A Tete-a-tete with Sadiqa Peerbhoy

Set during the communal rights that followed the Babri Masjid demolition, Sadiqa Peerbhoy’s House of Discordpublished by Readomania, is the story of a dysfunctional family living in Bombay and explores the impact of the violence and hatred that erupts around them.

I’ve read (Here’s what I thought of it) House of Discord and was absolutely thrilled when given the opportunity to interview Sadiqa Peerbhoy and discuss the book with her.

Q. What was the motivation behind writing a story based on the divisive Hindu-Muslim conflict and the 1992 Bombay rights specifically?

Sadiqa: My book is not about the communal conflict but it serves merely as a backdrop for the family saga. I selected a time in which the city of Bombay was transformed for ever.. a defining time .. and this seemed to be it. This is not a political book at all nor does it analyze the why and how of the riots.

Q. The Deshmukh house is a matriarchal one. Was that a deliberate attempt to balance the inherent patriarchy in society and present an alternate social structure to the world?

Sadiqa: The Deshmukhs are not matriarchal … circumstances have made them so. And it’s not a unique case. In most large families mothers do tend to call the shots because someone has to take charge and the males are too busy earning a living or simply not interested in domestic matters. Most of the malfunctioning of this family arises from the controlling mother so it’s not an alternate social structure that I would present to the world.

Q. Your first novel was set in Hyderabad with Muslim characters, and was a humorous take on the subject of arranged marriages. How difficult was it to write House of Discord which, despite some bits that were humorous, was starkly different in its tone and treatment?

Sadiqa: I think my forte is humour that is why I enjoyed writing Marry Go Round about a milieu I am familiar with. Writing Marry Go Round was a breeze. In House of Discord, I had to handle its multiple layers with sensitivity and do justice to a number of characters …. that was tough. But the most difficult part was bringing the entire inner and outer discord to a final denouement on a credible note of hope. Also not getting into the right and wrong of the communal actions and reactions.

Q. Tragedies bring out the best or the worst in people. The named characters in your novel all present the good side, while the unseen people like the mob present the worst side of humanity. What’s your take on that?

Sadiqa: I don’t think there are good or bad sides to people, it’s just how they react to the circumstances that present themselves. The Deshmukhs despite their suppressed anger and resentment have feelings of love and trust flowing like an underground river which surfaces in times of crisis. As for the mob outside…sane and logical people tend to lose their capacity to think in the frenzy to defend what they think is their God. In my world, there are no good and bad people just persons motivated by love or by fear.

Q. What are the challenges or fears you dealt with while writing about a historical event that had such religious and political undertones and ramifications?

Sadiqa: Though I am not a practicing Muslim, my surname makes me open to adverse reactions from people who may not even wait to read the book before deciding it is anti-national. These are bad times we live in when goons have power. I have taken great care to not even name the political parties that were involved in the riots. Or appear to take sides as this is not a political book. But the riots are a fact of recent history and my sources are all newspaper reports of that time.

Sadiqa Peerbhoy
Sadiqa Peerbhoy, author of House of Discord

Q. I remember reading Anupama Jain’s interview where you said that the Spirit of Mumbai is now more about one’s own survival than surviving together. Do you think the frequent tragedies – mostly man-made – have had any role in that?

Sadiqa: The series of tragedies faced by Bombay in recent times have strengthened its Spirit as it is termed and made the world sit up and take note. Each Mumbaikar takes pride in the ethos of the city. But the divisive factors that have set in must be overridden by the feeling of oneness that this symbolizes. And I have every hope that this will happen in due course if only the political parties do not spread their gospel of hate.

Q. Do you think Literature should play a role in reforming or showing a mirror to society?

Sadiqa: Literature does reflect the social mores and trends as do films but after To Kill a Mockingbird, I cannot think of any book that has influenced the masses. At best a book can make the intelligentsia think as unlike mass media, reading is a solitary lonely pursuit which deeply impacts the mind and heart.

Q. What is the most difficult part of your writing process, and more specifically, while writing House of Discord?

Sadiqa: It was the handling of so many characters without the narrative losing its pace and dealing with its multi-layered storylines. But the most difficult was the ending. As a writer, I tend to get emotionally involved with the characters and cannot bear for something bad to happen to them. I had to go back and change an entire chapter where Lily describes how she was raped. In the final draft, Lily comes away untouched.

Q. Which authors do you prefer to read? Have any of the authors or books you’ve read influenced on you or your writing?

Sadiqa: I have been influenced by Amitav Ghosh whose is canvas is huge and he blends history with the story of individuals in a most credible manner– so that it becomes a living saga. I like reading Alex Rutherford, Jodi Picoult, and Jean Plaidy among a zillion others.

Anita Nair Quote

Q. What is the best and the worst feedback you’ve received? How do you deal with criticism?

Sadiqa: Criticism can give me some objectivity about my work, so I welcome it. As far as House of Discord is concerned most people have been lavish in their praise of it so that even I am taken aback.

Q. Readomania is a new brand. What made you trust them?

Sadiqa: I was very impressed by Dipankar’s enthusiasm. Like big publishers, he did not ask me to put in more sex or turn it into a teeny-bopper love story for marketability. At this stage of my life, I want to write what I want to write without thinking of saleability. It also helps that his firm is lean mean and hungry.

Thank you, Sadiqa, for shedding more light on House of Discord. I can now appreciate the book even more. Wish you all the luck, and hope the book is a huge success. 

Sadiqa Peerbhoy was born in Hyderabad, grew up in Mumbai and lives in Bangalore. She has been an advertising professional all her working life and is the creative force behind many Indian and international brands. She started writing a humorous topical column in the local papers to keep her sanity in a deadline-ridden career and wrote it for thirty years, collecting a huge fan following in Bangalore. She has also scripted serials for television, scripts for BBC, short stories for the weekend papers, has four published books and many creativity awards. She ran a British college, Wigan and Leigh, in Bangalore and has taught advertising, brand building, life skills and lateral thinking in corporates and colleges. Sadiqa is married to advertising legend Bunty Peerbhoy, is the mother of two and remains an ardent student of Hindustani music.

House of Discord, published by Readomania, is available in bookstores and on Amazon.

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