Traversing time and places with author Anuradha Kumar

“Coming Back to the City: Mumbai Stories” juxtaposes lives in Mumbai’s affluent high rises and the working-class residential ‘chawls,’ against a shadowy backdrop of real estate greed and land sharks. This novel is the latest from Anuradha Kumar, who has penned more than 26 works from children’s books to historical fictions set in ancient India’s and more contemporary times.

Of this impressive bibliography, Kumar is most proud of those that “have challenged me, have made me discover new things about the process of writing, have enabled me to live in different worlds, with different characters all at the same time.”

There wasn’t one pivotal moment that inspired Kumar’s interest in writing novels, but rather, a continuous progression of small steps. At first, she dabbled in short stories, submitting them to digital magazines in the early Internet era. Then, several things happily coalesced: she realized the corporate world wasn’t necessarily for her, she joined the well-regarded academic journal Economic and Political Weekly, and she began combing through submissions for publication consideration.

“Reading the submissions we received returned me to the subject I really love—history,” Kumar said. Indeed, most of Kumar’s writing, both fiction and nonfiction, is filled with history. In addition to writing novels, she authors history-based pieces for the online portal.

From the start of writing career, including novels for children under the pseudonym Adity Kay, a network of mentors inspired Kumar, and she is now building her own. This network includes writers Kiran Nagarkar, Shama Futehally and Pankaj Mishra. She simply reached out to them on the telephone or through email to learn more about their worlds and experiences as a writer.

“I quite marvel at my own shameless audacity, for they gave their time generously to reading something awkward I’d written, and I remain very grateful for this,” Kumar said. She has also learned by examples of other talented writers. Some of her favorite authors include Alice Munro, Muriel Spark, Yoko Ogawa, Nirmal Verma (wrotinig in Hindi) and Amitav Ghosh.

Recently, Kumar has focused her craft on researching and developing stories about the early South Asians immigrants in the Americas. “It’s a fascinating subject,” Kumar said. “There are actually several scholars and others working on it, but there remain so many stories yet to be told, stories that are just about being discovered.”

As she sees it, it’s a “history of immense challenges, about people with courage, who took risks—often of a subversive kind—to build new lives for themselves in a new land.”

Of course, challenges come with writing novels. After publication, Kumar believes her real work begins, particularly finding the right way to promote her books as a woman of color.

“There are other aspects one has to consider as a woman writer of color—things like race, gender, color too, so it’s quite hard, even time-consuming to figure out from where should one speak, and what angle should have priority,” Kumar said. “I am still working this out, and meanwhile, there’s a lot of writing to do.”

Above all, Kumar said there’s deep sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing her writing in print: “Then after several revisions you find quite suddenly that what you’ve written is alive, that it can work, and is humming with possibilities and promise.”

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