Sunday, September 06, 2009

A home away from home

By Raziqueh Hussain

4 September 2009: Novelist Asha Iyer Kumar talks about her debut book Sand Storms, Summer Rains, and gives an insider’s view of an expat’s life in the Gulf and how she’s made herself at home and etched out a new life in her adopted land.

An article Asha Iyer Kumar was asked to write for the Khaleej Times’ weekend magazine on ‘Gulfees’ (a term for expats she coined herself) was the trigger for her to pen her book Sand Storms, Summer Rains. “I decided to take the thread of privations from the article and weave a story, keeping the sentiment intact but filling it with fictional characters and instances. I stuffed it with my own observations and broad view of people and life,” she reveals.
The premise of her book is the life of expats living in the Gulf. The two main protagonists are symbols of the emotional and personal upheavals men suffer when they travel to distant lands to make money and support their families back home. The book takes the reader on a dune-bashing ride through their agonies and ecstasies, their lives summing up the futility of the expat journey in personal terms. It took three years for Kumar to write her book, and three more to have it published. Kumar moved to the Gulf in 1998 after her marriage, but becoming a novelist wasn’t a conscious choice. “It was joblessness and boredom that drove me to take up writing full time, not the intention of getting published,” she says. “It was a means of keeping myself busy. As my observations and experiences of life in the Gulf grew, I felt an urge to write them down.”
Although Kumar admires authors like RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond and Shashi Deshpande, she vehemently denies any marked influences in her style. “I haven’t tried to imbibe any particular style from any particular author. I doubt if any writer would consciously do such a thing and risk losing their identity. I think, as we evolve through reading and writing, our own style becomes a confluence of various influences — of theme, thought, technique, even the genre of writing. But yes, there might be a mild sway here or there that is evocative of some other author, but that cannot be intentional,” she says.
Kumar, who lives in Fujairah, feels the best part of being an expat is having to make a home for yourself in a different culture and learning 
to adapt.
“You are in a country that has a completely different culture from your own, yet you feel at home because of its adoptive nature and its multicultural and cosmopolitan fabric. I don’t think my first novel would have happened if it wasn’t for the fact that I live here,” she says.
But like all expats, she misses home. “Oh, how I miss the monsoon and the lush green landscapes of Kerala. How I regret not being able to partake in family gatherings and occasions.
“I see the life of an expat as an extended metaphor for life itself. There’s no guarantee of being here tomorrow, so live today to the fullest.”
-- Khaleej Times