I was born and raised in New Delhi, India. My siblings and I grew up bilingual, surrounded by books and immersed in the literature of two languages, Hindi and English. We also heard the old epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, from our mother and our paternal grandmother. By the time I was twelve my brother and I had discovered science fiction: we read Asimov, Clarke and Bradbury. My sister, who is eight years younger than me, started demanding original stories from me at an early age; I would painstakingly hand-write and illustrate “books” of lurid adventure for her. That was how I got my start writing.
Growing up in Delhi was interesting, although I did not know it at the time. Despite being one of the most populous cities in the world, Delhi is also home to a large variety of plant and animal life. As children we would make friends with the pariah dogs in the streets. Cows were a not uncommon sight and monkeys thronged the trees near the Parliament house. As a shy child I was more comfortable with animals than people, and at an early age I became interested in bird-watching. This led to my becoming part of a group of schoolchildren with similar interests in high-school. In twelfth grade we formed a student environment group called Kalpavriksh. It was a uniquely non-hierarchical group; we had no office bearers and yet we managed to get some things done, including protection of some of Delhi’s green areas. My own crowning experience was a trip to the Himalayas with other members of the group, in the summer holidays between twelfth grade and college. We went to study the Chipko movement, a unique grassroots environmental movement initiated and led by rural women. It was a paradigm-shifting experience as I came face to face with a completely homegrown feminism, as well as a first-hand realization of how caste and class and economic issues determine how the other 90% live.
In college I studied physics, which was a natural extension of my interest in nature. I came to the United States as a graduate student and got my PhD in theoretical particle physics. After that I returned to India, as I’d always intended, to work at a science institute in Chennai. I was there for a year before life and marriage pulled me back to American shores. Family life and a saturated job market resulted in my stepping out of academia for many years, during which I turned my attention to home-schooling my daughter and to my old love: writing. For the first time I contemplated writing for publication, and after the initial few years of mostly nice rejection letters I started getting published in anthologies and a few magazines. The fact that my daughter, like my sister so many years ago, demanded new stories nearly every day, helped to hone my writing skills, and my husband and my brother encouraged me. Four years ago I returned to teaching at a marvelous liberal arts college near Boston, an exhilarating experience, not only because I love teaching, but also because it brought me back to physics. It allows me to think about physical laws and their ramifications, and to ponder them in science fictional ways as well. Although I have less time to write, what I write is different because of this experience.
My short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Polyphony, So Long Been Dreaming (2004), Trampoline (2003), and Interfictions (2007), as well as magazines like Strange Horizons and The Third Alternative. A couple have made it to Year’s Best volumes and been on the short list for the Carl Brandon Parallax Award and the BSFA award. I’ve written two children’s books, both published in India, and the first, Younguncle Comes to Town (an ALA Notable Book) out from Viking in the U.S. last year. Apart from a novella for Aqueduct Press, I am currently working on a collection of my short fiction, The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories, forthcoming from Zubaan Books, New Delhi, in Fall 2007. For more, please see my website. (Photo by Sitara Chapman.)