Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Hip Writer Mama
Big A little a
The Edge of the Forest
And here's an interview I did with myself, if you want to linger on the Fire Escape:
Q: Were you really the fattest baby born in Kolkata?
Sadly, I broke all the records at Shebashodon General Hospital, weighing in at over ten pounds.
Q: Why did your parents leave India?
Better jobs. Education for their girls. And I like to tease them that they left because I was born and they now had three daughters. If they'd stayed in India, they would have had to come up with three dowries (a girl's family actually has to PAY a boy's family before he marries her). All joking aside, though, they did endure the shame of having no son to carry on the family name. Dad got a contract in Ghana as a harbor engineer and they escaped before I could toddle.
Q: Wasn't it hard for your family to leave their native land?
India wasn't really their native land. Generations of my ancestors lived in East Bengal, which is now another country called Bangladesh. Fighting broke out between Hindus and Muslims, and my parents were forced to flee into Kolkata (Calcutta), a big city in the Indian state of West Bengal. Dad was in high school and Mom was in elementary school, so they were displaced twice — first to India as kids, and then to the U.S.A. as adults. The second time was by choice, but I think it was easier to leave because of the first time.
Q: Where did you live after Ghana?
We lived in Cameroun, Mexico, London, and New York City before settling into the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Martinez. Dad became the director of the Port of Richmond and we bought our first house (in an all-white surburb instead of the urban melting pot). That's where I started seventh grade.
Q: When did you start writing?
Writing kept me sane when I was a stranger in a school or neighborhood. I've kept a diary since I was ten years old. It's a place for my emotions to catch their breath; a portable fire escape, I guess.
Q: What about reading?
I started reading early, when we lived in Cameroun, and have devoured books ever since. We didn't get a television until I was eight or nine, and by then I was already an addict. Laura Ingalls Wilder, L.M. Montgomery, L.M. Alcott, Frances Burnett, Elizabeth Enright, Sidney Taylor, L.M. Weber — these and other writers introduced me to America. Their stories were the best culture and history guides a newcomer like me could ever have. When I was growing up, there were not very many books for or about immigrant kids.
Q: Who was your best friend growing up?
Definitely my two older sisters. We were stuck in the same strange mix of cultures — a traditional Bengali home and a California suburban school. Sonali and Rupali taught me all about makeup, boys, etc. and spoiled me rotten. Yes, our names rhyme. They mean gold, silver and friendship. Somebody must have run out of precious metals by the time I came along, but I think I got the best deal in the end.
Q: What's the most Indian thing about you? What's the most American thing about you?
My taste buds are Indian. Pass the spicy mango pickle, please. My strong need for solitude is definitely more American than Indian.
Q: This is my last question. I promise. Where do you live?
I live in Massachusetts just outside of Boston with my husband (who's the minister at Newton Presbyterian Church) and our twin sons, who are in the sixth grade. Before Boston, we lived in California, Thailand, Bangladesh and India. If you want to know how the daughter of immigrant Hindus ended up as a minister's wife, read this article published in Campus Life magazine. If you want to keep up with my daily comings and goings, check in with me via my blog: Mitali's Fire Escape.
Oh -- our family also includes Strider, a yellow Lab, Zipper, a black lab puppy (so cute!), and Legolas, a ferret. (We used to have a bearded dragon named Gandalf, but sadly, he died, as did Arwen, our first ferret, pictured belowto the left.) Our old dog is named Strider because of my admiration for (read: secret crush on) that character in Tolkien's great trilogy, The Lord of the Rings — way before the movie came out, mind you. And if you look closely at Zipper's nose, you might be able guess how he got his name.