Growing up in Nairobi was an inspiration for writing
says Aneesha Capur. The author in her debut novel addresses issues of racial hatred and HIV among other problems in Nairobi.
What was the inspiration behind Stealing Karma? What importance do you attribute to the title of your novel?
There were two major forces behind the inspiration for Stealing Karma. The first was my background. Growing up in Nairobi-the mix of cultures and kinds of people who lived there; the immediacy of political and social issues juxtaposed against an isolated sense of existence-was fascinating. The second was my interest in Eastern and Western notions of consciousness, especially the ideas of self-determination and destiny. Since the notion of karma is explored but not assumed in the novel, the title can have meaning on multiple levels. I think of the word "stealing" in the title in terms of appropriation, moving secretly or unobserved, happening imperceptibly or gradually, and seizing more than one's share of attention by giving a superior performance. I'll provide a generalized explanation so I don't give away what happens in the book! For example, the title can mean that the characters are in some way "stealing" their own karmas by changing their destinies and then having to face the consequences of their choices; if you don't believe in the idea of "karma" in the book, it can also mean that a specific character is "stealing" her karmic history and it is only imagined. I think the novel itself is appropriating the idea of karma by using it in a different way.
How have your experiences in Africa helped in shaping the book? Were there any particular instances of racial hatred that had a deep impact on you?
As I mentioned earlier, growing up in Nairobi was an inspiration for writing Stealing Karma. There's a distinction between the Indian expatriate society and the Indian immigration population that has been there for generations. I had the benefit of an "outsider's" perspective since I wasn't born and brought up there, with the infrastructure of extended family and personal history behind me. Because of the political environment, there were always stories--often with only one or two degrees of separation from my family--about theft and corruption, some of them imbued with a racial bias. I think there's been progress with my generation since people from different cultures went to school together. Of course, the inspiration behind the novel was just the beginning. At some point, the book took on its own life and the characters achieved their own integrity and their own stories. My own personal interests and experiences were just a starting point for the novel.
You have addressed also health and social issues such as AIDS. What other issues do deal with in the book?
The issues in the book are the ones that are relevant to the characters in this context-the issues that affect these human beings in the particular places and times in the novel. I think a broader issue that surfaces and resurfaces in the narrative is related to power and authority. The events in the book relate to the parameters of power and authority these characters have in their lives-- whether it is the choices they make or the things that happen to them. The dynamics of power and authority shift over time as well, which changes the status of the characters and their relation to each other, as well as the kinds of choices they make to some extent.
Do you think a male author can portray the angst of a woman as good as a woman author?
Yes. I think it's hard to make generalizations about male and female authors. It depends on the particular writer and what he or she is trying to do in a particular story! What's more interesting to me, perhaps because of my own background, is a "transnational" or "multinational" influence on literature. Increasingly, writers are born in one country, raised in another or several other countries and live as adults in yet another country, often spending periods of their adult lives in more than one country (none of which are necessarily the countries of their origin or upbringing). This raises questions around the authenticity of "representation"? Unlike the male author vs. female author dichotomy, lines are blurred. To which community does this kind of writer belong? For which community is s/he writing? It's more difficult to make these clear distinctions now. And in a "post-colonial" world, it's created a kind of horizontal dialogue, without the hierarchies of writers from old or new superpowers writing about characters in other, less economically privileged areas of the world than where they're from.