Q&A with Sandhya Acharya, Author of 10 Gulab Jamuns

Join two adorable brothers Idu (Ee-doo) and Adu (Aa-doo) in their discovery of a favorite Indian sweet in a new children's book, 10 Gulab Jamuns, counting with an Indian sweet treat. I extremely excited to share an exclusive interview with author, Sandhya Acharya.

Q. Are your characters based on someone you know?

The two characters in the book are actually based on my sons. Their personalities are also pretty similar. Adu the younger one is a boisterous brat and Idu the older one is protective and fun loving. Idu and Adu derive loosely from their nicknames coined by their grandparents, and also mean “this” and “that” in Kannada which is my mother tongue. Together, they create a lot of memorable moments for me!

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I have wanted to be a writer from ever since I could think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. So it’s really been a lifelong dream. I made a career for myself in Corporate Finance and gave it my utmost. But the dream followed me through it all. I finally decided to give myself the time and permission to do what I always wanted and see where it goes.

Q. The Gulab Jamuns takes on an important role in your book. Can you tell me more about the importance of the Gulab Jamuns in Indian society?

Gulab Jamuns are a much loved indian sweet. They are present in any festive occasion be it Diwali, Holi, weddings, birthday parties or restaurants. The history and origin of Gulab Jamuns is an interesting one. It seems to have come to India from Persia and the mediterranean region. The word "gulab" is derived from the Persian words gol (flower) and āb (water), referring to the rose water-scented syrup. "Jamun" or "jaman" is the Hindi-Urdu word for Syzygium jambolanum, an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape (source Wikipedia) Talk about diversity in food! That’s another reason why I love this well travelled food.

Q. I spoke to Mitali Perkins, author of Rickshaw Girl and Susie Jaramillo author of "Little Chickies/Los Pollitos.” They both said there were few resources to share their cultures with their kids in America. Did you find it hard to share Indian culture in the U.S. with your family?

Absolutely. It is well documented that is a lack of good quality multicultural content being published and finding its way to libraries and bookstores. Now, according to the Pew Research center the Asian origin population is at 20M today in the U.S and growing. This asian population is also a very diverse and rich one. About 20% of this asian population is from India and probably more from the larger subcontinent, but one visit to your local library will make it clear that there is not enough to represent all these diverse cultures. Along with the problem having multicultural content, there is also the problem that even less of this content is written by authors from diverse backgrounds, hence the question of authenticity and real voices.

As part of doing literature support for my child’s school, I went to the library to check for books on Diwali or south asian culture. I hardly found anything of good quality. I believe, children are ready to hear different voices and learn about their friends and neighbors. As part of book readings for my book I have been sharing some nuances of south asian culture with the kids and parents. I have seen kids of south asian backgrounds get really excited about seeing foods that they recognize in the book as they looked at the pages, they love it when their names sounded similar to the characters in the book. And I have also observed that children not of south asian backgrounds are very interested and intrigued by the new tidbits they get to learn. Our world is diverse, our literature needs to reflect that.

Q. What’s next for you?

I have a couple of manuscripts for children’s books that I am working on. There is a whole depth of knowledge and expertise in this area that I am slowly educating myself on. I am also experimenting with different genres. Short stories was a challenge I took up last year and am slowly honing my craft there. I would like to conquer other forms too. More than anything, keep growing and finding joy in the writing I do.

Sandhya Acharya grew up in Mumbai, India, and now lives in Santa Clara, California. When she is not writing, she is busy training for marathons, learning a form of Indian classical dance, and enjoying the childhood of her young sons. Her articles have featured in NPR(KQED), India Currents and IMC connect. She won the third prize in Katha 2017, a short story contest by India Currents and Wellstone Center in the Redwoods for her story “Cherry Blossoms”.

Her short stories have also appeared in literary journals like Peacock Journal, and Aaduna. She also blogs regularly at www.sandhyaacharya.com.

Future meet the author dates include the San Francisco Public Library in January 2018 as part of their Author program, the San Jose Calabazas Library and Alameda Library in March 2018.