The first time I thought about writing a story that takes place while south Indian women get together to make mango pickle, I was living in a dinghy little apartment in Staines, about 30 minutes away from London. The apartment was close to a church and on a very busy street, and between the gong of the church bell and the screeching tires of various cars, my concentration was completely shot and the story remained dormant.
My husband and I had just married in a small ceremony in the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The only people at the wedding were the priest and a photographer who was also the witness. We told our families we were going away on vacation and then called from our hotel suite to let them know that the deed was done. We’d been living together for a couple of years and no one was shocked when we got married, but I started to wonder.
Growing up in India, I didn’t dream nor have a nightmare (same difference) of marrying a foreigner. But I found myself in exactly that position after I met my husband who comes from Denmark. My family is a small one and breaking the news that I was dating a Dane was hard but not catastrophically. But what if I had a large family, the kind that was fairly conservative, the kind I needed and wanted acceptance from, the kind I could lose, what would I do?
I have friends from India who married in the name of love and have been completely disowned by their families. A friend of mine married an Indian, but from a different caste and parental disapproval has become a way of life for her. Another friend eloped and married a man from a different caste and his family is still seething, even though they have a beautiful granddaughter and the marriage is almost half a decade old. If these families went into total cerebral shock when their daughters married Indian men from different castes, what would they do if their daughters wanted to marry foreigners?
So I merged my idea of writing about the making of mango pickle and this “in a pickle” situation, where a woman from India falls in love with a foreigner, in the case of The Mango Season, an American, and wants to marry him.
So I sent Priya home to India, and though I haven’t been back in eight years, I can well imagine the culture shock. I have experienced it several times when I watch an Indian movie or when a friend back in India says something that burns my ears through the telephone lines.
Priya’s family is nothing like mine, her experiences and emotions are all her own. I was not in conflict as she is or concerned about losing my family or my sanity because of the “foreigner” in my life. Priya’s fiancé, Nick, is nothing like my husband Søren, and Priya’s family is nothing like mine. And because her life is so different from mine, yet in so many ways similar, I enjoyed exploring her emotions, her struggles and the politics that complicated her relationship with her family.
Writing this book also gave me a chance to watch India unfold from a different perspective, that of a semi-foreigner, since that’s what Priya had become after living away from India for seven years, just as I feel I have. Writing this story was a wonderful journey and I have to admit, at the end, I was a little sad that it was over and curious to see what would happen next.
Tooting the horn section – some reviews of The Mango Season
Malladi’s skills as a writer are a fluent style, as useful for exposition as for capturing the voices of her characters, and her ability to focus on a topic and a region so clearly that she really does convey something of their feel.
-Claire Hopley, The Harvard Post
The Mango Season touches on a very human conflict with delicacy and humor. Miss Malladi makes Priya’s ambivalence understandable and powerful. She resolves it well and with tongue-in-cheek wit…[This] is a lovely novel, filled with the small details and sensual evocations of life in India without neglecting the claustrophobic aspect of that life. The tug in Priya’s heart is genuine.
–Corinna Lother, The Washington Times
In this passionately told story…Priya’s frustration, her family’s desires, and the heat during the mango season are all well conveyed. The result is a fascinating look at contemporary India.
–Lisa Rohrbaugh, Library Journal
Malladi submerges the reader in fascinating cultural traditions and rich foods garnished with saucy humor.
–Elsa Gaztambide, Booklist