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Ambika Shaligram | Thursday, 20 April 2017 AT 10:07 PM IST
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Amita Trasi’s debut novel sketches a warm but complex relationship between two girls, who could or couldn’t be sisters. She explains the journey.

The Color of Our Sky has a lot of India, especially Mumbai, in it. There are people, nooks and crannies, riots, and bribe seeking police amidst whom live two girls, whose lives are defined by their social strata. It’s a tale of Tara and Mukta, which is on one level naïve and dreamy and on another level, quite complex.

Amita Trasi, who was born and raised in Mumbai, has recreated the city with its grime and unexpected kindness, from Houston, Texas. Earlier, self-published, the book is now being released by HarperCollins in May. Excerpts from conversation with Trasi:

The release says The Color of Our Sky was initially self-published. Can you elaborate on the journey of the book — from a self-published copy to being picked up by HarperCollinsPublishers?

In 2013, I sent my finished novel to many agents in the US and received many rejection letters. A couple of agents came back to me with feedback and encouraged me to keep going. I also met editors and proof-readers who later helped me with this book.

I self-published the book in 2015 and received an overwhelming positive feedback from bloggers and an interest from a publisher in Turkey for translation rights. I went looking for an agent, once again, to represent me for the Turkey deal.

Aroon Raman, a terrific author, recommended Priya Doraswamy of Lotus Lane Literary and when I approached her to represent me for translation rights, she read my book and suggested that we should try to sell it to a publisher in the US. And HarperCollins picked it up!

Where did you write the book? In India or US? It has a lot of India and all things Indian — noise, colour, people — in it.
I wrote the book when I was travelling within the US. I wrote the part where Tara lives with her father in the US when I was staying in Los Angeles for about six months. So the Los Angeles locale took over my writing for Tara’s life in the US.

As for the novel having the feel of India, I’m born and brought up in Mumbai and I’ve lived there for 30 years before moving to the US. So there is a definite echo of my experience in India.

Who became your soul sister — Tara or Mukta?
Definitely Mukta. Right from the beginning, I was more comfortable writing in Mukta’s voice. I felt I was able to listen to her character more deeply. She is sweet and sensitive, and she just drew me in; I really felt for her. In the initial phases of this novel, I found it difficult to get through to Tara’s character. Tara is more complicated. She is a child who is caught between her mother’s old-fashioned ways and her father’s need for doing what is right. This leaves her confused at times. At one level, she is being loyal to her father and at another, she feels guilty that she doesn’t understand her mother. So it took me a while to draw out her character.

Did you research on the Yellamma/Devdasi cult? What stimulated your interest in the community?
Yes, I did research the Yellamma cult although I was always aware of its existence. I remember reading about this first when I was in college. There was an article in the newspaper about a well-known personality in music who belonged to this community. The Devadasi tradition was mentioned briefly in that article which stimulated my interest back then. When I started researching human trafficking in Mumbai, I learnt that this tradition is exploited by human traffickers to bring girls from villages to the brothels in cities.

The author can be followed on Twitter @riceandpickle

Did you also work with the NGOs who want to improve the lives of sex workers?
I’ve not been directly involved with rescue or rehabilitation efforts but I do my bit — volunteering/participating in fundraising, donating, spreading awareness — all of which contribute to the cause.

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