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Jakarta Post

Tales of people in search of identity, roots

  • Desy Nurhayati

    The Jakarta Post

Ubud, Bali   /   Mon, October 27, 2014   /  11:32 am

Six main characters in six different stories have one thing in common: their quest for a place where they feel a sense of belonging.

Exploring the themes of rootlessness and displacement, the short stories collected in Batik Rain are about people looking for their homeland, in search of their identities and roots.

While all of the main characters are Indian by nationality, the stories revolve around individuals who have moved away from home, stepping out of their comfort zones to go overseas.

After many years, they feel a sense of loneliness and isolation, and begin looking for the '€œmissing part'€ of their lives.

'€œIt is about the catharsis they experience when they reach their destination,'€ said author Ashwini Devare of her debut book, which has been longlisted for the 2014 Frank O'€™Connor International Short Story Award.

'€œAs immigrants and minorities in foreign lands, they must navigate unknown waters, embodying the resilience and perseverance necessary to undertake such journeys.'€

The first story, Homecoming, tells of a man who returns to India after living for 20 years in the US. As he returns to his hometown in Pune, he feels connected, believing that he has found his home.

Another story, titled Anthem of Guilt, reveals the twists and turns of a young man'€™s guilt-ridden conscience. A classic escapist, he is constantly on the run from poverty, violence and commitment.

One of the stories that was '€œdear to her heart'€, Ashwini said, was the last one, titled Saroj. It is the story of a girl who loses her mother when she is seven years old.

'€œIt is a story about a daughter who never knew her mother, and a granddaughter who yearns to seek her through the prism of the past.'€

However, Ashwini feels most associated with Homecoming, given her experiences of living in many parts of the world, yet still feeling connected to her roots in India.

Her globetrotting childhood and cross-cultural journeys as the daughter of an Indian Foreign Service employee, moving from country to country every three years, inspired her to write these stories, which were launched at the recent Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014.

Having a nomadic childhood, living in five countries by the age of 15, the writer, who was born in Moscow, realized that there was much to learn from other cultures and people.

As a child, she found that shifting from one continent to another was very disturbing, as she had to start everything all over again whenever she moved to a new place: move to another school, make new friends, learn a new language and struggle to fit in.

She then discovered that writing was the best antidote to misery, and it became her habit.

Combining her cross-cultural childhood with her fascination with current affair, she embarked on a career as a journalist. A former correspondent with BBC Asia, Ashwini has worked for several news channels, including CNBC in Mumbai and CNN and CTV News in the US.

'€œI enjoyed my career as a television reporter and the rush of breaking news, but over the last few years, I felt I wasn'€™t doing justice to stories by covering them in one or two minutes, leaving me unsatisfied.'€

In that sense, she felt that the journey of writing fiction was liberating, allowing her to express herself in pages, rather than in sound bites.

She started writing three years ago, engaging in research for the book as her first foray into literary fiction. Her years of cross-cultural journeys are expressed in the stories.

Her parents'€™ love for Indonesia has somehow influenced her, as she keeps coming back here. Falling in love with Bali, she was inspired to write Batik Rain and used the island as the backdrop.

The story revolves around a family going on vacation to Bali. Something happens during their stay on the island, forcing them to return to the US.

'€œThe male character was '€˜haunted'€™ by the images of Bali,'€ Ashwini said, explaining the reason behind the choice of the title. '€œAnd two images kept coming to his mind whenever he thought of Bali: batik and rain.'€

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