in Bhavangar, India. Bhavangar is a city in the western state of Gujarat. I started Montessori school when I was three years old and lived in Bhavangar with my grandparents until I was eight. Afterwards, I moved to Mumbai, India, where my parents lived. Mumbai is a big city on the west coast of India, about 300 miles south of Bhavangar.
When did you come to the US?
I moved to the US when I was seventeen to attend college in Ames, Iowa. I received my BS in microbiology from Iowa State University.
Why did you choose Iowa?
Many people ask me why I chose to come to Iowa. My uncle is professor at the Iowa State University and he sponsored me to attend school there.
Did you ever work as a microbiologist?
Yes. After finishing my studies in Iowa, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, andbegan working as a microbiologist for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.
Did you study English in school?
Even though I did not attend a school that taught only in English, I did study English as one of the subjects. In high school, besides my first language of Gujarati, I had to take English, Hindi, and Sanskrit. Hindi is India’s national language and Sanskrit is a classical Indian language.
How did you become a children’s book writer?
When I was growing up, my grandparents and my parents told me and my brother stories. Many of them were from the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. They also told us tales from Panchatantra, which are animal fables. When I was in school, I read novels written in Gujarati. My favorite books were historical fictions. I also loved to read and write poetry. At that time I wanted to go into a science field, and eventually, I became a microbiologist. A few years ago, I received a letter from one of my uncles in which he wrote about his childhood. His writing made me see the world that existed in a different time and made me realize the power of words. That is why I decided to write.
What kind of training did you receive to become a writer?
When my daughters, Rupa and Neha were young I read to them. When they were old enough to read on their own, they would talk to me excitedly about the books they loved. Since I did not grow up here, and was unfamiliar with children’s literature, I began to read along with them. At that time I had no clue that I was going to write some day, but reading children’s literature was the best training for my future writing.
What is your advice for someone who wants to be a writer?
If you want to write, read, read, and read some more. My second piece of advice is to learn another language or two. When you learn a new language, your mind unearths new ideas and ways of thinking. The foreign language only stays foreign until you learn it. Once you are comfortable with a language, you start thinking and dreaming in it. It is a wonderful experience. And my third piece of advice is to write down your thoughts. Write something everyday. After a week, or a month, or six months when I read the things I wrote before, it always amazes me. I wondered how those thoughts and words came to my mind. If I didn’t write them down they would have been lost.
Is Blue Jasmine autobiographical?
I was inspired to write Blue Jasmine based on my own experience as a teenager who moved from India to Iowa. The main character in Blue Jasmine, Seema, is much younger that I was. Seema also comes to the US with her family, while I came here alone. Blue Jasmine is a mixture of my own experiences and my imagination weaved together to make a story. It now belongs to Seema. It is her story.
Can you tell us about your new novel Koyal dark, Mango Sweet?
Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet is a coming-of-age novel set in contemporary Mumbai (Bombay), India. Jeeta Parekh struggles between her desire to be independent and her sense of duty and family loyalty. The novel will be published by Hyperion Books for Children in April 2006.
Why do you write?
I write because I enjoy it. I even enjoy revising. It seems tedious to work on the same project over and over again, but when I see my story getting better, I feel satisfied. It is like dancing or any other art. I need to practice dancing so that when I perform it flows. It is same with writing. When I write the first draft of a novel, I have the basic dance, but I need to master each movement. I must sharpen the dialogue, and take out extraneous words. I must make the scenes vivid. Only after several revisions can I turn my first draft into a really good book.
Besides writing what else do you like to do?
Aside from spending time with my family, I like to read, work in my garden, go for walks, do yoga, teach dance, and travel.