In May I had the pleasure of reading Amita Trasi’s debut novel, The Color of Our Sky, a beautifully rendered and inspiring story of an improbable friendship set against the dark underbelly of human trafficking. You can read my full review of her novel here and I hope you pick up a copy for yourself!
In addition to writing a wonderful book, Amita was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her book and herself. Check them out
The Color of Our Sky is your debut novel. Can you tell us a little bit about how you prepared for writing the book (e.g., your writing process, the research, etc.)?
It wasn’t a very straightforward process. I didn’t really start off knowing that I’d write about the Devdasi cult that still exists in India. I wanted to write about the friendship between two girls from different caste/class systems (inspired by my own experience). So, that’s where I began.
I started writing from their birth in different caste systems (in a village vs. a city) and I wrote detailed scenes with them growing up and retaining their friendship for three decades. The characters actually took me to where the story is now. I wrote more than 300 pages just to get to know my characters. Once I knew my characters well enough, and knew the story I wanted to tell, I got rid of more than half the writing, and reworked through many drafts to start the novel at critical points in each character’s life.
I like to keep my characters very human because we all struggle with complex emotions at some point in our lives that often influences the path we take. The challenging part was to make the two characters sound different—Mukta had to exhibit a kindhearted, generous and humble nature while Tara had to be bold and high-spirited. I must say, I found it easier to write Mukta’s storyline. Her character just drew me in and I really felt for her. It was emotionally draining to write some of the traumatic/difficult scenes.
From a research stand point, I have ben following the work of many NGO’s who have been successful in rescuing many girls/women from the human trafficking business— one in particular being the Apne Aap foundation in India. This is an area I truly care about and is close to my heart. Their work truly inspires me and a lot of my research comes from what they’ve done.
You mention on your website that you were inspired to write this story in part due to your experiences with the daughter of a servant who worked for your family. Why did you decide to add the element of the Devdasi into her storyline?
Yes, I set out to write about a friendship between two girls and the character of Mukta was inspired by the girl, Shaku, who I met when I was nine years old. There are many elements of Shaku in Mukta including her generous and kind nature. As for the Devdasi storyline, I suppose when I was writing, the character of Mukta just took me there. Ending child sexual slavery is a cause I care about. So I suppose something in me was screaming to let a voice like Mukta be heard.
Mukta and Tara are both very resilient and strong women. Did you model them after anyone specific? Do you see elements of yourself in Tara (seeking redemption for girls like Mukta)?
Mukta has elements of Shaku and yes, Tara does have some elements of me but she is a very different character in her own right. I think more than anything else, with Tara, I wanted to show a child who is caught between her mother’s old fashioned ways and her father’s need for doing what is right. This leaves her confused about her own compassion toward Mukta. At one level, she justifies her compassion by telling herself she is being loyal to her father and at another, she feels guilty that she even feels compassion for someone like Mukta. I think these are very complex emotions for anyone to handle, let alone a child.
As for seeking redemption for girls like Mukta, I do my bit. I think everyone has their own role to play. Spreading awareness, participating in fundraisers etc all contribute toward the cause. I don’t think we are all cut out to get out there and raid brothels. It can be emotionally wrecking for people who aren’t cut out for it. But I do think we can support people who are actually at the forefront in whatever way possible- volunteering, donations etc
Mukta and Tara develop a strong friendship despite their caste differences. Do you feel that these sorts of friendships are possible in India today?
In my opinion, it could be possible in cities where the lower castes have acquired a middle class “status” due to their education or rise in income and there are enough open minded people to accept such friendships. But if the lower caste child belongs to the poorer sections of society, such a friendship would be highly impossible, even in a city. The caste division is deeply ingrained in the day to day life of villagers in the rural areas. But I am hoping such friendships are possible on the sly.
You write some very difficult scenes in your book and while you never shy away from the darker elements, you chose not to be overly graphic or explicit in your descriptions of sexual abuse or violence (something I appreciated). Was this a conscious decision?
Yes, very much so. I don’t believe any scene of sexual abuse or violence has to be overly explicit or graphic in any way to get the point across. Readers are very intelligent people and I trust their intelligence. During my research, I came across some really horrendous and indescribable events in children’s lives. I haven’t described even a fourth of those horrors. As a woman, I have tried to be sensitive in portraying the abuse of a child, and as writer I have tried to deliberately weave words such that it cushions the blow. I believe these are some hard and bitter facts that have to be said— it’s a topic that needs to be heard. If we don’t want to hear of what is happening out there in the world, what chance do we have of helping in whatever way we can or even bring about a change in the slightest way?
In many ways The Color of Our Sky is an uplifting story that inspires hope, but it also highlights a social system with negative qualities. What do you hope is the main message that readers come away with after reading this book?
Well, you said it—- I hope it inspires hope. A hope that girls like Mukta out there have the support of people whose constant endeavor is to save such girls.
And a few questions about you as a writer and reader. Which authors inspire you?
I love writing that’s poetic. I am also drawn to writing that can embrace a simple emotion and present it in a way that you can feel it in your bones. The authors who really do this for me are: Arundhati Roy, Elizabeth Strout, Khaled Hosseini, Abraham Verghese, Alice Munro— just to name a few.
What books do you currently have on your nightstand?
Oh, I have quite a few. I read different genres as long as the writing is good. I just finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I am listening to The Hypnotists Love Story via Audible and reading The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry on my Kindle. I also have a paperback of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now which I go back to from time to time.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Not really. I just write when I feel like it which is most of the time. My friends do complain that I go into a sort of “creative haze” when I am working on something and essentially become a recluse —their words, not mine.
Are you working on, or do you have plans for another book?
Yes, but I wonder if it’s too early to say anything about the book. I can clearly see it’s going to be a love story in a time of conflict but ideas change and the pattern of a plot often changes along the way.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your book with readers?
I wrote this novel because I really wanted to bring to light the life of a girl like Mukta (not that there haven’t been other authors who have done it before me). I find fiction to be a great way of getting us closer to a character and delving into their lives. For me, this book was really a means of creating awareness about human trafficking. So, as readers, if you have the opportunity and the means, please do consider donating to organizations who are involved in helping such kids.
There are many organizations that help girls like Mukta:
- The Apne Aap foundation : http://apneaap.org/
- The Bachpan Bachao Andolan : http://www.bba.org.in/
- Maiti Nepal : http://www.maitinepal.org/
- Prerna : http://preranaantitrafficking.org/
Are you intrigued? You can now pick up a copy of Amita’s debut novel, The Color of Our Sky. I encourage you to try it for yourself. Find it here: The Color of our Sky