Friday, November 26, 2010

Weaving In and Out of Worlds

Today's guest is mystery writer Supriya Savkoor.

Supriya is a former journalist turned mystery writer. Her international suspense novel, Breathing in Bombay, was awarded the 2010 Helen McCloy/Mystery Writers of America Scholarship for Mystery Writing. Supriya is based near Washington, DC, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.

One minute I’m here, the next I’m there, though I don’t always have to be in motion to make the transition. How do I do it? No, I’m not a shapeshifter, but sometimes my dual lens on the world makes me feel like one.

About ten years ago, my husband and I decided to backpack through Europe, choosing random points from a map. We started in Prague, ended in Rome, and hopped between as many cities as we could pack into the three weeks we had off from work.

Needless to say, the trip was extraordinary. Stone castles in Prague, the Duomo in Florence, San Marcos in Venice, the Jungfrau in Switzerland, those rustic, romantic lanes of Salzburg followed by that exquisite panoramic view of its skyline from the fortress. And always, endless stretches of gorgeous scenery whizzing past us, from one Eurorail stop to the next, especially those great open fields of yellow. Often, we watched from the dining car, as we sipped delicious, inexpensive house wine and tried to think of ways to extend our holiday.

There was plenty to fill us with awe--history, grand architecture, fabulous food, gelato, and lots of photographs. We did little shopping except to hunt for cheap film a couple times. Remember those days?

But then on our long walks, we’d encounter something both familiar yet so foreign. A small dive of an Indian restaurant in a back alley of Florence, loud bhangra music blaring from its open doors, the day’s specials written in Italian (pollo tandoori) on a chalkboard hanging in the scratched window, a string of colorful lights framing it. A little Indian grocery store in the grand train station in Bern, plastic bangles lining the counters, the pungent aromas of cumin and cardamom filling the air. A glitzy Indian wedding party sweeping through the streets of Interlaken. Young Bangladeshi men, refugees we were told, hawking colorful scarves on the fountain steps of Piazza Navona in Rome (one of my favorite places to sit and watch the grand and ordinary come together).

Restaurants, shops, weddings, street peddlers. Despite these visible aspects of our shared heritage, I could barely relate to them. It felt as though we were worlds apart, them emigrating from Asia and planting roots in Europe and me, an American of Indian heritage visiting as a tourist. Yet these little brushes of cultural intersections deeply intrigued me. How did these people get here? How did they learn the local language? What are their lives like? Do they bridge cultural divides differently than I do? How do they adapt? Do they feel at home?

Looking back, I wished I’d asked, but it seemed awfully impertinent to ask what amounted to, “what are you doing here?” The answers I wanted were deeply personal, about their inner lives more than the mechanics of uprooting their families and making the physical move.

And as curious as they were to me in those settings, foreign really, they hardly registered us, two ethnic-Indian backpackers wandering through their towns. Meanwhile, I still think of them. My cross-cultural upbringing may have planted the seed for the fiction I like to write today, but travel has had a huge hand in growing that seed.

Visit Supriya on the Novel Adventurers blog.


Sophie Littlefield said...

what beautiful scene-setting! i know exactly what you mean about wanting to ask strangers impertinent questions...and there is no better time than travel for story-spinning - especially, for some reason, train travel, when everyone seems to have a story.

L.G.C. Smith said...

I love the idea of interrogating what it means for people starting with similar cultural backgrounds to immigrate to various countries. Absolutely fascinating. The permutations of human experience are endless. Good luck with your books! I look forward to reading your work.

Lisa Hughey said...

Thanks so much for visiting the Pens!! as someone whose family (both sides) have lived in the United States since pre-Revolutionary times I am *always* fascinated by the hopes/dreams/motivations of people who choose to leave their native country to live somewhere foreign. And you might be surprised, perhaps some of the people you met in your travels still think of you too :)

Rachael Herron said...

This feels like the start of a novel to me, or a grand, sweeping movie -- watching a culture move across and assimilate with others -- a family separated, perhaps? What a lovely post.

Supriya Savkoor said...

Ladies, thanks so much for having me and for your gracious feedback! Yes, story spinning and people watching go hand in hand, don't they? And Lisa, those pre-Revolutionary ancestors of yours sound pretty fascinating as well. You all are the best.

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