Saskya Jain says that hers is a classic story. She felt isolated and apart as a teenager and hence escaped into reading and eventually writing. “Though back then I didn’t really know what it meant to be a full-time fiction writer,” she says.
Her first book, Fire Under Ash, is mostly based in Delhi and chronicles the life of three young people who want to break out from the paths set out for them.
Saskya, who studied at Columbia University in New York and then pursued Master of Fine Arts in fiction from Boston University, discusses the plot, “There’s Ashwin, who cannot get into the swing of the ostentatious party his parents are throwing to celebrate his departure for Columbia University. In Patna, a marriage has been arranged for the promising student Lallan, the dowry of which will fund a year’s post-graduate course in Delhi with a guaranteed academic job at the end of it. And in New York, Meera, Ashwin’s older sister, is torn between living the high-achieving expatriate life that is expected of her and being true to herself.”
At the heart of the book, she adds, is an acknowledgement of the fact that most of our problems arise out of failed communication because we are blessed and cursed to see the world through our own eyes.
Born to a German mother and an Indian father, both academics in Delhi, Saskya’s childhood was spent in the city, and the novel is inspired from her own experiences in the city. “Delhi became the unofficial protagonist, though I didn’t realise this until I was well into the writing,” she says.
Like the characters in her book, Saskya too had to make difficult choices in her life which have, at times, been selfish ones. And her decision to become a writer was one of them. “I turned down job offers so that I could write the novel but this meant that I sometimes had to rely on others to make ends meet, and as a result was often gripped by doubt and panic about where this was all leading, which in turn made it difficult to write.”
Married to German author Chistopher Kloeble, Saskya today juggles translation and writing, and the cities of Delhi and Berlin. And it does get difficult for her to focus on everything, when there are several assignments going on simultaneously.
She says, “It’s a challenge, because nobody is forcing or usually paying you to write fiction, so that’s often the easiest to neglect. But I’m lucky in that I can structure my own day and earn my living through different forms of writing, and I try to remember that whenever I feel apathetic or overwhelmed.”
The author has started working on her second novel, a story on two neighbouring families, which would be based in Delhi as well.