Today we’re joined by Mala Kumar. She has a new novel due out in April called The Circumstance of Marriage. It explores three generations of Indian women and the issues they face both separately and together. Yeah, I’m totally fascinated.
Want to learn more about Mala? Check out her website HERE. Want to learn more about The Circumstance of Marriage? There’s a website for that, too, right HERE.
The Circumstance of Marriage
by Mala Kumar
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a number of places around the world for my career in international development. Though the monotony of packing, unpacking, and hauling suitcases to and from the airport can be tiring, for me, the feeling that accompanies discovering a new country never becomes old. Elation can’t begin to describe my feelings when I found out I would be going to South Africa for the first time, and I made sure to tack on a few days of vacation at the end of a week in Johannesburg.
The top of my non-work South African destinations was Cape Town. By chance on my second night there, I went to a bar where I found out about a literary festival going on that weekend. After some finagling and a huge stroke of luck, I managed to land both a friend and myself in the front row of a session in which authors Kiran Desai and Alan Hollinghurst were panelists. As a New Yorker, I knew this should not be wasted; sitting just feet away from a very renowned Indian writer and a very renowned gay writer could easily entail an exorbitant cost and months of planning. I stumbled upon this opportunity just a day prior.
At the time, I was somewhere in the midst of the second draft of my first novel, The Circumstance of Marriage. The novel follows three generations of Indian and Indian-American women from the slums of Chennai, India to present-day New York City. Each of the three generations of women deals with a distinct form of discrimination; ultimately, the collective wisdom of the three generations is what is needed to move forward. The last of the three generations is a lesbian. All three generations are varying types of cultural Indian.
When the moderator asked if anyone in the audience had a question, I boldly volunteered to go first. Here’s the simple version of what I asked:
“How do you avoid getting pigeon holed?”
Back then – in September 2012 – I hadn’t yet come close to a completed final manuscript, and therefore had not yet started any public campaign to get The Circumstance of Marriage noticed.
Yet, I knew when the time for public promotion came, one of the questions I would immediately face is how one positions a book such that its subject matter is not relegated to merely one finite category? In effect, one of my end goals in promoting my book is how to make the intersection of being different types of minorities a standalone subject. While neither Ms Desai nor Mr Hollinghurst writes about gay Indians specifically, I was confident books of their depth have presented other forms of intersectionality.
Indeed, their books do, but neither author really had a direct response. At the conclusion of their answer, Kiran Desai simply turned to face me with one piece of advice:
In reflecting on my career thus far, I have already seen how subjects that were either this or that have now merged. In fact, my line of work – ICT4D – used to be two separate subjects – technology and international development. Now the two have emerged as their own discipline. It takes time, it takes a community to recognize, it takes thoughts to evolve, and audiences to listen. It is a collective effort, and one novel or event will not constitute the entire change. But by the same token, one piece or event can spark the firecracker that is built out of previous blocks.
I followed Kiran’s advice and kept writing. About a month ago, I sent the manuscript to my line editor, and The Circumstance of Marriage will see its debut this spring. To build that critical audience to recognize, to evolve, and to listen, I have enlisted the help of my incredible network of friends, family and a larger external community to begin dialogues, create blog posts, promotional videos (stills from which are below), social media campaigns, and more.
In a few months, a book that tells a complicated story that is partially embedded in my real life story, and entirely embedded in a reflection of modern society will emerge. The Circumstance of Marriage is an important story; it is a compelling story. It is a story that I kept on writing, refining, tweaking, and promoting. And I can only hope that it is a story that will be heard for the individual piece that it is, and for the addition it makes in creating new frontiers. I hope the readers of this blog, Women and Words, will be a part of its journey.