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Writing and imagination get
me out of my skin : Abha Dawesar

A bha Dawesar grew up in India and moved to the US to study political philosophy at Harvard University. She was awarded a Fiction Fellowship from the New York Foundation of the Arts for 2000.

Her debut novel Miniplanner was released by Cleis Press, San Francisco in November 2000. Renamed The Three of Usthe book was recently released in India and Singapore.

Dawesar, who also writes poems and short stories, has been published in Mudfish, Lighthouse and HQ. Multi-media performances and works have been showcased in NY at Tatto This! (Joseph Papp Public Theater '99) and Purda (Joseph Papp Public Theater '00, CSV Cultural Center '99); and San Francisco at Junglee Juice (Asian American Theater Company '01).

Her photographs have been exhibited in New York City at the Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center and Cafe Babylon.

She says she "enjoys standing on her head in free time", biking by the Hudson river and traveling to stark landscapes. She is learning French, has taken to snowboarding and is working on another novel.
The Three of Us (Miniplanner) is your first book. It begins with Andre Bernard, a fresh college grad's first day of work at a Manhattan-based investment bank. The book immediately takes the protagonist and his boss's boss, Nathan Williams, to Skirts, a strip bar. On page 8 the woman in G-string was already breathing down their pants and had placed Williams' hand on Nathan's crotch; by page 9 the two men had already kissed and made out in a dark bar. The quick sex and too much of it - takes the reader by surprise. What distinguishes such sex from a typical porn book? The first nine pages are titillating….

To this I can only respond with what most of my readers have said which is that they did not find the sex in the novel the least bit gratuitous. Its unconventional to hurtle the reader right into the action but my aim was to write a novel that moves easily and quickly from the very start. The explicit scene between Nathan and André furthers this goal. As for distinguishing The Three of Us from a porn book, one has to look at the entire novel in context to judge it. There are several explicit scenes but there are also an equal number of scenes devoted to the character's internal dialog with himself about life and love; porn novels don't explore these themes.

Sex continues. In the next few pages Andre is on a sexual roller coaster - having sex with his boss, the boss' wife, his secretary and is also trying to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend. As a woman, how easy was it to get under the skin of a white, bisexual man, and interpret his sexuality so passionately? Was it more difficult to handle homosexuality?

From a writer's perspective it was an interesting exercise. Once I had André pegged down I wanted to explore his character which involved aspects of his whiteness and sexuality but was not restricted to these elements.

What is it like to be a gay White man for over 250 pages?

I thrive as a writer by the act of speaking in someone else's voice. The experience of being André was probably as much about not being a female and a person of color for 250 pages. What I'm saying is that writing and imagination get me out of my skin.

Most Indian writers writing in English tend to weave their stories around familiar milieu, familiar themes and familiar characters; they are all so Indian in their pain, in their happiness, in their perplexities, in their attitudes. What made you step outside and tell Andre's story?

I really don't believe that pain, happiness or dilemmas are bound all that much by culture. Yes, the setting of a novel will contribute to the flavor but literature works by transcending these boundaries. This is the reason we can read Dostoevsky and appreciate him. I decided to tell André's story because in part I wanted to see if I could do it. I felt it would force me to cut out the clutter that a familiar milieu carries and let me examine some things that go beyond the familiar.

However, the story does have Madhu, Andre's ex-girlfriend. One review said that you have adapted the mainstream American idiom so well that Madhu comes across as the most unidimensional character. Do you agree?

No I don't agree. I don't think that Madhu is a unidimensional character. She is not a primary character in the novel and she is therefore not fleshed out the way André and Nathan are. Further, the book is written from André's perspective and so Madhu emerges as he sees her. André's sense of Madhu is what her character is about. It wouldn't have been appropriate to create Madhu from my (that is a South Asian woman's) perspective since the novel is in André's voice.

The steamy sexual surface of the story hides an underplot about growing up, assuming responsibility for the choices one makes. What is the message here?

There is no pat one line moral of the story. The point was to show André's life, its surfaces and depths, as he might live it. The hope, as always in literature, is that the reader no matter how far removed from André will at some points understand him and his life.

You once said that your audience has been young city dwellers, though varied in race (including South Asian men and women) and gender. Isn't sex an absolutely universal theme? So why just young city dwellers?

I think that the novel has a certain pace that corresponds more with the pace of life in big cities than elsewhere. I think it is harder for people living a less accelerated life to relate to the book because it isn't just a novel about the choices André is making but also about how much he is packing into a short time.

The book was renamed The Three of Us and recently released in the Indian subcontinent and Singapore. Andre needed a miniplanner to keep track of his evening/night schedules, as such the name Miniplanner fits perfectly. Why did you change the title of the book?

The Indian publishers felt that the word Miniplanner would not convey the same things to an Indian audience. I agreed with them since I think that the habit of carrying around a pocket agenda is not that deeply rooted in India.

You have studied political philosophy at Harvard University; you paint, sculpt, write short stories and work? You have also received a Fiction fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Who is the real Abha Dawesar and what does she like doing most?

I like learning new things. Overcoming mental and physical challenges gives me a sense of fulfillment. I've been learning French for a year and have also picked up snowboarding this winter. Both have become passions. However writing and the contemplation of philosophical ideas are probably at the core of my being.

Anything new from your repertory?

Yes. A novel set in India. Very different from this one and painted on a much larger canvas. A novel that lets a lot more of society in. However, exactly like this one, a novel straight out of the imagination.

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