#DesiBooks10QA: Naheed Phiroze Patel on being stubborn and unswayable to see a project through

About the author

Naheed Phiroze Patel is a graduate of the MFA program at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She is the author of Mirror Made of Rain published by Unnamed Press in 2022 and HarperCollins India in 2021. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the New England Review, LitHub, The Guardian, HuffPost, Scroll.in, BOMB Magazine, Public Books, PEN America, The Rumpus, EuropeNow Journal, Asymptote Journal, and elsewhere.

[Editor’s Note: Patel has also been guest-hosting the first ever Community Read at Desi Books: #TheGodofSmallThingsat25.]

About the book

Mirror Made of Rain offers a riveting exploration of class and tradition in contemporary India, following the life of Noomi Wadia, a funny, impulsive, and sharply observant heroine for our modern times. When we first meet her, Noomi is loathe to change her hard-partying ways simply because it’s what’s expected in Kamalpur high society. As quick-witted as she is quick-tempered, Noomi’s social obligations become increasingly fraught as she resists the pressures to marry and start a family of her own. Under constant scrutiny from her peers, and with her mother’s worsening alcoholism putting a strain on things at home, Noomi leaves for Bombay to work as a reporter. Noomi’s independence is interrupted when she falls for Veer—a hard-working consultant from a conventionally upper middle-class background who nevertheless appreciates her for exactly who she is. Joining him in New Delhi (and his judgmental, social-climbing family), Noomi is forced to observe patriarchal and restrictive customs, as the world she rejected threatens to overtake her once again. As Veer and Noomi’s future is threatened by the realities of conventional life, Noomi realizes that her worst fears have come to pass—she is trapped in the same cycle of self-destructiveness as her mother, and she must battle her impulses or risk losing it all.

Spanning several years of Noomi’s life, Naheed Phiroze Patel’s exhilarating debut novel unravels how society determines self-image and asks if we can ever break free from expectations, when survival is often contingent on compromise.

Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel offers a riveting exploration of class and tradition in contemporary India, following the life of Noomi Wadia, a funny, impulsive, and sharply observant heroine for our modern times. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


1. The desi book that made you want to be a writer (or changed your life.)

I wish I had a more original answer this question but the plain truth is that The God of Small Things offered me my first real map on how to become a novelist. Since discovering it at the age of fifteen, I’ve re-read it six or seven times. Recently, I began a tradition where I read the novel every year during monsoon season in India, since the opening lines of the novel evoke it so beautifully. The book continues to surprise me, revealing new secrets every time. I think that as long as I’m able to dive in and come up to the surface with treasures upon reading—I’ll probably continue my tradition of the monsoon TGOST read.

[Editor’s note: Patel has also been guest-hosting the first ever Community Read at Desi Books: #TheGodofSmallThingsat25.]

“The God of Small Things offered me my first real map on how to become a novelist.” Naheed Phiroze Patel on the desi book that changed her life. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

2. The desi book that your own latest book is most in conversation with and why.

This is an interesting question. I’ve had Burnt Sugar come up during many interviews and conversations with readers. While I do think our novels have some overlapping themes, the leitmotif of Burnt Sugar is the fallibility or unreliability of memory, while Mirror Made of Rain delves into the shadow of addiction and patriarchal trauma upon successive generations of women. Both novels have a fraught mother-daughter relationship as the germinal conflict in the narrative, but then they branch out in different directions, in my opinion. I’m frankly quite obsessed with less than perfect mothers; there’s so much left to explore in this dynamic. My hope is that the genre continues to be enriched with many more books from diverse voices.

3. The desi book that doesn’t exist (to your knowledge) but you’d love to read.

So, of course, I have to quote Toni Morrison when she said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Lately, I’ve become fascinated by the mythology surrounding Zoroastrianism. My family is Parsi, i.e. they are followers of the prophet Zarathustra, whose name western readers may recognize from Nietzsche’s famous philosophical treatise. I don’t consider myself religious: I visit the fire temple perhaps twice a year, if at all; I don’t remember many prayers or perform the kasti ritual. But what’s always appealed to me about Zoroastrianism is its central concept of dualism, the struggle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu. “Angra” means destructive or malign and “Mainyu” means mind or spirit; our gift is free will, and when we use it to choose creation over destruction, truth over deception, we are the helpers of Ahura Mazda, the lord of Wisdom or Light. In the temple, Ahura Mazda is represented by a sacred, consecrated fire, which takes 14,000 hours of prayers and can only be fed by sandalwood. The best way, really the only way, that I know how to access the truth, to move away from the darkness of self-deception towards the light of Vohu Manah or the Good Mind, is through writing. I’ve sort of become invested in writing a speculative novel that incorporates this dualism of Zoroastrianism into the narrative.

4. The desi book that you’re currently reading or planning to read soon.

I’m about to start reading Vikram Chandra’s Red Earth and Pouring Rain in preparation for a podcast interview with him for Skylight Books. I was in workshop with Chandra in 2015 and his unique approach to plot and structure is to transpose formalized paradigms of software engineering, using concepts such as design patterns, to build the narrative topography of his novels. His only non-fiction book, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, The Code of Beauty, is an incredible mosaic that brings together craft, computer programming, social commentary on Silicon Valley, and Sanskrit philosophy. It is somewhat of a touchstone for me.

5. The desi book that you believe should be read and known more and why.

I’m currently reading Mahasweta Devi’s Mother of 1084—written in 1974, it’s told from the point of view of a mother whose son was murdered for being part of the Naxalite movement in West Bengal. I don’t think the book is “under-appreciated” per se, but it could definitely be more widely appreciated. Devi’s writing is incredibly prescient; her critique of the complicity of the upper classes is scathingly relevant today. The novel is also translated beautifully by Samik Bandopadhyay, the prose is minimalist but also deeply, powerfully moving. I feel that Mahasweta Devi’s novel is of the same lineage as Yiyun Li’s Where Reasons End, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and Naja Marie Aidt’s When Death Takes Something From You Give it Back.

“Devi’s writing is incredibly prescient; her critique of the complicity of the upper classes is scathingly relevant today.” Naheed Phiroze Patel on Mahasweta Devi’s Mother of 1084 #DB10QA @DesiBooks

6. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

The best writing advice was a fortune cookie that said “the work teaches you how to do it.” I believe that nothing beats actually writing the story to teach anyone how to write. The more work you generate the better you’re going to get. The other bit of advice that’s always stayed with me is Goethe’s “Do not hurry; do not rest.” Writing, especially writing novels, it’s the long game that matters. A certain steady doggedness is necessary to get to the end of a project.

#writingtip from Naheed Phiroze Patel: “…nothing beats actually writing the story to teach anyone how to write. The more work you generate the better you’re going to get.” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

7. While writing your latest book, how did you keep yourself motivated to keep going despite setbacks (if any)?

I mentioned doggedness above. I think that being sort of stubborn and unswayable is kind of important to see a project through, because you’re going to hear no repeatedly, almost till the book is with the printer. I believed that this novel was an important story to tell, and that I was the best person to tell it. That kept me digging through the many layers of rejections any work of art must undergo before it starts to find its people.

8. With this latest book, what does “literary success” mean to you?

That’s a good question. The very idea of success is so ever changing and intangible that I wouldn’t know where to start to frame it otherwise. That being said—I would very much love for my novel to find its readers, and for them to be engaged enough with the storytelling and the characters—that I get to write the next novel, and the one after that. To have Mirror Made of Rain praised and loved by close friends and mentors is a different, more personal kind of success, which I’m lucky enough to already possess.

9. How have larger literary citizenship efforts or the writing community helped you with this latest book?

This novel was lifted at every step by folks who had no real vested interest in my career or who wouldn’t gain anything by going out of their way to promote my writing. I’m so grateful to each one of them. I was also really fortunate to be taught writing by professors who also taught me how to foster goodwill amongst those in the literary community, and how not to be solely inward-looking as an artist and an individual. I think that being present for others who are struggling with the same gatekeepers and glass ceilings as you is the best way to collectivize resources and promote books and writing which might otherwise be ignored.

10. What would you most like readers to take away from this latest book?

“I hope that Mirror Made of Rain becomes a part of the burgeoning conversation around mental health and addiction.” Naheed Phiroze Patel on reader takeaways #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

I hope that Mirror Made of Rain becomes a part of the burgeoning conversation around mental health and addiction. Although I’d say things are improving all the time, there is still a serious dearth of easily available resources, and a palpable stigma surrounding getting help for mental health in India, and in the South Asian diaspora living in the West as well. I’d love for my readers to reflect on the extent to which we’re conditioned to be uncomfortable with the Other. I also hope that the imperfection and messiness of the main character, Noomi, is an impetus that readers can use to shed preformed notions about the invisibilized emotional labor that we women are socialized to perform since childhood in order to appear flawless, calm and submissive in our day to day interactions. Other than that, I hope to learn from my readers what ideas they found most valuable in the narrative of Mirror Made of Rain.


Naheed Phiroze Patel’s debut novel is Mirror Made of Rain. More information at her website.

Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel offers a riveting exploration of class and tradition in contemporary India, following the life of Noomi Wadia, a funny, impulsive, and sharply observant heroine for our modern times. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


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