After leading a happy life of an urban planner and designer in Germany, Julia Regul Singh decided to turn to her first love, and that is writing. Married to an Indian, Julia feels India is a writer's dream. The author has come out with a cross-cultural love story called 'Leap Of Faith'. In an exclusive interview with Ritika Handoo of Zeenews.com, the author reveals her future plans, life in India and how she feels 'Leap Of Faith' is perfect for 70mm screen:
What is your new book all about?
'Leap of Faith' is a funny cross-cultural love story. Christina from Germany is getting married to Andalip from India and with that many comical (and sometimes more serious) misunderstandings occur during their week-long wedding in New Delhi. The story is set around a large Punjabi wedding extravaganza. I took the story a step further and wondered what the couple and their families would experience as well. Being brought up in Germany and now having lived in India for almost eight years, I enjoyed reflecting on my own experiences coming from the west and arriving in the east.
Misunderstandings and confusions are bound to happen. Amongst all the excitement and many misunderstandings that derive from people’s diverse backgrounds and expectations when two very different cultures “clash,” I found a lot of comedy and emotions to write about but also tremendous love and learning. For me, Christina and Andalip’s story is a way of showing people that it is ok to be different and even more, a great opportunity to learn from each other. If you are sincere and honest to each other and cultivate an open “Weltanschauung” (have an open mind on looking at the world), cross-cultural friendships are a great way to learn from each other. I find this topic very important in today’s very interconnected world.
When did you decide to leave a secure job and turn into writing?
When my first son was born in 2007, my husband and I decided to move from New York to New Delhi. This move also forced me to think about my life in general, my career as an urban planner, my new role as a mother and now also as an 'Indian wife', being part of a large Indian family.
Working as an urban planner in the capital, and meeting my everyday challenges was the most obvious job for me. However, I chose to be different. Hence, writing came into the forefront. Writing has always been my passion, I write something everyday. Once I arrived in Delhi, I happily turned to writing to reflect on my new experiences, my initial culture shock and the obvious differences between my German upbringing. India is an amazing place which challenges my every senses every day. For me it is a writer’s dream! I guess with that major change in my life, the decision to “switch careers” came quite naturally. Or one might say, after now living in India for almost eight years, “It was meant to be!”
Does this novel derive from any personal experience?
'Leap of Faith' is fiction. Obviously, I draw from my own experiences living in Delhi as well as reading books on India, watching movies, and interacting with people. Still, the outcome – the story of Christina and Andalip’s turbulent wedding in Delhi - is a product of my imagination.
When I first visited India in 2000, I felt still quite unique being a foreigner married to an Indian. Today, I see many cross cultural couples in India. None of my characters are actually based on real people. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but get influenced by character traits of people around me or even my own experiences.
“Leap of Faith” is definitely the product of my personal interaction with India and Indians over the last 15 years. I have had the pleasure to be travelling throughout India, I made many Indian friends all over the world and I also married into a large Punjabi family. Besides the usual literary and historical research on India, many of my own experiences, observations and conversations that I had since I first came to Delhi in 2000, shaped my ideas for “Leap of Faith”.
Do you feel connected to the country where you now live?
Yes, very much so. I moved here with my husband and children almost eight years ago, so India is home for me. Learning Hindi has definitely helped me feel more connected.
Has your own marriage helped you understand rituals better here?
Yes, of course. I don’t think anybody really understands Indian weddings fully unless they have gotten married in India. And that said, within India, across religions, geographical and cultural divides, there is still so much more for me to learn on the topic, that I do look forward to attending many more weddings in India.
Like Christina and Andalip in “Leap of Faith,” my husband and I got married in India. Thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law and mother-in-law our wedding was really fun and without much drama – at least for us as a couple but of course a lot of work for my husband’s family and like all Indian weddings many months in the making. Every little detail was so well planned and explained to me and my family from Germany and both families got along really well, that I keep joking that our wedding didn’t have enough drama to write a book about.
Having gone through the many emotions of an Indian wedding has also made me understand them better and helps me add “feeling” to my writing instead of just describing the facts. I still remember how my friends and family came and fed me some food while I was sitting patiently and how the cold henna felt on my skin. I will never forget how my seven year old niece told me that I have to spit on my feet to rub of the dried henna crust and her reaction to the talk as I listened.
Who are your favourite writers?
I always enjoyed works of fiction with historical backgrounds and insights into foreign countries and cultures. One of my all time favorite writers was James A. Michener with his colossal works like “Chesapeake Bay” or “Alaska,” getting into the history of places by following families over generations. Reading his stories for me was like travelling in time, visiting new countries and learning about them through stories that span over generations, coming alive through character that I could relate to, and not through mandatory and boring school books. More recently, I discovered short stories again and enjoy re-reading authors like Ruskin Bond and Roald Dahl, whose stories I read to my children at night.
Any specific Indian author you like?
After I met my husband I started to read a lot about India, especially enjoying books on the experience of Indians living in the US, where we lived earlier. The list of authors who inspire me is very long, but I guess there are three writers that sparked my interest for writing about cross-cultural experiences, especially in the countries that I call home: Jhumpa Lahiri with “The Namesake”, Chitra Banerji Divakaruni with her “The Mistress of Spices” and “Unknown Errors of our Lives” and Vikram Seth with “Two Lives” and a “Suitable Boy”.
Do you miss living in your native country?
I think everybody who has travelled or moved places knows that you can’t help but feel homesick once in a while. I do miss my family of course and some of the experiences I have grown up with in Germany that my children in India will miss out on. I know that I can’t compare my upbringing in small-town Germany to my children’s lives in urban India in the 21st Century. Still I get nostalgic about my past life.
Here are the three things I miss most, which sound really odd in my Indian setting: I miss the never ending season of fall (or autumn) that brings lots of cold rain but also trees in all colors and the sound of crushing leaves under my boots when hiking through the forests close to my house. The fresh smell that comes with that autumn rain, the cold, crisp, clean air and dried up leaves is unbeatable to me.
This might sound like a joke to most, but I do miss German humour – an oxymoron you might say. Till date I am amused by the Indian slap stick humour, but nothing makes me laugh more than a straight face, a sarcastic one-liner joke with a bit of the typical German “Schadenfreude” (laughing at other people’s mishaps). Indians seem to find this very mean, but is really not meant to be hurtful. I think humour is very much anchored in geography. Ever so often I encounter “my German humour” in a different setting like India – by meeting a fellow German at a party let’s say – and I get very homesick.
Lastly, I miss the very organized and straightforward German way. My mantra is definitely “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. I feel very naive and ignorant to even crave the above mentioned German stereotypes. Still things seem to add up, most often my disability to shake of my very foreign accent with its resulting language barriers, the monsoon’s power to mock Delhi’s crumbling infrastructure that causes week long traffic jams, and odd things like my confusions about words like “kal” meaning tomorrow and yesterday; to name my top three.
But honestly, when I am back in Germany, I miss India a lot; its great food, intense colors and smells, people’s hospitality, warmth and happiness that is very unique to this part of the world and I have never encountered anywhere else.
Do you think your novel can be adapted into a movie just like author Chetan Bhagat's works have made it to celluloid?
I think 'Leap of Faith' would make a great movie! Personally, I would find it interesting to see a joint production of a team of German and Indian filmmakers. Both styles of movie making are very different and it would be exciting to see how the diverse ways of thinking and approach to filmmaking get adapted into this cross-cultural love story. Or even produce two movies about “Leap of Faith” – the Bollywood version versus “Deutsches Kino” (German Cinema)!
What are your future plans?
Right now I am working on two projects: I wrote a children’s story in rhyme called “My cousin Max.” It is a story about a small boy who eagerly waits to meet his “foreign” cousin, whom he has never met. The story is inspired by my children, nieces and nephews’ lives – so the setting could be again India and Germany. Again I want people to think about the fact that even though we might all grow up in different parts of the world, we still are very similar. And differences are opportunities to learn from each other and to laugh and nothing to be scared about!
Also, I have been contemplating to write in German again, because I feel that people in Germany are very eager to hear about my life in India from a German perspective. Right now I am still very much involved with “Leap of Faith” and people have asked me how Christina’s and Andalip’s story continues. I am sure one day I will write a sequel to “Leap of Faith” since many people are eager to know what happens next.