September 30, 2009

Interview with Shobhan Bantwal, author of Bollywood book, The Sari Shop Widow

Welcome to special guest author, Shobhan Bantwal, best-selling author of women’s fiction with a touch of India.

In her latest book, THE SARI SHOP WIDOW, young businesswoman Anjali Kapadia’s posh sari boutique in New Jersey is on the verge of financial ruin, until her wealthy uncle from India comes to her rescue.

But the wily, dictatorial uncle arrives with some unpleasant surprises—a young Indo-British partner named Rishi Shah for one—and a startling secret that disturbs Anjali.

Falling in love with the mysterious Shah only adds to Anjali’s burgeoning list of complications. Torn between her loyalty to her family and her business on the one hand and her growing attraction for a man who could never fit into her life on the other, Anjali turns to her family and cultural roots to make a life-altering decision.

NOTE: Be sure to check the contest details at the end of the interview!


The book is pungent with rich scenes and flavors, sure to transport you into a new world scented with curry and filled with glowing colors. Growing up, I recall watching the fascinating “Bollywood” movies that used to air on Saturdays. For me, this book was an interesting and charming introduction to a different culture. Reading it, you of course anticipate the outcome, but you can’t wait until the beautiful Anjali appreciates the potential of the sexy Rishi as more than a business partner. This was a delightful story that will leave you wanting to read more. I can’t wait to read her other books, THE DOWRY BRIDE and THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER.

Talking with Shobhan Bantwal:

Q: How did you begin writing? What inspired your stories?

A: “I stumbled into writing at the age of 50. I call it my ‘menopausal epiphany’ since I took it up as a hobby at first to keep my evenings occupied while my husband worked on an out-of-state engineering project on weekdays. What started as a pastime has mushroomed into a second full-time career (I work at a demanding day job on weekdays). I gradually segued from social interest non-fiction articles to short stories and when my ambitions grew, I tried my hand at full-length fiction.

“My stories are inspired by my deep interest in women’s issues combined with reading romance novels, my childhood years growing up in a conservative Indian family, and my experiences as a woman in an arranged marriage. Additionally, having moved to the U.S. as a young bride, I have had an opportunity over the past 35 years to look at India and Indians almost from an outsider’s viewpoint. Everything that seemed ordinary and not worthy of discussion while I was growing up in India became a story worth telling others about after I became a writer.”

Q: How much of you is in your character, Anjali (Anju)?

A: “The rebellious and stubborn facets of Anju’s personality are similar to my own. I was always the black sheep and hellion of the family, always different from my studious, compliant sisters. Anjali, although cognizant of her parents’ delicate sensibilities and her driven sense of responsibility to them and her young brother, still wants to hang on to her independence. Despite the guilt and shame of having a boyfriend who gives her no more than an hour or two of fun every now and then and nothing permanent, she continues to see him and lie to her parents. It is her one vice she is loath to give up. Anju’s old-fashioned sense of family combined with a strong need for emancipation is something I see in myself as well.”

Q: Is there a sequel to Anju and Rishi's story? (Don't leave us hanging!)

A: “No, there will be no sequel to Anju and Rishi’s story unless my editor requests it. She seemed to like the hopeful ending without a clich├ęd happily-ever-after. Unless a publisher is interested in sequels, a writer rarely writes them. Also, sequels sometimes don’t perform as well as the original book and that is something an author needs to consider as she plans future books and budgets her time. Many of my readers ask me about possible sequels after reading my books. In the future, I might think about a series of some kind, but at this time there are no such plans.”

Q: What is your favorite part of writing, and why?

A: “My favorite part of writing is creating the chemistry between my heroine and hero. It is an integral part of women’s fiction with romance and it needs a lot of planning and delicate handling. Since my characters are Indian, I cannot put too many scenes with overt emotional displays. Most Indians are programmed to internalize their feelings and not show them in public. Consequently I have to put in a lot on introspection and internal dialogue in my books, making it a challenge to bring two personalities together, possibly have lots of conflict, but who ultimately have to fall in love.”

Q: What do you try to show in your writing?

A: “When I started to write, I wanted to entertain as well as inform. I wanted to offer readers a different kind of Indian novel, distinct from literary books that are typical of South Asian authors. I call my books ‘Bollywood in a Book’ since they contain all the emotion, drama, color, and romance of Bollywood movies.

“My first two books deal with hot-button social issues that plague contemporary Indian society. Incorporating women’s issues into a romantic story was both a fun and effective way to bring awareness to them and hopefully start a debate. Many women’s organizations, especially South Asian non-profit groups that assist victims of domestic violence, have indicated interest in my books and I have become involved in their fund-raisers. I donate a portion of my profits to them."

Q: The book offers readers a glimpse into a unique shopping experience. Is Anjali’s boutique based on a real concept? What makes it 'different' than the typical American way of shopping?

A: “My familiarity with the Indian fashion industry is merely as a shopper and not as an insider. However, shopping at an Indian-American store is a vastly different experience than an all-American store. The vivid colors, fabrics, glitzy beads, gold and silver embroidery, the jewelry, footwear, and other accessories are quite dazzling. Also, unlike most American stores, a little price negotiation is allowed in small Indian stores. The boutique concept is real. Many of India’s top designers now have outlet stores in Edison’s Little India, and they definitely exude the posh boutique flavor. Of course, the prices, too, reflect the exclusivity to a great degree.”

Q: What is your writing schedule; where and how do you write?

A: “Juggling a demanding full-time career and writing is a tough challenge. I rise at around 4:30 a.m. and write a little. I go to my regular job (the one that pays the bills) at 7:00 a.m. and return home around 4:30 or 5 p.m. I immediately sit down to write again. After a brief break to cook dinner and share it with my husband, I get back to writing. A lot of my time is spent in book promotion, tending to emails, social networking, and events like addressing book clubs, library groups, writers’ groups, book signings and such. Promotional activities leave little to no time for writing the next book. When I finally go to bed sometime after 10:30 each night, I am exhausted.

“As for where I write, my computer sits in one of our bedrooms converted into a small home office, which I share with my husband. It is also the room that has the altar, a special place for practicing our Hindu faith."

Q: How much of your books relate to your life? Is it hard, or easy, to write on topics that can be so personal?

A: “Writing about my Indian culture is fairly easy. But choosing subjects that might potentially interest my readers is not that simple. Topics that are personally close are something I like writing about, but I generally save them for my non-fiction articles, which include opinion pieces or brief personal experience essays in Indian-American publications.”

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: “Thank you for interviewing me for your popular blog. I like doing interviews and enjoyed this one very much.”

Shobhan, thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed hosting you!

(c) 2009

(FTC disclaimer: I'm not a reviewer, but received an ARC for this book. Loved it regardless!)

* Find information on Shobhan’s books, short fiction, articles, recipes, contests and more at her website.

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1 comment:

Shobhan Bantwal said...


Thank you so much for that wonderful review of THE SARI SHOP WIDOW. And I loved doing the interview. It was a lot of fun answering your questions.

I appreciate your hosting me on your popular blog.

Shobhan Bantwal
Author of The Sari Shop Widow