'Feels good to appreciate and enjoy the best of both worlds'
Excerpts form an exclusive interview with Priya Mahadevan, an author living in the USA, during her short visit to India
If you had to introduce yourself in five sentences how would you describe Priya Mahadevan?
I will start by saying I am a children's book author and have thus far published two books. I own a vegetarian catering business and have a line of packaged products like spices, chutneys and soups under the banner of Suvaiyana. I have a food blog, www.priyasnowserving.com where I share a fairly large repertoire of vegetarian recipes. I have recently joined a national group called Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense as a chapter lead for Charlottesville, VA where I live.
Most importantly I am a mother of three beautiful children and share my life with my best friend, my husband.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an author...
Well, I started my writing career in India working in Delhi's First City Magazine and then moving on to newspaper reporting with the Observer. When I moved to the US after a brief stay in Canada, I pursued a Masters program in Journalism and Communications. While I continued to contribute sporadic articles on topics that mattered to me to the newspapers there, my primary focus was on my two babies. After my third child was born, I decided to start a food blog, merely to chronicle recipes that I could pass on to my kids. But the blog world is full of moms wanting to share their recipes and their stories. I ended up making a lot of blogger friends and ended up meeting many of them in person as well. Often, the chronicling of my daughter's daily milestones preceded my recipes. Soon I realised I had enough material to write little stories about her.
I became a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended meetings and had my book critiqued. While the comments were all positive, I gleaned that a book that is bi-cultural in nature was not going to be entertained by bigger publishers without being pigeonholed into the "multicultural" category which is a euphemism for being tucked away in some small deep dark corner of a bookstore or library under the "ethnic" or "multicultural" section.
Tell us about your first book, 'Princesses only wear Putta-Puttas'
I started shopping for publishers to send my manuscript for 'Princesses Only Wear Putta-Puttas', a bi-cultural book based on my own daughter. My first book, Princesses Only Wear Putta- Puttas, is an anecdote of Fey Fey going to India for the first time she could remember, and falling in love with the sights, sounds and especially the traditional pavadai-chattai (skirt and blouse) (putta-putta in her words). The book follows Fey Fey as she figures out how to incorporate these cultural clothes in her rather active, outdoorsy life in Charlottesville, Virginia. The book has a glossary of Tamil words with phonetic pronunciation and small illustrations.
Tell us about 'Fey Fey Says NO'
'Fey Fey Says NO', my second book, is a "mainstream" book that explores the passion kids have to say "no", and how to wean them from using it without taking away the importance of the word in the right situation and context. It is a charming story where 2-year-old Fey Fey is stuck in "NO" mode, much to her own detriment. Her family rallies around to help her understand when to say "yes". I have read this book in several bookstores and schools around my city and have had so many kids with younger siblings who were immediately able to state how they do/did the same thing. I am sure parents of toddlers will definitely find this story close to home.
What prompted you to base the character in your book on your daughter?
Like many authors, I too like to write stories sometimes loosely, at times largely based on people I know and love, especially those who inspire me. While all my children inspired me in different ways, I guess I was free enough to observe and appreciate my youngest because she was born long after the first two and in a way, I had in-house babysitters who helped me take the time out to get back to writing.
You are an entrepreneur and chef with a catering business. Tell us how that came about.
It is a rather interesting journey and was triggered by my desire to start writing again. This happened in 2010 after I had my third child. I got back on the saddle full-steam with a food blog. It was literally what I made for dinner each night chronicled for posterity – My kids and husband were indulgent and encouraging as they waited patiently for their food while I took my pictures. My blog is a collection of vegetarian recipes from India and many other parts of the world that I had visited. The blog opened up endless possibilities and connections and soon I had developed my very own small business enterprise under the banner of Suvaiyana LLC.
I sold my packaged products through the local Whole Foods Market until terms of retail changed such that it became an unfeasible collaboration. People here may or may not know that there is way more representation of North Indian food than South Indian, except in big cities. I took it upon myself to spread the delectable joy of dosais to the small city I live in. This is also how my catering services took off. My catering menu offers a wide selection of south and north Indian food. I do pop-up gigs at wineries and at my home and have more recently been making interesting forays into private cheffing and boxed lunches (tiffin).
You have been in the US for a long time. What do you miss about India?
I am steeped in my Indian-ness when it comes to food, certain all encompassing, all inclusive Hindu philosophies and temples, our beautiful saris which I don't get to wear often enough, but buy unfailingly during my yearly visits to India; the jasmine flowers to wear in my hair and the beautiful jewellery. Then there is the music and dance both of which I rate as the greatest in the world. In my American setting, I value the privacy I get, the beautiful expanses of countryside, the ability to express views, which are contrary to common beliefs without too much of a backlash; the fact that my three babies were born there and the friends I have made over the past 23 years, the education system, the clean waters, the highways, the respect for public places and civic responsibilities; the philanthropy that cannot be upped by any other country. It feels good to appreciate and enjoy the best of both worlds.
At the moment, things are very difficult for anyone who is not white nor conforms to the average perception of American. But we shall overcome like we have overcome a lot of other things.