What’s better than having your book published? Having your work appear in another one!
When I was informed that a piece I had written about life in Singapore in response to a call for submission for an anthology had been accepted, I had no idea that this book would also appear in the same time frame as my own memoir.
An anthology is typically a collection of selected writings by various authors, usually in the same literary form, tied together by a theme or place.
I have found anthologies to be an interesting way to discover new authors without having to commit to an entire book written by an unfamiliar name. I usually choose anthologies based on the topic, confident that there will at least be a few stories of interest.
In the past I enjoyed one titled Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran where twenty acclaimed writers share how and why they do what they do. I have also contributed to the anthology titled Desi Modern Love which dealt with the theme of love in its various avatars.
Yet anthologies can be tricky to compile. From choosing the right pieces to sorting the submissions into categories that make sense and flow smoothly from one story to the next without losing momentum is no easy task. It’s also important to make sure that while the stories are on the same theme that they do not get repetitive.
The Singapore At Home anthology is ostensibly linked by the common theme of narratives, both fiction and non-fiction, that are based in the city-state of Singapore, a tiny, diverse microcosm that represents different cultures, races and languages.
The anthology Singapore At Home – Life Across Lines which features my piece titled “Memsahib” was launched at the Singapore Writers Festival last week. Due to space constraints, I was unable to attend in person (and there was no live link to view the event online). Still, it felt good to know that my piece about a slice of life in Singapore is captured permanently in this book published by Kitaab International.
However, a week later, I was excited to be a part of the Singapore Literature Book Club event hosted by the National Library to discuss the anthology. Along with contributions from 20 other writers, this anthology provides a view of contemporary life in Singapore.
Although multiracial and multicultural Singapore, known as the little red dot, does a great job of holding its own in a world where ‘big is better’, it is a vibrant ecosystem where the dreams and realities of the people who have lived here for generations and the new immigrants sit side by side, sometimes colliding, sometimes commiserating, but always interesting.
This volume edited by Pallavi Narayan and Iman Hameed and published by Kitaab International brought us authors together last night in a session where we had the opportunity to talk about our inspiration, read a bit from our stories and answer questions.
Sorting through stories
The submissions were sorted into various categories – Neighbors and Relatives, Comfort and Sustenance, Precarity and Tenacity, Home and Away.
I was intrigued by stories of foreign domestic workers (also known as helpers), although mine has a different angle to it. Trials and tribulations of the elderly was another thread that ran through some stories and a few connected grandmothers and granddaughters.
The collection highlights the ubiquitous nature of our human faults and fallacies while also displaying our need to make sense of our life and find our place in the world.
While we tend to use big words like identity, migration etc to classify our behaviors and emotions, it is in the tiny details of daily life that we show our true selves. Whether or not we stay in one place or keep moving and trying to find a place to call ‘home’ the quest itself is what gives us an insight into ourselves.
I moved to Singapore eight years ago. It was a move that marked a new chapter in life and involved changes on many levels – personal and professional. While I was taking care of settling in the family and feeling at home myself, I looked back at the concept of home and the various roles and responsibilities that we take on as we move through life.
From a carefree child in my parents’ home in Mumbai to my young adult life in the US, and in midlife in Singapore, I had come a long way. I had learned, interacted, evolved and tried to understand and make sense of my world that had taken me back and forth across Asia to America and back.
Moving to a new country in midlife was very different from moving as a young adult with stars in my eyes. Trying to keep the wonder alive while resisting the jaded cynicism of adulthood and its attendant pains was something I needed to work on.
There is no magic moment when you feel like you belong to a place. It is an incremental movement that pulls you in despite yourself and on some days you feel that you have come full circle.
Just like manmade structures and natural wonders that shape a place, so does literature. Every book adds to the literary history of a place and anthologies are important for capturing multiple voices.
As I took stock of the day, I felt that it was an evening well spent, with fellow authors and readers and literature lovers from this small island which is now home.
Eight years after moving to Singapore, the event itself was a sort of homecoming for me because my story will forever have a place in the literary history of Singapore.
If home is where you can truly express yourself, then this is home.