Where do you dream of traveling to and why?
Patagonia! I’m a big fan of beluga whales and would love to see them in their natural habitat. Way back, before good telescopes were invented, sailors thought belugas were mermaids. Or maybe sailors just had poor eyesight. Well, we now know that belugas aren’t mermaids, but they’re still absolutely enchanting.
Does travel play in the writing of your books?
Travel is a huge part of my next release, which is set in post-apartheid South Africa. I’m going next May for 2 incredible frantic weeks for research. I’m currently scouring TravBuddy for someone to go with. My third novel is set in Arizona, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, so there’s at least one road trip in my future!
Tell us about your current release.
Losing Touch is set in North London – not as exotic as South Africa. It follows the story of Arjun who brings his family to 1960s England after Indian Independence. His wife and kids adapt almost immediately. The kids get the slang, love the radio stations. Sunila, his wife, is delighted not to wear saris and loves Crimplene because she doesn’t have to iron it. Crimplene was one of the first crease-resistant fabrics and an absolute boon to housewives. The problem was that it looked hideous!
Meanwhile, Arjun is painfully aware that he doesn’t fit in: his loss of identity happens to many immigrants. He experiences further identity loss when he’s diagnosed with a neurological disease that gradually incapacitates him. But he does develop patience and a sense of humor, and recognizes that he loves his family, warts and all. Even though he’s the only one who knows it, his journey to self-acceptance is complete.
Tell us about your next release.
My untitled South African novel follows Mariaan, a black Ndebele woman, and Jan, a white Boer/English man who marry during post-apartheid euphoria. Despite strong parental disapproval, they think they can make their marriage work. They have two children, Paul and Liesle. When Liesle is assaulted, their rainbow nation dream begins to disintegrate and the resultant stresses threaten to break the family apart.
Does your significant other read your stuff?
My scientist husband usually doesn’t read anything I write. However, he did read Losing Touch on a recent plane trip and said that his seatmate must have thought he had a cold because he kept sniffing through the last few chapters. Big “aww” moment! I almost forgave him for not reading any of my short fiction.
Do you have critique partners or beta readers?
I belong to a group of women writers. We met at an all-women writers’ retreat in 2011, A Room Of Her Own. They’re not only fabulous at feedback, but they are funny, supportive, generous and all extremely talented. They also came to all the readings on my California book tour. Amazing friends.
Who are your books published with?
OneWorld Publications. I’d like to give a huge shout out to chief editor Juliet Mabey who took a chance on a complete unknown, and virtually held my hand throughout the whole editing process. It’s incredibly difficult to publish fiction at the moment, so I’m very grateful to OneWorld. Oh stink. I sound like an ad, don’t I? But I have heard awful stories about publishers from other writing friends so I feel amazingly lucky to be with OneWorld.
What was the scariest moment of your life?
Back in the ‘80s, I was on a 2-year teaching contract in Kenya. Our school was rural: very little electricity, and only in the classrooms, not in the teachers’ accommodation; no plumbing – we used long drops. If you wanted to go into town, it took the whole day. You waited for a matatu, a kind of van made into a bus. The bus ride took 4 hours each way.
One night, as it was raining, there was a school riot. There were a number of reasons: no clean drinking water, limited food options (maize and beans virtually every day), no milk, and draconian discipline.
I was living in a couple of rooms that had been partitioned off in the main administration building. The walls were made of hardboard. Because of the rain it was hard to hear what was going on outside. I could hear girls screaming and a lot of shouting but I couldn’t make out what anyone was saying.
And then I heard the rocks. They started breaking the windows on the administration building, starting with the library. They were working their way around the building. Soon, I heard rocks thrown at my door.
I didn’t know what to do. If they wanted to come in, they could. My hardboard walls wouldn’t keep them out. If they wanted to take things, I couldn’t stop them. Most of the students were much bigger than me (I’m 5’ 1”). If they wanted to kill me, I couldn’t do anything about that either. The only Swahili I could remember was “Hamjambo” which is the plural of “hello”. Not exactly calming for a mob of angry students.
I remember thinking, “I have maybe 10 seconds to get their attention, and if I don’t, I’m dead.”
I could hear pushing and scuffling and then a voice shouted something.
Then the shouting moved off.
I stood in front of my door for what seemed like hours.
Finally I heard gunshots and I knew that the police from the station down the hill, about 3km away, had arrived.
Then I heard the voice of the headmaster calling my name. With shaking hands I opened the door. He and several teachers were standing there. “We thought you were dead.”
I walked outside with everyone. The school grounds looked like they’d been ploughed. Students began straggling back, some with terrible wounds from the barbed wire fencing where they’d tried to run through in their panic.
The school closed for repairs for 2 weeks. After that, we went back and started teaching again.
I learned that the reason they didn’t break down the door and kill me was because someone thought I had a gun. It was mainly the oldest boys who wanted to kill the teachers.
When I found that out, I stopped teaching in the evenings. It wasn’t until that year of students had left that I felt closer to the other students again.
The head boy, who they’d also tried to kill, came and apologized to me on behalf of the school. That was the only time I cried.
Laurie: Our guest today is Sunila Kulkani. Hello Sunila, may I call you Sunila?
Sunila: You may call me Mrs. Kulkani.
L: Right, Mrs. Kulkani. So, you’re Indian.
S: Actually, I’m Dutch. My maiden name, Tan Haken, is Dutch. That’s from my grandfather on my father’s side. He was Dutch.
L: I see, but you’re Indian. You were born in India.
S: Plenty of English people are born in India. That doesn’t make them Indian, does it?
L: Well—okay. So, how are you enjoying England?
S: When do I have time to enjoy anything? I work all day and then I do the shopping on the way home, and then I cook dinner and clean up after my family—
L: Okay. If you do have time, what do you like to do to unwind?
S: Unwind what? I have quite enough to do without unwinding things as well.
L: Do you like to travel, for example?
S: I don’t like all this traveling business. We had a day trip to the seaside last year. That’s quite enough traveling. This wandering about that you young people so love is bad for the brain. It makes you think in a peculiar manner. You don’t put down roots. You’re too busy traveling hither and thither and yon.
L: But you traveled all the way from India. That must have been quite a journey.
S: That was third class on a ship. It was horrible. I was seasick the whole way. And I only did it because that was the only way to get to England. Now that I’m here I’m not going anywhere else.
I: Well, let me ask you this: If you could apologize to anyone in your past, who would that be?
S: What kind of question is that? And even if I did want to apologize to anyone, do you think I’d tell you? On a radio show for all the world to hear?
L: Well, er, let’s say I came to visit you early in the morning—
S: I hope you wouldn’t have the bad manners to turn up at my house early in the morning. Most people call first.
L: --would you be grumpy or chirpy?
S: Well, I am a morning person. But if you turned up on my doorstep without the courtesy to call first, I might not offer you a cup of tea.
L: Thank you, Mrs. Kulkani, it’s been a—a pleasure having you here.
ABOUT THE BOOK
by Sandra Hunter
After Indian Independence Arjun brings his family to London, but hopes of a better life rapidly dissipate. His wife Sunila spends all day longing for a nice tea service, his son suddenly hates anything Indian, and his daughter, well, that’s a whole other problem. As he struggles to enforce the values he grew up with, his family eagerly embraces the new. But when Arjun’s right leg suddenly fails him, his sense of imbalance is more than external. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, he is forced to question his youthful impatience and careless cruelty to his family, until he learns, ultimately, to love them despite — or because of — their flaws. In a series of tender and touching glimpses into the shared life of a married couple, Sandra Hunter creates strikingly sympathetic characters — ones that remind us of our own shortfalls, successes, hypocrisies, and humanity.
Sometimes she goes to stand at the bottom of the garden, pretending to tidy up the compost heap, and allows the forbidden thought to come: divorce.
She can only whisper it. It’s a bad word. Bad people do it. But in the Woman’s Own magazine at the doctor’s office, she read that Elizabeth Taylor had done it. She’d done it so many times that it was just part of her normal routine. Get up, put on face cream, divorce Richard. How daring it sounds, so chic. Sunila practices. Get up, put on Johnson’s Baby Lotion, divorce Arjun. I’ll just divorce him and he can take his disapproving face and jump in the lake.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Sandra Hunter’s fiction has been published in a number of literary magazines and received awards including the 2014 H.E. Francis Fiction Award, 2012 Cobalt Fiction Prize, 2011 Arthur Edelstein Short Fiction Prize and three Pushcart Prize nominations. Her debut novel, Losing Touch, was released in July (OneWorld Publications). She lives in Simi Valley, CA, with her husband and daughter, and is always on the look out for the perfect gluten-free cupcake.
Author links: http://sandrahunter.strikingly.com
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