By Shobhan Bantwal
Growing up in a small rural town in India in the 1960s, I used to resent the fact that God had chosen to put me in a place that was about as exciting as plain boiled rice. Everyone knew everyone else and my father was the quintessential Indian 'Lord and Master.' My sisters and I were not allowed to date or even step out of the house after dark. The nuns in our super-strict Catholic school buried us in homework and left us no time for any fun activities.
However, many years later, after I had my old-fashioned arranged marriage and moved to the United States, I was amazed to discover that it was precisely my unusual and conservative upbringing that was of interest to many Americans. Eventually, when I became a fiction author, I also realized there is such abundant fodder for story ideas in my own culture that I rarely have to look beyond it. Saris, spices, superstitions, and quaint social customs have offered some great plots for my novels.
And speaking of superstitions in India, here are some examples: No cutting of hair or nails after sundown (bad luck); applying a spot of kohl on a baby's face (deflects the evil eye and protects the child); no placing salt directly into somebody's hand (potential for conflict between the giver and taker).
Matching the horoscopes of eligible boys and girls for matrimonial purposes is also rooted in superstition. Now this is one practice I really believe in. Why? Because my husband and I were matched that way forty years ago and we are still happily married. Almost everyone in my family who was married in this fashion is content in their marriage. There must be something to this horoscope business, right?
Then there are the saris and spices, a dynamic duo that adds color, heat, and an exotic component to an ethnic Indian romance. While the sari is considered a modest garment it can be one of the sexiest if worn low over the hips and matched with a revealing blouse. My book, The Sari Shop Widow (2009), generated the most sales amongst all my books, and I believe the title had something to with it.
Scenes that include food are always a wonderful way to introduce a foreign culture to readers. I often receive feedback from my readers asking for recipes of dishes I mention in my novels. Questions about Indian spices also come up from time to time. I find that rare ethnic elements are great topics to stimulate interest in potential readers.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ShobhanBantwal.author