Author’s first novel delves minefield of cross-cultural relationships in India…
LIKE many others of a similar background, Heather Saville (pictured above) as she was then, had a good career, an active social life and much to look forward over the decade in front of her.
But when she hit 29, the high-flying ad executive felt something was missing.
She left her job in the capital to go backpacking and now some 13 years later, she arrives back in the UK for a book launch, a married mother-of-two, now settled in Mumbai with her Indian husband.
The backpacking led to a job in Bangkok with her old UK company, and is where her ‘Asian Adventure’ really began. She worked there for two years and then headed to Mumbai, keen to experience something different again.
“It was a midlife ‘crisisy’ thing,” she told www.asianculturevulture.com , “and 30 seemed like a massive deal and I decided to run away for a year.”
On Tuesday (October 15), she will launch her debut book ‘Becoming Mrs Kumar’ in the UK at the Cinnamon Kitchen in London.
In probably one of the first books of its type, she’s fictionalised her experience of being a white woman making her way in Mumbai and falling in love with a man and the city.
It’s an easy read, light and comic at times, but also tender and candid about romance.
Published in the spring by prestigious publishers, Random House India, she hopes the novel will connect with people, who want an insight into work and love in another country and culture.
Here in the UK, books by minorities sometimes throw a light on dark corners and in this respect Gupta’s work has its own illuminations.
In the book, ‘Julia’ lands a job in Mumbai and has no expectations of the city.
She soon finds life is not what it was back in London unsurprisingly, and has to negotiate the dating scene with particular care.
There are some misunderstandings, unusual encounters, tears and even when she does meet what she thinks is ‘the one’, not all goes swimmingly and …well…we’ll leave it at that.
The book is honest about some aspects of expat life – especially how awkward love and sex can be across the cultural divide.
“I didn’t really want to write those scenes. I thought my mum is going to read this, but at the same time it’s supposed to be entertaining and true to life and this is how people behave,” revealed Gupta, with a slight lilt of a quaint Indian accent over Skype.
It’s not just the pre-marital sex, which is still very taboo in a public sense in India, but it is also frank about family relations and how Indians view white people working and living in their country.
“It’s quite truthful about the issues – about Indian men and their mothers – and all that kind of Indian stuff that is difficult for a foreigner,” she laughed.
In many ways, it’s a very recognisable portrait of how westerners who are based in India deal with the challenges of surviving.
It isn’t whingey, as some expats (definitely) are, but is still honest and balanced about what life is like for someone who doesn’t obviously belong.
As a white woman, she knows she’s immune to some of the difficulties other women there face, carving a career and managing family expectations and she continues to work as a multi-media specialist.
Gupta started the work as a sort of self-help guide for expats in 2009 after marrying three years earlier – but following discussions with her editor, she turned it into fiction.
The book has enjoyed some success in India, especially among expats.
“I’ve got a lot of feedback and anybody who has lived in the UK or the US, has been able to compare and contrast those two (with living in Mumbai), especially those who are in mixed marriages and they say, ‘this is what happened to me, it’s my story’.”
- Becoming Mrs Kumar, Heather Saville Gupta, Random House India