Four Questions on Farsickness is an interview series with creative writers for whom place is essential to their work. Each writer answers the same four questions—and featured this week is debut novelist, Tania Malik.
1. Share a little about where you’re from. When you were growing up, what what place—real or imagined—most fascinated you, and why?
I was born in New Delhi, India. When I was three, my family moved to Kenya, which was relatively stable at the time. We later moved to Nigeria where there was the occasional military coup, but it was long before the violence of Boko Haram. I attended local schools until I went to boarding school in Mussoorie, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. I finished university in Delhi and some post-graduate work by way of Manchester, England. I worked in Dubai, UAE for a few years, and made the United States home over twenty years ago.
I seem to have spent my whole life being in one place and longing for another. When I was at boarding school I wanted to be at home, when I am in the States, I miss India and vice versa. It is why I am intrigued by the concept of “farsickness”. When it came to finding a place in which to set my novel, Three Bargains, I returned to northern India and my family’s ancestral town in the state Haryana, a place that figured prominently in my childhood. The towns and villages there are surrounded by bright, green fields of rice and sugarcane, and by factories manufacturing paper and plywood. It is a deeply conservative and patriarchal area, yet the long reach of globalization is altering the landscape. Among the old, one-room storefronts, sprawling malls are popping up, as well as Domino’s Pizza Parlors and Toyota car dealerships. The contradictions and complexities of the social order, the beauty of the land, the ugliness of the everyday violence, and the tussle between the old ways and the new, inspired a rich and fascinating landscape against which to set my story of a man who goes in search for his lost child, a consequence of a star-crossed love affair from when he was younger.
2. What travel has been a particular inspiration to your work?
My father was an avid traveler and growing up we would be always planning where in the world we would set forth to next. Even now, whenever I am at an airport, I still experience a mixture of longing and excitement, the feeling that I am on the cusp of something extraordinary. He took us around Europe and to South America, and around Africa among other places. I cherish memories of road trips to countries barely heard of such as Togo and Benin (when we arrived in Cotonu, Benin, all the hotels were booked up and my father found the only shopkeeper of Indian origin in the city and he took our family of four in for the night, proving that there are helpful Indians everywhere in the world). In retrospect, I realize those early travels—often challenging and unpredictable, yet invariably rewarding—have informed and influenced the way I approach any writing project.
3. Where do you “escape to” to recharge creativity?
A hike or walk at the end of the day helps me decompress and give me fresh perspective on my writing day. When I moved to Delhi for two years from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area, what I missed most was the outdoor spaces—the hiking trails and sweeping vistas, the crisp, bracing air that clears the mind and recharges one’s batteries. Delhi, though, has some beautiful public parks. My favorite is Lodi Gardens, a park spread over ninety acres with shaded trails winding around 15th century Mughal mausoleums. My dog, Deuce, and I would walk there every evening. In winter, the park is riotous with floral color and busy with walkers. In the summer, when temperatures climb above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it is a place left to young dating couples who find sanctuary among the foliage and ancient ruins to meet secretly and make out, away from their parents’ eyes and the conventional strictures of society. I treasured my time in this magnificent and unique park for the refuge it offered away from the clamor and bustle of the city. Even in the heat of the summer you would find Deuce and I there—just us and the lovers of Lodi Gardens.
4. Where would you most like to travel to next?
When I lived in Dubai, I worked for a travel organization and spent a lot of time planning adventures and experiences for clients or writing brochures and copy for places I longed to visit. My list has grown since then, and I am game to go anywhere that time and money allow. I would like to explore more of the United States, and internationally would like to get to know Russia and the far-eastern countries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Tania Malik was born in New Delhi, and raised in India, Africa and the Middle East. She graduated from the University of Delhi with a degree in Geography. Her writings have appeared in the Baltimore Review, Bound Off, Salon.com and other publications. Her debut novel, Three Bargains, received a Publishers Weekly Starred review, and a Booklist Starred review. The New York Times said, “…Ms. Malik cleverly complicates the traditional rags-to-riches story.” While the San Francisco Chronicle called it “… an impressive feat of storytelling.” She currently lives in San Francisco’s Bay Area with her family. Find her online at www.taniamalik.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/threebargains, and on Twitter: @taniamalik.