Award-winning author Shobhan Bantwal calls her brand of fiction “Bollywood in a Book,” romantic, colorful, action-packed tales, rich with elements of Indian culture – stories that both entertain and educate. To date, she has six novels published by Kensington Books and one anthology. Her debut book, The Dowry Bride, won The Golden Leaf Award in 2008. The Unexpected Son won the National Indie Excellence Award in 2012. Her short stories have won awards and honors in various fiction contests.
NAW- Tell us about your book, The Forbidden Daughter. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
I have always been passionate about women’s issues in contemporary India, therefore not surprisingly, female foetus abortion was a hot-button controversial topic that caught my attention. When I discovered that the introduction of sonogram technology, despite its many benefits, had also become a tool for eliminating female foetuses, I decided to bring the atrocious practice to light. However, since an academic treatise would never gain a wide readership, I decided to weave the subject into a dramatic fiction book, The Forbidden Daughter. The idea worked very well for me, since the book has performed admirably in the fiction market. All my fiction includes vivid social themes and romance, and is playfully labelled “Bollywood in a Book.”
NAW- Tell us about the character of Isha. How did you develop the character?
Isha is the typical Indian Hindu girl, born and raised in an upper-class and sheltered environment, then given in marriage to an equally well-off and successful man. Nonetheless I wanted to portray Isha as a woman of strong moral convictions and exceptional courage despite her compliant nature. Her struggles begin when she is suddenly caught in a web of tradition on the one hand and shocking disregard for ethics on the other.
NAW- Female foeticide is a much explored topic in India but what made you use an upper caste narrative in Isha since upper castes in India tend to be more socially upright and modern?
The statistics on female foetus abortions are astounding, proving that in a male-child obsessed society, even upper-caste, seemingly respectable, and even religious folks are willing to use any means to get rid of potential female children. I intentionally made the family upper caste and wealthy to drive home the point. It also allowed me to inject the necessary contrast and conflict between upper caste conservatism and the blatant misuse of modern technology to suit one’s purposes.
NAW- Social issues of India, especially women have been a constant theme in your works. Who do you aim at while writing your works? Given that not many Americans are aware of Indian culture, how difficult is it marketing your books in an alien culture?
My interest in women’s issues started when I was a young, master’s degree student in sociology, in India, in the 1970s. Much later in life, when I decided to become a fiction writer, my passion for controversial social issues became the basis for many of my storylines. Since I have lived my entire adult life in the United States, my books were targeted towards Americans, especially those who were not quite familiar with Indian culture. Fortunately my India-centric women’s fiction has been very well received by American readers, precisely because of its cultural content. As a result, book clubs, women’s organizations, and readers’ groups across the country have become extremely interested in the contentious topics I have introduced, and they often invite me to speak about them in person. I also get invited as a guest speaker at fundraisers organized by charitable women’s groups.
NAW- Since you no longer live in India, how do you do research for your works?
My main research tool is the Internet, but I also borrow books from the local libraries for more in-depth and factual information. Local university libraries are also great resources for any type of research.
NAW- What are you reading currently?
At the moment I am reading Every Fifteen Minutes, a psychological mystery by popular bestselling American author, Lisa Scottoline.
NAW- Can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Currently I am on a long hiatus from writing, hence there are no new projects in the pipeline. I recently retired from a demanding and long full-time career in public administration. At the moment I am enjoying my two young grandchildren and travelling around the world with my husband.