Mridula Koshy is the author of Bicycle Dreaming (Speaking Tiger), Not Only the Things That Have Happened (Harper Collins India) and of the short story collection, If It Is Sweet (Tranquebar Press and Brass Monkey Australia). The latter won the 2009 Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and was shortlisted for the 2009 Vodafone Crossword Book Award (Not Only… was also shortlisted for this award in 2013). She’s one of the women I admire. This is one tough lady. Read on and you will find out why.
“We said ‘Si se puede’ long before Barack Obama made popular his ‘yes, we can’,” recalls Mridula about life as a trade union activist in the US. The author has more in common with the US President than just the motto. Both studied at the Occidental College on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and became community organisers on graduating, albeit at different times.
She found some of the mid-80s Los Angeles societal upheavals in Delhi when she took up writing full time. So, it’s not surprising that the unsettling stories in If It Is Sweet wander from Delhi to Los Angles, redrawing the literary map so that Sunset Boulevard runs right through Connaught Place.
Servants and mistresses, middle class insomniacs wandering the same footpaths on which labourers awake to care for their sleepless infants; it’s all in there. Stories of hardship and irony that she witnessed in the many things when she was in the US before she became a writer: swap-meet sales clerk, waitress who set a table cloth on fire, polisher of silverware in the back room for many months afterward, writing advisor at Occidental College, professional advocate of multi-culturalism, a painter (not of the fine arts variety), and collator of tax forms. Koshy calls some more to mind:
Cashier at KFC
“The cooks in the back, illegal immigrants working 16-hour shifts, tried to teach me Spanish. They taught me to work the cash register, a job they could never be hired for, reserved as it was for teens earning their pocket money.”
Backstage dresser at fashion shows
“Everything was a blur models coming off the catwalk, flinging off their clothes the minute they were out of the audience’s line of vision, stepping in all their naked 6 ft glory into the clothes I held ready, then back out again, stomp stomp stomp.”
“A college job I held to earn money in summer. I scraped old rusty lockers and for weeks afterwards couldn’t stop sneezing rust. Yes, we wore safety equipment. I think it helped.”
Receptionist at law firm
“I got fired because I couldn’t figure out the buttons on the complicated phone. The last straw was the tragedy of errors where I got the lawyers’ wives names mixed up. Oh, and I wasn’t much good at filing either. As scared as I was of being unemployed during what was a recession (1992), I was also glad to get out. Watching the clock is not worth any amount of money.”
Reading fairy at the library
“I donned a pair of glittery ‘made in China’ wings, and towed out on a rubber dinghy in an aquatic park. Kids who hopped on for the ride were, yes, read to by the Reading Fairy. Seasick but the best job I ever held for all of one day.”
As told to Kasmin Fernandes
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(A version of this interview with Mridula Koshy was earlier published in the tabloid Mid Day)