Tishani Doshi on finding your place in the world
In Tishani Doshi’s first novel the protagonist moves from India to the UK. In Small Days and Nights, the protagonist, Grace, returns to India from the USA, following the death of her mother. While writing she had been thinking about moving through the world as a woman, the author said. What does it mean to belong to a place? And what happens to women who face the world alone? What dangers do they face, what decisions must they take? “Gender is a charged issue,” she commented, “especially in India”.
In the novel, Grace is trying to make her way – a hybrid person who doesn’t fit anywhere. Her life is transformed when she inherits a house and meets her sister Lucia for the first time. Doshi was inspired by the story of Arthur Miller, who had a Down syndrome son that few knew about. The idea of someone’s life being transformed by the discovery of a sibling was fascinating to her.
“All families have secrets,” the author said. Grace’s sister was brought up in a care facility because she has Down syndrome. Her parents had decided to keep her existence a secret. Doshi wanted to Grace’s parents to make choices as individuals, albeit morally compromised ones, so that her protagonist was left to deal with their leftover problems.
Caregiving is difficult but important, the author said, and a society distinguishes itself by how it treats its vulnerable. She had spent the months following lockdown in Italy and was impressed by the sense of coming together she experienced. “That’s a good feeling when you are elsewhere”.
Small Days and Nights ends on an optimistic note, the idea of finding one’s place through nurture. But it’s complicated, the author noted.