Thank you for visiting this page, for participating in the global read aloud, and for choosing to read #TheBridgeHome.
Many of you (e.g. Baker School, Troy, MI, USA; Our Lady of Fatima Convent School, Durban, South Africa; Kurtztown Area Middle School, Kurtztown, PA, USA) asked about inspiration and if THE BRIDGE HOME was based on my own life. Two schools in WI, USA: Bristol School in Bristol and Watertown Catholic School (and others on twitter) asked why I chose second person / direct address.
The answers to both questions (about inspiration and point of view) are connected and rather too long to squeeze into a video, so I’ll answer them in writing below. But first, if you’re having trouble figuring out how to leave questions, here’s a video showing how (and I’ve provided written instructions at the end of this post, too):
Here are answers to some of the questions I’ve received:
Below, in writing, are answers to more questions, beginning with the one about inspiration and choice of voice:
The Bridge Home is, indeed, based on real life – but it’s an amalgam of others’ memories and experiences, as well as my own.
I was born in India, and my earliest memories of home are of a wrought iron gate swinging open, a drive drenched purple with the juice of fallen jamun fruit, a terrace with a magnificent view of the polo and riders club where. Until I was about 7 years old, I was surrounded by luxury and the illusion of wealth: ponies to ride (as a child I was certain I’d someday play polo), a wonderful garden filled with trees to climb, an upstairs library filled with books. When I was about 8, all that was lost to me.
My parents separated and my mother set up house in a small flat in a concrete jungle. Even before we moved, I’d been exposed to violence, and in the years to come, I was repeatedly subjected to more (and different kinds of) violence by various adults. For a while, I was also bullied by children at my school who didn’t know any better (probably because I was so different from them; there was no other child I knew with separated parents like my own). Just so you’re all aware, though, many of those children apologized when they became adults, and some are now dear friends of mine.
My childhood wasn’t easy, but then again, I didn’t have it nearly as hard as some children I met. My mother, even though she had to work ever so hard to keep house and home together, volunteered to teach at schools for children who had much less than we did. There, I befriended a few children who were from the lowest castes (Dalit/”Untouchable”/Roma): Indira, Padmini and Nagabushan. We were friends because we laughed together in the best way – we laughed the way the four in the book laugh – with the sheer joy of being alive (we never indulged in cruel laughter together or make jokes at anyone else’s expense) – and that brought us together.
Nagabushan’s father was a potter and I can still remember his hands shaping the most amazing vases on his father’s wheel, and his heels kicking water in my face as we splashed in the green water of the pond in his village. When I think of Padmini, I think of her sparkling eyes and brilliant mind. As for Indira, she could be a bit bossy, I must admit (just as Viji sometimes is, in the novel), and she declared herself my older sister; and one day, she shared with me the story of her life. And because she knew I wanted to be a writer (I was always scribbling away in a little notebook that I carried with me all the time – after reading that Roald Dahl kept a writer’s notebook with him), she asked me, in Tamil, “Will you write my story one day?”
Years later, I heard a voice in my head, the voice of one sister speaking to another and I knew I had to follow that voice and find out why the two sisters were apart… and then I realized I was, in a way, writing Indira’s story. I just knew THE BRIDGE HOME had to be written the way I’d heard it – in direct address. With some of my other novels, I did debate whether I’d chosen the right point of view and tried rewriting in another voice, but with THE BRIDGE HOME I felt compelled to write the way I heard it and never had any doubts about the path I’d chosen. Recently, I read in a book about “writing” that it’s a really tough point of view to pull off; luckily, I’m an oceanographer, so I never read that before (I was too busy reading novels and poetry and books about things like thermodynamics).
So THE BRIDGE HOME is a fusion of her story and others’ stories and imagination and my own childhood pain. That said, I must make it clear that I never suffered homelessness or hunger or ran away from my home. I also had some adults who cared about me. I sometimes say I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone; but so many of the children I met had gone through so much worse – and those who were my friends never indulged in self-pity. To this day, I see us as survivors, not victims; and I dislike pity and sympathy. It is empathy that I hope you, as readers, will feel as you laugh and cry and live and journey together with Viji, Arul, Muthu and Rukku.
McLean School, Fox Lake, USA asked How did you come up with the names?
Viji, like the protagonists in my earlier novels CLIMBING THE STAIRS and A TIME TO DANCE, has a name that begins with the letter V – in honor of my most dear aunt, Visalam chithi. Arul means grace, and he’s named after one of my nephews because he asked me, several years ago, to write a book in which boys had as much screen time as girls. Muthu means pearl, and he’s named in honor of Karuppaswamy Mudaliar, a man who was the guardian angel of my childhood, and who had a son by that name. Rukku is short for Rukmini, and she’s named after a lovely young Indian-British-American person I met in Rhode Island (where I live). Kutti means little one in Tamil, which is Rukku’s mother tongue and mine; it’s often used as a term of endearment. Celina Aunty is named after two wonderful women: Dr. Chinna Oomen, a teacher who believed I would be an author someday (she’s the one hugging me in the photograph, during my first book signing in India for THE BRIDGE HOME), and Dr. Celina Pereira, a friend who took the time to read drafts of the novel with a medical doctor’s eye.
Have you experienced a water shortage yourself, similar to the one in the book?
Certainly have! Unfortunately, given how carelessly we use our planet’s resources, water shortages are common in several parts of the world. Even if we don’t live in a place where you experience water rationing, we ought to use water carefully, because we share a planet and water is a precious resource. On a quick search I came across a few websites that provide some suggestions that seem reasonable to me (1, 2). I really hope you’ll change at least one of your habits and take a “baby step” to start conserving water in at least one small way after you finish reading this post…
If Rukku is older than Viji, then why does Rukuu act younger? Does she have a disability or is it for another reason?
Rukku has a developmental disability, and so when the book begins, Viji feels that Rukku acts like she’s younger, even though she is actually older.
FBCS, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands asked Which is your favorite book that you’ve written?
Here are pictures of my previous books: CLIMBING THE STAIRS, ISLAND’S END, and A TIME TO DANCE. CLIMBING THE STAIRS is special because it’s my debut, and it’s based on my family history (and India’s role in WWII, as well as Gandhian nonviolence). ISLAND’s END is special because it takes me back to the time when I was the only woman, only person of color and chief scientist on a research vessel; and to the time that I walked through rainforests on the Andaman Islands. A TIME TO DANCE is special because it’s my first novel in verse, the first novel to look at a young girl’s spiritual awakening through a Hindu lens, and because the girl in it dances like I wish I could (my ability to dance or sing or play the vina – a musical instrument I learned as a child is close to zero). So I do love them all, but if I had to pick a favorite, it would be THE BRIDGE HOME – because it honors the courage of children I knew, whose stories need to be celebrated and heard and recognized and respected and raised and given praise and understood and rewarded. And because it’s about so many things I think need to be shouted about urgently and that we are hiding as a world. And because it reflects the worst kinds of cruelty humans are capable of – as well as our very best moments.
THE BRIDGE HOME means so much to me because it took me back to terrible, horrible, awful moments, but it also renewed the most important things I kept alive and strive to keep alive even today – hope and gratitude and acceptance and love and compassion and honesty and joy. And, through the Global Read Aloud, this book no longer belongs just to me – it belongs to each of you, too. THE BRIDGE HOME belongs in part to each reader who loves it – because I can only ever do part of the work to bring as story alive as a writer – and that’s the best thing about books – that in a way, I give all of you the same words, but then every one of you takes those words and creates something fresh and new and unique and individual – you are each artists and directors of those images and movies you make in your mind as you read; you are each, for a little while, merging with my characters so you see from within their hearts and minds; and so, this book becomes your very own, just as it is also, mine.
Baker Middle, Troy, MI, USA asked As much as I can. I read different sorts of books (fiction and non-fiction) that relate in some way to mine, interview people as many people as I can who have any sort of connection with themes in the book, and in the case of THE BRIDGE HOME, I also drew on my memory and revisited the diary I had as a child, when I was in India.How much research do you do?
Renfroe Middle, Decatur, GA, USA asked many questions about the caste system. The caste system is complicated – it’s a social evil that exists in Indian society. I’ve read books that say it was initially not rigid and that it was meant as a code of ethics (if you chose a particular profession, it suggested a set of rules to live by), but at any rate, today, in India, although it’s technically illegal (just as hate crimes are in the United States), it unfortunately continues to exist. Children inherit their parents’ caste. Caste isn’t directly related to wealth. In fact, Brahmins, who are the highest caste, were not traditionally the wealthiest – the poor Brahmin is a stereotype in many Indian folktales; but they had a lot of power. The lowest castes, however, had no power and no wealth – and although, for sure, if someone from a lower caste became rich they would have an easier time for the most part than someone who had to endure poverty and caste-discrimination, money couldn’t buy you way out of the caste system (at least not immediately; to read more, read the resource articles on this website). The two upper castes that came right after the Brahmins (Kshathriyas and Vaishyas) were usually the wealthiest. Upper caste people could shun or treat those who had to scavenge for a living (like Rukku, Muthu, Arul and Viji) with inhuman cruelty all their lives.
As for the question about streaming a Skype visit live – not sure, as I’m traveling a lot, and also because I’m sure Pernille Ripp has a million things to do already… but if you have ideas on how to organize something along those lines, don’t hesitate to share your suggestions with me. I’m not the best with technology (though I’ve been learning a great deal, thanks to #GRA19) – but if there’s a way to do this, I would be happy to see if I could try.
Do remember, please, to send me your next set of wonderful questions by Wednesday, United States Eastern Standard Time next week (or by Thursday afternoon at the latest) and I’ll do my very best to answer as many as I can by Friday afternoon, my time. To leave me questions, please:
- Click on the title of the post – either on the blog itself or beneath RECENT POSTS (to the right of this screen).
- When you click on the title of this post, you’ll be redirected to a screen showing just this post.
- Type in your question, school name, state, and country.
Can’t wait to read the next set of questions, and thanks ever so much for the wonderful questions this week!
Photo credit: An Open Book Foundation for the first 6 panels; the second to last photograph was taken during a lecture at Harvard University; the final photograph was taken during my visit to Quest Montessori School.