#DesiBooks10QA: Reshma Ruia on stories that span continents and cultures

About the author:

Reshma Ruia is an award-winning writer and poet. Her first novel, Something Black in the Lentil Soup was described in the Sunday Times as ‘a gem of straight-faced comedy.’ Her second novel, A Mouthful of Silence, was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Award. Reshma’s short stories and poetry has appeared in British and international journals and anthologies and commissioned for BBC Radio 4. Her debut poetry collection, A Dinner Party in the Home Counties, won the 2019 Word Masala Award. Born in India, brought up in Italy, and now living in England, her writing explores the preoccupations of those who possess a multiple sense of belonging.  She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani, a writers’ collective of British South Asian writers.   

About the book:

Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happiness is a collection of short stories that feature characters who confront ageing, love, and loss with anger, passion, and quiet defiance. A lonely woman develops an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity writer. A young man attends the funeral of his gay lover. A feisty woman escapes a life of domestic drudgery. These are just some of the people in these stories searching for new beginnings and old certainties; everyday people whose lives oscillate between worlds—geographical, cultural and emotional—in a constant flux, shaped and reshaped by an imperative to anchor to a map or a feeling.

Reshma Ruia’s Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happiness is a story collection featuring characters who confront ageing, love, and loss with anger, passion, and quiet defiance. #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


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

There is such a feast of choices to draw upon. The desi literary tradition is rich and flourishing with roots that span regional languages and predates the impact of colonialism on Indian sensibility. The book that made me want to be a writer and to be wholly absorbed in a fictional world has to be R K Narayan’s Malgudi Days. I read it at a young age and found the portrayal of  Narayan’s imaginary city captivating. He seemed to have captured the spirit of India in his depiction of ordinary lives full of dignity and simplicity. My other firm favorite is, of course, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies with its sensitive exploration of diaspora lives.

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

Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happiness reflects the themes and preoccupations found in Bharti Mukherjee’s short story collection The Middleman and Other Stories. Bharti Mukherjee was an early pioneer in her rejection of exotic tropes in her writing. She dismissed the expectation that, as an Indian diasporic writer, she was only qualified to write about arranged marriages, slum dwellers, or sacred cows. Her stories feature characters who are flawed and who spring from the underbelly  of life. They are liars, thieves, heretics—but they have an insatiable appetite for life.

Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happiness reflects the themes and preoccupations found in Bharti Mukherjee’s short story collection, The Middleman and Other Stories. ~Reshma Ruia #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

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

I would love to read a multi-generational desi book that spans continents. Something similar to a grand Russian novel with plenty of tragedy and searing insights into the human condition.  It should be a timeless testament of our times.

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

The book I am reading currently is Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North. The book has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is a deep, philosophical meditation on the effects of war on an an individual and an ostracized community. It is not an easy read. Arudpragasam writes in dense, multi-layered prose without any dialogue breaks. He is an extremely gifted writer and I enjoyed his debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, when it came out a few years back.  

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

As a poet, I feel that Indian female poets like Kamala Das and Tishani Doshi deserve to be more widely known. They question tradition and in-built patriarchy and are not afraid to probe female sexuality and desire. All writers mirror the society they are a part of and these poets definitely do so with an uncompromising, honest gaze.

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

The best advice I’ve received is to persist and not give up. The literary world can be a ruthless battlefield in some ways, where there is an ever-present danger of losing one’s self-belief and confidence. I would also advise carving time out for one’s writing—to not denigrate it or let it be a footnote to one’s life. Finally, good readers make good writers. One’s writing is always a work in progress. One should always be learning and not let comparisons or envy suck the joy out of writing. The list can go on and on.

#WritingTip from Reshma Ruia: “The best advice I’ve received is to persist and not give up. The literary world can be a ruthless battlefield in some ways . . .” #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks

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

While writing Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happines, I let myself be wholly absorbed in the many lives and adventures of the different characters. My stories span continents and cultures, from Rwanda to Japan, Suburban America to Goa, and there was a sense of excitement in building up these new narrative arcs, doing research and creating a new life in a plausible and convincing manner. I would begin a story without knowing the ending and this sense of mystery about the fate of my protagonists was definitely a spur to keep writing.

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

“Literary success” is such a misleading and dangerous term. Perhaps it’s easier to say what it doesn’t embrace: a Hollywood tie-up,  royalties fit for a king, or a prime-time TV appearance!  I want readers to pick this book and enjoy traveling to different places and cultural spaces. I want them to see a reflection of their own yearnings and longings within the pages. I want them to keep thinking about this book long after they have stopped reading. I want them to press a copy into their friend’s hands and say: look, here is a writer you must read.  This, for me, is literary success. 

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

Writers are a strange tribe. Those at the top of the pyramid, while being vocal in their support, seldom offer any tangible assistance when it comes to offering reviews or endorsements. As an emerging female author from a minority background, I find more doors closed than open.  It was to redress this sense of exclusion that I co-founded a writers’ collective some ten years ago. The Whole Kahani collective consists of British South Asian writers and we support and work together. We will soon be bringing out our third anthology of short stories, Tongues & Bellies

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

What this collection does is explore the predicament of being human, flawed, and vulnerable. My characters need to make choices and they negotiate the upheavals of life in their own, muddled ways, hoping to get things right. I want the readers to recognize their own struggles reflected in these stories and take comfort in the fact that they are not alone.

“I want the readers to recognize their own struggles reflected in these stories and take comfort in the fact that they are not alone.” ~Reshma Ruia on her story collection, Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happiness #DesiBooks10QA @DesiBooks


Reshma Ruia’s new story collection is Mrs. Pinto Drives to Happiness. More information on her website.

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