An Exclusive Interview with Monica Saigal Author of the Book “A Kiss in Kashmir”

Monica Saigal (Bhide) is an illustrious figure in the realms of food writing and storytelling, whose journey from an engineer to a renowned author encapsulates a remarkable blend of perseverance, creativity, and cultural exploration. Holding a Bachelor’s degree from Bangalore University, a Master’s degree from Lynchburg College, Virginia, and further academic credentials from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Monica’s transition from engineering to writing, and then to being a brand strategist, is a testament to following one’s passion against all odds.

Her contributions to esteemed publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Bon Appétit, and Food & Wine, among others, have established her as a formidable voice in food journalism. Monica’s works, particularly “Modern Spice” (Simon & Schuster, 2009), which received praise from Padma Lakshmi in Newsweek, and “A Life of Spice”, a memoir celebrated for its introspective look into her culinary journey, reflect her ability to weave together the flavors of Indian cuisine with narratives of life, identity, and diaspora.

Bhide’s accolades include her works being featured in the “Best Food Writing” anthologies of 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2014, showcasing her exceptional ability to capture the essence of culinary storytelling. As an educator and speaker, Monica has graced platforms such as NPR, the Smithsonian Institution, Georgetown University, and Yale University, sharing her insights on food, culture, and writing.

Her narrative also delves into personal realms, discussing openly her challenges, including navigating through a divorce, which adds depth to her writings and speaks to her resilience and transformative growth. Monica’s story is not just of culinary and literary accomplishments but of personal triumphs and the continuous journey of self-discovery and expression.

Monica Saigal (Bhide)’s life and work serve as an inspiration to many, embodying the essence of embracing one’s heritage while forging a unique path that transcends cultural and professional boundaries.

Interview Questions for the author:

  1. The Literature Today: “A Kiss in Kashmir” comes across as a striking creation from your pen. Did you have plans to write this from the beginning, or was it an idea that struck you later?

Monica Saigal: ” A Kiss in Kashmir” evolved organically from a seed of an idea to a fully fleshed narrative. Initially, the story didn’t have a set theme or location—it was the exploration of mature romance that fascinated me. As the concept matured, the choice of Kashmir, with its rich history and complex socio-political backdrop, seemed like a natural fit. The process took about two years, during which I immersed myself in Kashmir’s history and contemporary issues to ensure the setting and the story resonated authentically with each other.

  1. The Literature Today: Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your book, “A Kiss in Kashmir”?

Monica Saigal: My inspiration for “A Kiss in Kashmir” came from a combination of sources. The primary drive was to explore enduring love beyond the usual portrayal of youth-centered romances in literature. Kashmir’s stunning landscapes and its poignant historical context provided a rich backdrop for exploring these themes.

  1. The Literature Today: How did you go about creating the characters and their development throughout the book? Since they all are distinct, what inspired the characters in “A Kiss in Kashmir”?

Monica Saigal: Creating the characters in “A Kiss in Kashmir” was a deeply involved process. I developed comprehensive backgrounds for each character, drawing on real-life stories of resilience and redemption. For instance, Alina’s narrative was shaped by interactions with real women who shared similar backgrounds and life experiences, which helped me craft her reactions and decisions in the novel authentically. George’s character was inspired by actual conversations with a widower, which brought a genuine depth to his portrayal, especially his struggle with survivor’s guilt.

  1. The Literature Today: Can you talk about the themes and messages you wanted to convey through your book? Did “A Kiss in Kashmir” give you plenty of space to express all your ideas?

Monica Saigal: In “A Kiss in Kashmir,” I aimed to weave themes of resilience, hope, and the enduring nature of love. The book was designed as a space to explore these themes deeply, allowing me to express a spectrum of ideas from the transformative power of love to the impact of socio-political changes on personal lives.

  1. The Literature Today: “A Kiss in Kashmir” extends its base to a universal form since it relates to current events or larger societal issues. Do you agree with this?

Monica Saigal: Yes, I believe “A Kiss in Kashmir” holds a universal appeal, particularly because it addresses the timeless and universal themes of love and resilience. The story, while rooted in the specific context of Kashmir, speaks to broader themes that resonate globally, such as the impact of political decisions on personal lives and the universal search for happiness and fulfillment despite adversity.

  1. The Literature Today: Can you discuss your writing process and how you approached structuring “A Kiss in Kashmir”? Did it require frequent revisions?

Monica Saigal: Writing “A Kiss in Kashmir” involved a detailed and iterative process. Structuring the novel required balancing the personal emotional journeys of the characters with the broader historical context of Kashmir. This balance was crucial to ensure the narrative flowed seamlessly and authentically. The writing process included several rounds of revisions (I am grateful to my amazing editors for that)  to refine the depth and accuracy of the characters’ experiences.

  1. The Literature Today: How do you see “A Kiss in Kashmir” impacting readers, and what do you hope they take away from it? Did you have any specific objectives while writing it?

Monica Saigal: I hope “A Kiss in Kashmir” inspires readers to recognize the beauty and potential of mature love and to see that profound connections can be formed at any stage of life. My objective was to challenge the typical narratives around romance and to showcase that life’s later chapters can be just as rich and fulfilling as any other.

  1. The Literature Today: Are there any specific literary or artistic influences that can be seen in “A Kiss in Kashmir”? How did you manage to maintain distinctness even when writing in a popular form of literary writing?

Monica Saigal: While writing “A Kiss in Kashmir,” I incorporated elements of classic romance and contemporary realism to create a narrative that, I hope, feels both timeless and immediate. The challenge was to maintain a unique voice that resonates with today’s readers while staying true to the genre’s conventions. I tried as hard as I could to focus deeply on the  emotional authenticity of the characters.

  1. The Literature Today: How do you see “A Kiss in Kashmir” fitting into the larger literary canon or genre?

Monica Saigal: A Kiss in Kashmir” fits into the contemporary romance genre but, I think, it stands out due to its focus on later-life romance and its setting in a geopolitically significant region. I think this novel contributes to the genre by broadening the scope of narrative possibilities.

  1.  The Literature Today: Can you talk about any challenges or obstacles you faced while writing “A Kiss in Kashmir?

Monica Saigal: Writing this novel posed several challenges, especially in terms of portraying Kashmir’s complex socio-political landscape accurately and sensitively. Balancing the romance with the tension inherent in the setting required a nuanced approach to ensure the story remained respectful to the realities of the region while still providing the escapism expected from the romance genre.

  1.  The Literature Today: Just out of curiosity, can you share in brief about your plans about writing after “A Kiss in Kashmir”?

Monica Saigal: Looking beyond “A Kiss in Kashmir,” I am eager to continue exploring and writing about themes that challenge the boundaries of traditional romance narratives. I’m particularly interested in stories that integrate cultural history, personal growth, and the transformative power of relationships.

  1.  The Literature Today: It is interesting to note how you managed to remain objective about each character even when speaking for them through them in “A Kiss in Kashmir.” How did you maintain this objectivity?

Monica Saigal: Maintaining objectivity about each character in “A Kiss in Kashmir” was crucial for the narrative’s integrity. I approached this by deeply understanding each character’s motivations, background, and emotional landscape, which allowed me to portray their perspectives authentically without my own biases influencing their depiction. This was an iterative process and I did go back a few times to interview people again to ask them how they would react in certain situations.

  1.  The Literature Today: I hope that this collection breaks records in royalty collection. Wishing you luck!

Monica Saigal: Thank you for the kind wishes! It’s always exciting to release a new book, and I hope “A Kiss in Kashmir” resonates deeply with readers. I am grateful for the opportunity to share this story and look forward to seeing how it might touch the lives of those who read it. Your support means the world to me.

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