What was the inspiration for ‘Red’?
“Red”, my story that features in this anthology, is my response to the dehumanisation in the world of surrogacy in India. I first glimpsed this in the 2012 BBC documentary Womb for Rent (something I would urge everyone reading this to watch!). I later found the topic in fiction; British-Indian author Meera Syal’s novel The House of Hidden Mothers (2015) explores not just the poverty and desperation behind this, but also the emotional and familial impact of this choice on the surrogates through the character of Mala.
Although the urge to explore this world within the storytelling space was instant and quite powerful, it actually took a while to get the story where it is. I had done two previous drafts, which were very different from what you see in the anthology; the first one was dialogue-heavy, and the second draft was a third-person narrative taking a relatively panoramic view of the surrogacy industry as opposed to a character-based approach. None of them worked for me because they weren’t the right kind of emotive, and I knew I wanted to show-not-tell but didn’t know how.
I read Syal’s work during my Creative Writing course at University of Glasgow, which helped me get out of the rut this story had fallen into. I was also working on some writing exercises for my technique-based module, which was covering constraint-writing at the time. I took inspiration from Joe Brainard’s refrain in ‘I Remember‘ and the story in its current form took shape (finally) in less than two hours! Admittedly, it took me nearly two years to find a home for it and I couldn’t be happier to have it in this beautiful first volume.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
I quite appreciate that phrase because it has really put into perspective something I have been experiencing for nearly a year; so the short answer is, yes, I have gotten it! For me, reading is a process that is highly empathic and immersive, and mental health struggles owing to some massive life-curveballs have made it too overwhelming. I have lost track of how long I have been struggling to finish Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (spoiler: I still haven’t finished it). I feel we need to initiate conversation around this term, because adding it to my vocabulary (thanks to this question!) has helped a lot.