Kamakshi P. Murti is originally from India. She draws inspiration for her story-telling from her background in cultural and gender studies, and even more importantly from the younger members of her family who have empowered her to hone her skills as a story-teller.
1980 was a memorable year. “Publish or perish”? I was baffled by the phrase. I had just moved from India to the US to get a Ph.D. in German Studies. It took fifty-six letters of rejection from publishers for my first scholarly monograph, the work that would make or break me, that defined what ‘perish’ meant. Then Walter de Gruyter in Berlin, Germany, decided to risk it all, and to publish my book with the literally breath-taking title: “The reincarnation of the reader as author: a reception historical investigation of the influence of Indic literature on German writers.” (1990) Two more serious monographs, “India: the seductive and seduced ‘other’ of German Orientalism” (2001) and “To veil or not to veil: Europe’s shape-shifting ‘other’” (2013), and my reputation as a writer and scholar was established.
But … yes, there was an irrepressible ‘BUT’ … but what about the storyteller that was bursting at the seams to express herself? There she was, my paternal aunt, telling me “The Tale of the half-boy,” a boy missing an entire half of his body. Like any good storyteller, my aunt made sure the heroic triumphed at the end, and all was well and whole with the world! My aunt the engineer (yes, she was the first female electrical engineer in India, proudly and defiantly getting her degree a year after I was born) gave me the courage to weave my own stories. The non-academic side of me began entertaining nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews with possible and impossible tales.
2008 was once again memorable. It heralded the second phase of my life: retirement. And retirement brought with it a luxury of which I had only dreamt: the time to write down all those tales with which I had entertained many young people at various levels of growing-up. My archaeologist niece Shanti Pappu was decidedly the inspiration for and firmest critic of my debut novel “Veiled Murders: The Mound of the Dead.”
Why this book? The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt figure prominently in mystery fiction. However, the ancient Indus Valley Civilization - 3300–1300 BCE - has fallen by the wayside as a site of murder and mayhem! Strong women in history have always fascinated me, and I wondered if there was a counterpart of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut in the Indus Valley Civilization. I came across the 'Dancing Girl,' a bronze sculpture made approximately 2500 BCE, and displayed in a museum in New Delhi. I thought of her as a priestess queen and gave her the name Sai-an-ki. "Veiled Murders" follows this queen, her dreams and ambitions, her violent death, and the unearthing of her bones 4,500 years later that would bring to light the identity of her murderers.
The euphoria of creating my first fictional work evaporated quite quickly, as publisher after publisher returned the dreaded word “NO!” However, my aunt had taught me well. I wasn’t going to give up that easily. A woman who had entertained me through many a rainy day came to mind: Agatha Christie. I was going to create twin avatars of Christie’s ‘fluffy’ Jane Marple. And Leela and Meena Rao, two seventy-year-old cousins, came to life. “Murders Most Matronly” was soon followed by fourteen others in the series! Family and loyal friends praised the characters, avidly read the stories, and pushed me to contact publishers. US publishers continued to say ‘No.’ I turned to India and discovered Juggernaut Books. They published my “Murders Most Matronly” in 2017. It was a second lease on life, a truly exhilarating one!
What next? I pondered. Browsing through children’s literature in a local library, I found myself searching for a face, a South-Asian-American face like mine – brown skin and all. The absence of such a face led to “Lalli’s Window,” the story of Lalli, a ten-year old South-Asian-American girl whose parents are first-generation immigrants to the U.S. She loses a leg in a car accident. The story is set in 21st century Tucson, Arizona, and begins after Lalli returns home from the hospital. Great Britain came to my rescue this time. Austin Macauley published “Lalli’s Window” in 2017 – a veritable banner year for my writing! I have since written six more in this series, following Lalli year after year, sensing her many hopes and frustrations, her anger at being different, and her increasing awareness of the complex world surrounding her. These stories remain in my laptop, waiting to be released!
Once again: What next? I picked up a rather dog-eared copy of “Malgudi Tales,” simple and captivating stories about life in the fictitious Indian village of Malgudi. I had read and reread the stories in India. R. K. Narayan, the writer, had died in 2001. I wished I could just hop onto a time-machine to take me back a couple of decades, and meet the great writer, to have him entertain me with those precious tales. I picked up my laptop, and began to compose “Bandilanka’s Forgotten Lives,” short stories giving voice to those whose lives have fallen through the cracks: the washerman, the child widow, the sweeper woman, the prostitute’s daughter, the illegal immigrant, the abused wife.
It is heart-breaking at any age to lose a limb. But when it happens to a ten-year-old South-Asian-American girl who had never had to question her privileged life, heart-break leads to a painful confrontation with a variety of prejudices and hate speech. At its core, my story deals with the universal themes of family forgiveness, true friendship, and the power of neighborly love
Find Kamakashi on her website, Twitter and Instagram
Where to Buy Lalli's Window
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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