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When I started writing Indian Tango, with that very first line – the kneeling happens as soon as they take their first few steps into the house – I knew it would be a story that led me to the heart of desire. That the body would be the beginning and the end, the voyage that my main characters would embark on.

I sent an email to a writer friend of mine in London, telling her that I was writing a story, set in India, that would have an erotic encounter at its core. She replied, jokingly, that I was writing my last tango in Paris, transposed to India. What? Me, write something like Last Tango in Paris? I had dreadful thoughts of some of the most infamous scenes from the film and shuddered. But from that joke, the title of the story appeared, and Indian Tango it was, even in the original French edition. It also gave the story its musical undercurrent.

‘But why India?’ my readers asked me. After four decades of novels, short-stories and poetry, it was the first time I was setting a novel in India. But India has always been present in my life. My great-grandparents were from Andhra Pradesh. They emigrated in the nineteenth century, some of them to South Africa, some of them to Mauritius. I was born in Mauritius and grew up in a home environment where Indian culture and practices were pervasive, but with a Western education and a social environment which opened my eyes and mind to the different cultures and languages of the world. I spoke Creole, English and French. My mother spoke Telugu to us as children. I listened to music from all over the world and read all the great classics of European literature.

As I grew up, I realized that these open windows on the world were an incredible gift of life. I began to write as a child, and in adolescence discovered the wealth of literary masterpieces coming from closer to Mauritius, on the African continent. Literature was a means for South African writers to fight against apartheid. It was the means for writers from Congo, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo and so many other countries to raise consciousness about the terrible consequences of colonization and the post-independence exactions committed by their own leaders. I realized that my inner voice always spoke through characters and stories. Fiction became my world.

So, why did I wait so long before turning to India? Many of my novels set in Mauritius had main characters who were of Indian origin. But it seemed that I needed to step out of myself to move to the immensity and mystery that was India. I needed to look both inwards and outwards, and attempt to grasp both its familiarity and its strangeness. This took the shape of my two main characters, Subhadra and the unnamed writer whose paths would cross, collide and entangle.

When I embarked on this strange journey that was Indian Tango, I knew that my fascination with Delhi would come across. What I didn’t realize was that it would be a novel about the enigma of women. I wanted to push my Subhadra beyond the boundaries of her life into a transgression that would help her see who she was, know who she could be outside these boundaries. What I didn’t know was that I was pushing my own boundaries to discover something of myself that had remained hidden so far.

That erotic encounter towards the end of the book was an eye-opener in more ways than one.


About the book:

To say that, in fact writing has been no more than a way of talking about the body and nothing but the body. Lost to the meaning of her life, a foreign writer arrives in Delhi seeking the wordless company of strangers. Delhi is an exploded sun, bleeding everywhere its untrammeled chaos the feral dampness of bus fumes, the suicidal rush of scooters the autorickshaw seats impregnated with thousands of odours nauseous accretions of Indias muddy human tide. The men with their stinking bidis rule as masters andthe women remain walled in by centuries of tradition. The author, infatuated by a quiet lady on the street, begins to seek the untamed and undiscovered country that lies below her sari, the delicate throbbing hidden beneath her silence. As she rediscovers her voice and the ability to write a story and as monsoon arrives, low and heavy bellied, washing away the concrete barricades of custom, a secret encounter in a music store opens up an ancient darwaza of forbidden pleasures. Bursting with sharp irreverence, Indian Tango is a story of fleshly transgression and unlikely liberation in the patriachopolis of New Delhi.


You could buy the book here:

The Penguin India Blog

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