What Sunitas may face when they go to Sydney…

Reveals award-winning author of the book ‘Sunita DeSouza Goes to Sydney’, Roanna Gonsalves, to ANUPAMA CHANDRA

Why did you shift to Australia?

I came to Australia for further studies in my early twenties. I liked it here, and because I had the privilege of the right qualifications and paperwork, I applied for Permanent Residency, and got it.

How would you describe your writing?

I would describe Sunita De Souza Goes to Sydney/ The Permanent Resident as an attempt at a reimagined chronicle of the lives of outsiders in Australia. I wrote the book because I wanted to chronicle the lives of Indians in contemporary Australia and their richness, the ridiculous and the sublime, both the moments of grief as well as those of grace.

My next book is historical fiction. It is an attempt to peep through some closed doors in the historical record.

What Sunitas may face when they go to Sydney…

You had spoken about the need for more Goan voices in Australian literature. Have these emerged now or is there still a vacuum that only you are filling?

I think there is a need for more diversity in all literature. I’m certainly not the first and won’t be the last to write from the margins. Things are changing and there are some fantastic books being published in India (written by Dalit and Adivasi writers) and Australia (written by Indigenous and non-White writers, writers with disabilities and different sexual orientations, writers in detention), voices we haven’t heard before, and that’s a wonderful thing.

These young voices are making Indian and Australian literature richer, and more reflective of our diverse realities.

Immigration is a hot potato topic right now. What are your thoughts on the issue?

The more immigration, the better. If capital can be allowed to flow across borders with ease, then why can’t people have that same facility?

How open is Australia or Australians to immigrants? What are the trials and tribulations they face?

It depends on how rich you are. If you are, say, a billionaire, then you will be welcome anywhere. If you are poor and speak a different language, then you won’t be as welcome. If you are a refugee fleeing persecution, then you will find yourself in detention.

Are any of the short stories autobiographical or taken from people you know?

The stories are a work of the imagination. They are based on my observations, media reports, personal experiences, overheard conversations, media I’ve consumed, books I’ve read, all filtered through my imagination and then rendered, with much labour, on the page.

How much of a Portuguese, Konkani voice is there in your writing?

My literary voice, like that of any writer, is a mix of the many voices in my head and the many voices in my environment. My work has as much of a Portuguese and Konkani voice as it has a Marathi, Hindi, French, English voice. However, I’d say, if anything, it is very much the point of view of an urban, if mischievous, Indian in contemporary Australia.

Why the two titles of the book for different markets?

My book wears two different sets of clothes, one for the Australian environment and one for the Indian environment. The heart is in the same place, though.

Who is your favourite writer and why? Who did you grow up reading?

I have many favourite writers. However, I have most strongly been influenced by the work of Eunice De Souza (India), Michelle De Kretser (Australia), and Alice Munro (Canada). Like many Indians my age, I grew up on a staple of Enid Blyton, Amar Chitra Katha, Target magazine, Tinkle, Eve’s Weekly, Femina, Savvy, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Archie comics, Phantom comics, and Don Bosco’s Madonna. My mother would bring home all kinds of books from her office library, and my sister and I would devour them. This really fostered my love of reading. So my eternal gratitude goes to the library at Glaxo, Worli. The literary world opened up for me when I went to St. Xavier’s College and studied English Literature.

What Sunitas may face when they go to Sydney…

Your thoughts on the MeToo movement? What more needs to be done? How can authors help the cause.

The less shame associated with women’s bodies and natural desires, the better. The less shame associated with being assaulted, the better. The more open we are about consent and boundaries, the better. My admiration is for the women who have stood up and testified about the sexual abuse and abuse of power they have endured. It takes immense courage to do that. More strength to them.

Why do you prefer the short story format? 

The short story form can be like a double-distilled peg of life. As I’ve said, I wanted to document and record as many varied experiences of being an outsider. I feel the short story form is perfect for exploring this multiplicity. The short story form demands a respect for the limitations of time and space, and enables a focus on the particular, the intimate, and the fleeting. It offers a set of sharp literary tools with which to sculpt complex immigrant experiences and render them economically on the page.

Can you talk a little about your radio documentaries — ‘On the tip of a billion tongues’?

It’s really a four-part tribute to India’s rich contemporary literature in many different languages, wrapped in my tongue-in-cheek commentary about contemporary Indian society and politics. You can hear the voices of many Indian writers from different parts of India working in different languages reading their work. I travelled across the country over many months, recording writers reading, doing interviews, and I was fortunate to have benefitted from the generosity and wisdom of some of our finest writers. I’m quite proud of the four documentaries. They have been very well received. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s fabulous Earshot Program on Radio National is their home.

What Sunitas may face when they go to Sydney…

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