Ambrose Musiyiwa – Conversations with Writers

1) When did you start writing? How, why and when did decide you wanted to be a published writer? How did you go about it? What did you do to achieve this end?

–  I grew up in our family house in the old walled city of Ahmedabad, where we had a beautiful library with leather bound books and I spent all my spare time reading whenever possible. At sixteen, I went to art school at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Vadodara, where I started writing. I realized that I could write. But I became a sculptor and could not change my profession as I soon married and divorced and was a single mother of two children, so I taught sculpture and art history in an art school in Ahmedabad. In 1979, I became an art critic for The Times of India, Ahmedabad edition. Soon, I started writing for myself and at the age of 46 I wrote my first novel, The Walled City. I felt, it was a miracle that it was published and I became a full time writer as other books followed.


2) How would you describe the writing you are doing?

–  It is a sort of writing or literature, which has emerged from conflict of being Jewish in India. My parents were not religious, so I did not have religious education, but at the age of 46, I felt the need of knowing Judaism and as a form of research for my novel Book of Esther, I took regular education from the cantor Johny Pingle of the Magen Abhraham Synagogue in Ahmedabad. Later, I came to know his wife Julie, through her, I discovered traditional Jewish cuisine. I mingled with the Jewish community and made notes of their life styles. I am still not religious and uncomfortable during religious functions, but I like to observe and study the Jewish community of India. I would say, I understand myself and my religion better, through my novels.


3) Who is your target audience? What motivated you to start writing for this audience?

–  My audience is the world, which is still ignorant about the existence of Indian Jews. I was motivated to write as I was confused about my own cross cultural conflict of being Jewish.


4) In the writing that you are doing, which authors would you say influenced you most? Why did they have this influence?

–  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende, Amy Tan, Tony Morrison, Salman Rushdie’s novel titled Shame,  R.K. Narayan for creating Malgudi and Arun Joshi who wrote The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, …because, they write about loss of the homeland.


5) What are your main concerns as a writer? How do you deal with these concerns?

–  Preserving the Jewish tradition, rituals and artefacts in India, the preservation of the heritage of architecture, oral traditions and cuisine, I also study the fast changing lifestyles in a micro miniscule community and try to work out these problems, through my writings.


6) How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

–  My own cross cultural conflicts and minute observations of the Jewish community in India has influenced my writing as seen with the belief of Prophet Elijah, so much so that now even I have a connection with the prophet. He appears to listen to me!


7) What are the biggest challenges that you face? And, how do you deal with these challenges?

–  I find myself most comfortable while writing about Jewish subjects and that is my challenge. I solve this by mingling and mixing with the people of my community and listening to their problems, beliefs and stories.


8) What is your latest book about? How long did it take you to write it? Where and when was it published? How did you chose a publisher for the book? Why this publisher? What advantages and/or disadvantages has this presented? How are you dealing with these?

–  Man with Enormous Wings with Penguin Viking, took me 7 years. It will be published sometime in 2009 or 2010.


9) Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult? Why do you think this was so? How did you deal with these difficulties?

–  About the riots of 2002 in Ahmedabad. It was hard and needed research.


10) Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most? Why is this?

–  My first novel The Walled City, because it had an element of mystery as I did not know if I would make it as a writer, so, it is my most precious book.


11) What sets the book apart from the other things you’ve written?

–  It was an abstract book and written as I felt at that moment, confused and in conflict of being a Jew in India.


12) In what way is it similar?

–  It is different as it is written without research.


13) What will your next book be about?

–  Jewish life, food, love and loss.


14) What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

–  …That my novels speak to my readers…

Comments are closed.