Mums the word

Written by Renuka Bisht | Updated: Jun 3 2012, 07:49am hrs
In Delhi a small baby lies alone and abandoned. The product of IVF and surrogacy, she had been so coveted - until she was born with a fatal illness. No one knows how the infection could have been transferred to the child, but one thing is certain: no one wants her now.

Thousands of miles away in London, Kate and Ben are desperate for a baby. But, despite all their efforts, fate seems to be skewed against them. Then, as Kate suffers another miscarriage, she knows something has to change. She has heard of women who are prepared to carry a baby for others, and she knows this might be a way to finally find happiness. But will her desire for a baby stop at nothing

And between the two, feisty social worker Simran Singh is determined to uncover the truth behind the shadowy facade of the multi-million dollar surrogacy industry. Women and children are being exploited, their lives thrown away like so much dust. Is she the only person prepared to stand up for what is right

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Kiswar Desais new novel Origins of Love is about Indias flourishing surrogacy industry, drawing in doctors and parents, cops and politicians, desis and goras into a complex, unputdownable dragnet. The author tells Renuka Bisht about this genre she is inventing as she goes along, coupling real life issues with crime fiction. And about a female protagonist who is everything that the ideal Indian woman is NOT supposed to be.

Simran seems somehow familiar, like a woman who could be my neighbour or my colleague, someone I would like to know. She is passionate, individualistic but with a public-minded conscience, inspirationally courageous. Whats your relationship with this protagonist How has she grown upon you With you

Many thanks for the comments on Simran. I hope I can take it as a huge compliment that the character seems real to you, and that she is someone you could know. Also you have commented that she is a heroic character. That is true, and its very important to the book series: she has an ability to understand a social problem and the courage to do something about it.

The only relationship I have with Simran is that I , too, feel I know a lot of women like her. When I made her up, I actually found I wanted to create a character who was everything that the ideal Indian woman is NOT supposed to be, especially in Indian literature: she is not good looking, she is not demure or docile. On the contrary, she is stubborn, strong-willed and completely independent. She is not in search of a husband (though her mother wants her to get married), but is in and out of relationships all the time. She drinks and she smokes. And in this book, she resists the idea of having a biological child, which is a debate we should have in India: can women be happy without becoming mothers Yet she is someone whom we all like, because her heart is in the right place. She is human and makes mistakes all the time, but she is willing to fight for what she thinks is right. So in that sense she has grown. Perhaps not with me (as there is very little of me in Simran) but as I write books in which she features. In Origins of Love, I discovered certain aspects to her that are not there in Witness the Night. Her personal biography came naturally, as part of the book and the story.

That is all I can say : Simran is someone I did not really have to work on; she came to me fully formed and totally herself! The peculiar thing is that readers write to me and talk to me about Simran as though she is a real character.

Saala, baster, banjo, do they think they can bring in little American babies and make us into a white-white gora nation So cries one character in your new novel. How do you see surrogacy today relating to the East-West silk routes of yesteryears

Surrogacy, when it came to this country a few years ago, appeared very much as though it were a form of colonialism. A very careful selection was made of ready-to-rent wombs, those of extremely poor women, and Western parents got uncomplaining surrogates who bore them their commissioned children. In the absence of a regulatory bill or careful scrutiny, the practice continues, though now there is a large domestic demand as well. The contracts and the money are loaded in favour of the commissioning parents and the hospital. A full-fledged industry has sprung up all over the country, with agents and commissions and a production line of women working for clinics. There is a supply chain that is ready to cater to the demands of infertile couples as well as the homosexual community, which is now apparently the fastest-growing community that needs surrogacy. Eugenics and designer babies are also becoming a speciality of the trade and its completely laissez faire. The quote you have taken is specifically from a character who has a reason to be annoyed about international clients of surrogacy. But I wont give the story away!

Did you watch Vicky Donor What do you think of the films treatment of sperm donation

I havent seen Vicky Donor. But I have heard that people have enjoyed it. From all accounts, it gives a positive version of sperm donation. You see the positive side in my novel too. But you also read about what can go wrong, with a chilling twist . So the two are very different. Though, coincidentally, I also have sperm donor in the book who has fathered over 50 kids. It must be zeitgeist!

Tell us about the desperate drive to motherhood in your novel, how it brings out both the best and the worst in human beings

The best and the worst... that is so true because I think, in order to have a child, infertile men and women are willing to resort to anything. Women of course have much more to lose. Because in India being infertile is always a womans fault. And if she cant even carry her child... it is almost a form of physical betrayal. In my novel specifically, there are some pretty desperate people, including a couple of politicians who resort to surrogacy to further their dynasty. And more than that I wont reveal! All I will tell you is that it gets quite awkward because the man or the father of the child has supposedly taken sanyas from physical relationships but then agrees to create the future prime minister of India (or so he hopes), as his sperm will undoubtedly be very powerful after years of abstinence!

How did the encouraging response from the prize-giving literary universe last time around impact the process of writing this new novel

Well, it did give me a little bit of much-needed confidence; if I had done it before (Witness the Night was my second book; the first was Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt), I could try to do it again. Also, there has been a lot of interest in this book and the subject matter. The good thing about living in the UK is that once people are interested in your work, and if you win an award, people do keep track of you and are very encouraging. In a sense, I do feel very lucky to be living there, where people have been extremely enthusiastic about both Origins of Love and Witness the Night. To be quite honest, writing the second book after the first has won such a major award is also tough, as you feel people will always make comparisons. But in my case, because I also want to explore this genre (which I am inventing as I go along) of coupling real-life issues with crime fiction, it has all become very exciting. Its all new. Including a fictional character like Simran Singh who is bold and completely fresh in Indian literature. I am enjoying this. And even more so the third novel in the series, which I am writing right now.