Batik Rain has taken me on a wondrous journey from being a broadcast journalist to a fiction writer. I became a journalist because I loved to write. I studied journalism in the US and worked for several TV channels including CNBC, CTV and BBC. In the late nineties, I was part of the team that launched CNBC in India, and I co-anchored a show called “Inside India” in Mumbai. For five years, I worked as a correspondent for the BBC’s Asia Business Report, where I covered stories across Asia. It opened many doors for me, and I got a chance to travel and meet a wide arc of people- from farmers to social workers to students to policymakers. I covered some extraordinary stories involving ordinary people- regular folks who were forgotten once the cameras were switched off. A farmer in Thailand who lost everything after the tsunami; a dynamic lady in Pune who rehabilitated children of prostitutes; a young entrepreneur in Vietnam. Their stories needed to be told. Their simplicity stayed with me. Even after their stories were no longer front-page news, they lingered in my consciousness. Eventually, these impressions, in some form or another, seeped into Batik Rain.
While my career as a journalist did influence the book, my tryst with writing actually goes back to a nomadic childhood. As the daughter of a foreign service officer, we moved from country to country every three years and by the time I was 15, I had lived in 5 countries. These swings, from one continent to another, while exciting, were also very disruptive. It meant having to change schools and make new friends every few years, having to learn a new language and having to fit in. The pressure of “fitting in” was intense, especially in countries where there weren’t too many Indians (That was thirty years ago; certainly won’t be the case today!). I discovered that writing was the best antidote to misery and this habit stayed with me throughout my life. Even today, I find refuge in writing. The sanctuary of solitude is a welcome reprieve from the craziness around. The early cross-cultural journeys undoubtedly wound their way into the book.
We live in a globalized world, where we are connected like never before. We are a hyper, jumpy generation. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, yet we may not even know half of them. But while there is the immediate gratification of technology, there’s a growing isolation that comes along with it, and a greater need to anchor in.
Batik Rain is about the universality of rootlessness that has come to define our existence. It is also about belonging. About people who are willing to step out of their comfort zones and take risks. We want to belong, but do we belong? We want to love, but can we love? We want to be inclusive, but can we look beyond our narrow horizons? Can we be sensitive? Have the demands of a modern life made us comfortably callous? In one of my short stories, Anthem of Guilt, the protagonist is constantly on the run. From poverty, from violence, from commitment. He is the classic escapist. The story reveals the twists and turns of a young man’s guilt-ridden conscience. Saroj is the story of a young girl who loses her mother when she is seven years old. It is a story about a daughter who never knew her mother and a granddaughter who yearned to seek her through a prism of the past. It is set in Maharashtra in the 1940’s, a time when women in Pune enjoyed the freedoms that had been laid down by great social reformers such as Phule and Karve. It is a story about love, loss and longing.
I have been humbled and elated by the overwhelmingly positive feedback for my debut book. It has resonated with all ages, my youngest reader being 14, to the oldest being 88. Writing the book was an emotional journey, because it was the culmination of many years of observations and introspection. It was like walking down a long corridor full of open doors and peeping into each one and marveling at what was inside.
In this manic world that we race in, lets find pause for compassion.
Let sensitivity be a shower that can dispel the drought.
I hope Batik Rain will provide that shower, a soothing relief from the heat, dust and grime of our daily lives.
Thank you all so much.
Ashwini is a former correspondent with BBC Asia, CNBC and CTV News in USA.
She writes on current affairs and her articles have appeared in CNN-IBN, Jakarta Post, Straits Times and Boston Globe. Ashwini is a post graduate in Broadcast Journalism from the American University in Washington DC. After facing the camera and chasing breaking news for several years, Ashwini decided to hang up the television hat and pursue other passions including fiction and non-fiction writing. She has recently penned a collection of short stories, in her debut book, “Batik Rain.”
The daughter of a Foreign Service officer, Ashwini was born in Moscow and grew up in different parts of the world, including Myanmar, Sikkim and South Korea. Ashwini lives in Singapore with her husband and two sons. Apart from writing, Ashwini is a culture vulture, is passionate about Indian textiles and has traveled to several weaving villages across India and learns Hindustani vocal music. One of her hobbies is singing old Hindi film songs.