05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Monday, October 14, 2013

Superstitions, Saris, Spices . . .

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.
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Sarah Raplee said...

I agree that ethnic elements stir readers' interest. I know that, as a reader, I love to learn more about cultures I was not born into and how those cultural traditions are viewed by insiders.

The superstitions you mentioned are interesting as well. Who knew beliefs in salt having magical properties spans cultures? As does a belief in 'the evil eye.'

I always look forward to reading your posts, Shbhan!

Shobhan Bantwal said...

Thanks for the comments, Sarah. Salt seems to be a common one to many cultures across the world. There are some associated with weddings as well, especially the one about not seeing the bride on the wedding day until it's time for the final vows.

Diana Mcc. said...

What an interesting post, Shobhan. I really enjoy reading about other cultures. Who wouldn't want to read about flavorful spices and beautiful saris? I'm buying your book today.

Shobhan Bantwal said...

Thank you for the kind words, Diana. I sincerely hope you enjoy The Sari Shop Widow. It is a romance but offers a glimpse into "Little India," an ethnic enclave in central New Jersey that is comparable to the Little Italys or Chinatowns in major US cities.

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Shobhan,

I also look forward to reading your posts and learning a little bit more about India and Indian culture. I wasn't aware of a "Little India" in central New Jersey. Portland, OR has a relatively high number of Indians living here who work in the high-tech industry. What that means is we've some great Indian restaurants! And, I'm looking forward to meeting you in person when I'm in Tempe for the Desert Dreams Conference. Even if you won't be attending, I'd like to connect during the time I'm in the area.