This item is an audio file.

Oral History Interview with Mimi Mondal

Mimi Mondal is an Indian speculative fiction writer based in New York and the first writer from India to have been nominated for any Hugo Award. She is a Dalit, Indian woman.

Duration: 01:24:06

Date: March 19, 2020
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Dhanya Addanki
Location: New York, NY

Transcriber: Alisha Cunzio

Dhanya Addanki (DA): (0:00)
So do you want to start by telling me your first and last name and where you're based right now?

Mimi Mondal (MM): (0:07)
So, my name is Mimi Mondal. I'm based in New York City right now. I'm from Kolkata originally - that's where I grew up.

DA: (0:16)
So can you tell me the story of your journey from Kolkata to New York City?

MM: (0:23)
This is a slightly weird question, because I did a bunch of random detours. So I'm just like-- I'm not here because I really planned to be here. I'm just here. So I grew up in Kolkata, and went to school there, went to college there. Also did my master's degree - I was at Jadavpur University where I studied English, and that was pretty good. I mean, Jadavpur is one of the best colleges in India for English, so uh… I'm also always wanted to get out of Calcutta - I actually say Calcutta. So I wanted to get out of Calcutta, but I kept not being able to when I was younger. My parents were extremely restrictive. So when I was applying for colleges my father didn't actually support applying to different colleges in India, because back then - and this is 2006/2007 - you couldn't really apply online in India. So those who applied to colleges all over the country - which, I mean, I went to high school with some of these people who went to-- applied to colleges all over the country - took a ton of resources to just be able to do that. You get somebody - maybe you have a relative or a friend in a different city - who picks up the physical form for you and fills it up and puts it in. Then there’s a-- there are written tests to enter those colleges, and they're all within the same week, or the same two weeks. So the people who actually apply to all these things - and I'm-- I clearly-- this is still me remembering these certain friends who managed to do that, because their parents-- they’re these 17/18 year olds, their parents are flying across three or four cities with them in the space of two weeks, where they're hyperventilating because they're also taking these academic tests. And my parents just said, “Sorry, we don't have the resources.” Right? “And we don't care. Like, we don't actually want to send you to another city.” So it was tremendously fortunate that there was a great college for the subject in my city, because if there wasn't I just would have gone to whatever was available. So I did that master's degree - that bachelor's and the master’s - and then I went to Delhi and I joined Penguin India as an editorial assistant - so in the editorial track. I didn't come here just from Delhi. I went to Scotland - I was a Commonwealth scholar in publishing studies for a year or so. So I just did a bunch of random things.

MM: (3:14)
I grew up in Calcutta, my parents met in Calcutta, which is... which was the first in our family, because... So, you know, sitting in New York, I can't really call myself mixed race because that-- there's not enough distance, but... So my father's family came from a village in Indian Bengal, and my father is the sixth of seven siblings. So he was pretty late in the line, and everybody else who were already adults when my father was a kid, I suppose, married families from nearby villages - married into families from nearby villages, so had similar culture. My mother's family are refugees from Bangladesh. So... not a lot of distance - like I have later put this across-- like put this on a map and taken a look, maybe at least, you know, maybe this year or sometime, so not even a long time ago. So technically, Dad’s family came from [audio drop] village to Calcutta, mom's family came from the other side of the border to Calcutta. Pretty much the same distance on both sides - there's just a border in between. So that is a different journey, because they are refugees. They came in late at night - etcetera, etcetera, whatever - with little children, and they've never gone back. So it was funny, because when I was growing up I was supposed to be the mixed child in the family, because we were half refugee, and I have a younger sibling, much younger than me. So I mean, we were somewhat different from our cousins, because our cousins were directly coming from that very local family line.

MM: (5:09)
And my mother worked - it was not a big job. There were ladies - largely in the older generation - who worked. Happened to work, happened to do a job, happened to do whatever was available, whatever was-- whatever they could do while still having a family. So, technically, my mother was a working woman, but also my mother was not really a person with a career. So she was a bank teller, and she kept being a bank teller for - I'm 32 years old, so for 30...25 years? I mean she retired a while ago. She actually did not take promotions, even when they were coming her way. I mean, if you join very low at the bottom it's harder to get promotions, because your skill set doesn't increase. So my mom's skill set didn't increase, so when banks got digitized she was very confused. And so she was not really fully into that profession. She didn't take... like I said, she didn't take promotions, because sometimes that might mean-- Firstly, it might mean you have more responsibilities, so you can't take care of the family. Or that might mean you get transferred somewhere else, which is also not something she could-- she was open to taking. So she was literally at the same bank branch, being the person in the corner-- being the person handing out money in the corner for, I don't know, at least 25 years that I saw. And my father was in the West Bengal government, so he... Once again, they were both... they were both people who possibly got their jobs because of the reservation - the quota system that the Bengal government has-- the Indian system has. I didn't use that, so-- And there’s a very interesting political perspective on the fact why I didn't use that, because I did go to a state school - Jadavpur is a state school - but I'll come to that later, so...

MM: (7:08)
I spent a lot of time in my childhood lonely. I was largely raised by - the Indian word is largely domestic help, but she was also a nanny, and she was an older woman from my dad's family-- not my dad's family, my dad's village. So she was actually upper caste - she was not Brahmin, but she was a higher caste than us, but from our dad's village…. who suffered domestic violence. Like, she had been thrown out by her husband - it was not even just domestic violence. Her husband married somebody else, and she was thrown out, and she was…. her child died - like there were these horrible tragedies that happened to this middle aged lady who wasn't really very literate. So she came and started living in our house, and partly because we were also like acquaintances throughout, so she was partly... I am pretty sure she was not paid a minimum wage, but, you know, household helps in India are hardly ever paid minimum wage. But this person was also... she kind of became a house-- like a member of the family. And she stayed-- she had room - she stayed with us for a very long time, so he was like a... she was kind of an aunt, except that she was the aunt who stayed at home, except she was not actually related to us. But she didn't actually go back to her family, so this person is who actually raised me. So I grew up hearing a lot of these local, mythological, etcetera stories. And I was raised partly by my grandmother - very early part of my childhood, before this lady stepped in - because my grandmother was super elderly. So by the time I was-- you know, I am the kid of the sixth of seven children, so she just-- I think she had Alzheimer's, maybe? I mean, she clearly lost her memory by the time I was 10 or something, so she doesn't even remember my younger sibling. She remembered me... I was the last grandchild that she remembered, but my younger sibling is actually the final grandchild in the line, she just doesn't remember her. And then I was raised by this other lady from the village, which kind of meant-- She was not fully a domestic help, because she was not that much poorer than us. We were not super rich. So she was just somebody who had been taken into our family. And I later wrote a story - I think two years ago I published a story - where there's like this fierce but illiterate old lady who comes out of the villages to the city, and the city is... I mean, it's once again said in an imaginary world - a secondary world, as they call it - but it's actually-- the city is very closely mapped onto Calcutta. You can see that it's Calcutta. And this fierce but illiterate older woman comes into the city - by the time she is middle aged, and bent, and so on - is a mix of my grandmother and that person who raised me. It was like it’s-- they had incredible, and at that time, tremendously undocumented kind of survival skills. And yeah, so I mean, those were a lot of the stories that I heard, although my model was not really from that community.

MM: (10:59)
And my Father didn't participate in raising me a lot. So, although... I suppose that was not the plan before having children, but I suppose he discovered that he didn't enjoy the activity a lot - like, raising children. So, my grandfather - and this is partly because I'm not tremendously well connected with my dad’s side of the family. I just didn't really ever develop a conversational relationship with my father - but he's still alive. But it's very hard to... I have literally failed to pick out family oral history, because my father's side... they're just not very accessible people. So it turns out that my grandfather - my father's father, who I never met because he was dead by the time I was born - he was some manner of a Sanskrit teacher in their village. They were-- they also had land. Their main livelihood came out of the land. They had rice fields. Not massive, but you know, you can... Bengal rice fields are smaller than a lot of other states - like Punjab and so on - Bengal rice fields often tended to be very small plots of land for individual farmers. So we had plots of land, and that's what the family income came out of. This is in my father's childhood, not in my childhood. In my dad's generation they were largely civil servants. So-- but before that they were farmers. And so my grandfather - clearly, I mean, he was not making a lot of money, but he was a Sanskrit teacher at the local high school. And this is very interesting because Sanskrit education, even now in India, is tremendously Brahminized, and it's still being criticized for... I mean, because it's already an older education system that existed. There were all these titles that Brahmins could get by rhetorical argument - like proving themselves in rhetorical argument. And there’s like these academic levels which were... traditional academia, right? And you couldn't even enter it if you weren't Brahmin.

MM: (13:22)
So I can now see - and especially when I went to Jadavpur University - it's funny how... I had a good time at university. I also felt tremendously small, because that English department of Jadavpur University is filled with all these people who are generationally intellectual. That happens to all the top schools. So I was among all these friends... everybody's family and relatives and grandparents have done illustrious things. Parents-- like, you know, they were kids of well known people, they were grandchildren, they had streets named after them, stuff like that. And I am like, “I have nothing.” And so there I could see people whose grandparents - grandfather's at least - had been Sanskrit pundits. And it was very hard to even understand at that time - because I didn't really know a lot about Dalit rhetoric - that I mean... is it even worth mentioning that my grandfather was a Sanskrit teacher, because it's not the same thing. It's like Sanskrit pundit is the official thing, which he clearly was not. And maybe he was the Sanskrit teacher at the local high school only because they couldn't hire an official person. Like, he was a substitute teacher kind of thing, because without being a pundit you couldn't even have an official qualification. He was possibly the local guy in the village who can teach Sanskrit. That was my dad's first language at school. I don't know if that's still allowed in India, or maybe it's allowed in smaller parts, I don't know. But my dad's first language at school was Sanskrit, not Bengali.

DA: (15:16)
How did your grandfather become a Sanskrit teacher?

MM: (15:21)
Um... so this is-- these are the parts of the history that I don't actually first-person know, because I didn't get it out of anybody. I feel like it was possibly a lot of self study. Like, you know, because… so the caste history of Bengal - and let me not say of Bengal, because I don't know all of Bengal, and these are things that I read in papers and things. These are all things that I didn't get from family history. Because Bengal was a largely more cosmopolitan part of the country, and the British came in through Bengal, and there was a lot of industrial traffic-- not industrial - oh my god - trade traffic going through the Calcutta port for centuries, and then there were the nabobs and so on. So Bengal became a little less casteist - like two or three centuries ago - and there were all these reform movements. Also because they were all these esoteric sects of Hinduism. Bengal is margin-- already like marginal Hinduism, right? So things like Vaishnavism - which is in there in my family - things like Kali worship - which is also in there in my family. So these sections of Hinduism are slightly less casteist than the North Indian Ramayana-Mahabharata based worship, right? What happened for a lot of castes-- they were still doing menial-- not menial - they were still doing lower level things in society. There were a lot of boat men castes - which were lower caste, right? Dalits - but these were like-- A lot of Bengal Dalit castes were not doing manual scavenging, or cleaning toilets pretty early on. Like, two or three generations-- two or three centuries, which is not two or three generations, sorry. Which is how my family did have a plot of land, and they were not... Sure there was social discrimination, but people wouldn't-- You know, it wouldn't be the same thing as happens in Maharashtra where, you know, you get murdered for your plot of land or something. That wouldn't be happening. People would probably not marry in us. Even when I was growing up in Calcutta I faced a lot of things that I didn't even fully register as casteism growing up, because they were not really being framed as casteism. So, they were just being framed as ‘you don't come from a very good family’, while they had not even met my family. And I was actually a good student at college, I was-- sorry, not in college, at school. Like, I was the topper at school. And then, you know, I have a friend-- like, I have a fight with a friend, and that friend suddenly says, “You come from an uncivilized family.” Who says that to the topper of the class? I get, like-- I'm way more educated than you. You've never met my family. Why would you think that slur is the one to throw at me? Maybe that exact slur is not happening to another kid. But sure, kids say terrible things to each other all the time, but there were some very specific terrible things that I got and nobody else did.

MM: (18:54)
So in Bengal there-- one of the-- and this is - I learned very recently that this is caste slur - one of the caste slurs is ‘chotolok’. And chotolok is the opposite of ‘bhadralok’, which is the word for the Bengali intellectual that people had... in India, at least, recognized. Like, it's the stereotype Bengali intellectual - the bhadralok. So I caught a lot of people calling me things like, “You guys are chotolok,” or whatever. “You're a chotolok family child.” Like, “You're uncivilized because you're a chotolok.” Another thing is that etymologically bhadralok means educated person. So it means educated - it means civil person. So, I thought that the opposite of bhadralok - chotolok kinda means working class, you know, not very civilized. Like, I thought it was an economic slur, or it was a cultural slur, not a caste slur. So, I mean, still not a great thing to hear, but you know, then I realized. And the thing is that sometimes the caste slurs are also flung against people who are not lower caste just as a slur, right? Like, sometimes you would just say like don’t-- not you. You know, people would say, “Don't act like a bhangi,” or something to another person who's upper caste too. But it's still a casteist slur. So I heard chotolok being hurled at several misbehaving children - maybe at different points once in a while - but I always got it way more, even when I was not misbehaving. However, as a child, I didn't really figure that this is a thing I'm getting more than others because it has a specific meaning. But that is clearly... and it's not-- I mean, this is so not very well documented that it's not even there in a lot of casteist slur directories. You know, where people make lists of what casteist slurs are - the Bengali chotolok is not on that list. But if you read this Bengali author called Manoranjan Byapari - who has just been getting translated. He's been writing in Bengali novels - memoirs - for a while, over a decade at least. He's an older gentleman, but he-- I think his translations are coming out only now. And he got a bunch of awards last year - I think last year’s cycle in India - so suddenly people are noticing this Bengali, Dalit novelist - memoirist. And I saw a confirmation of that in his writing as well, I think. So, like the thing you said, that for the lack of documents you don't even know what your community's history is. So, I mean, reading this gentleman brought me to a lot of things that my parents had not explicitly talked to me about. Yeah.

MM: (21:56)
Oh, there was another slur which I got was, “You look like a domestic help.” So I was this little... So, I was very dark skinned. I mean, I'm almost slightly less dark skinned now, at least in this light. And so I was this dark skinned, skinny child, and clearly there-- The number of dark skinned people is slightly more in lower caste communities, but it's not exclusive. And I went to school with these kids where I may have been the most dark skinned, but I don't remember. It was clearly not that evident, and there were maybe fewer, but there were kids on my color. But-- And I'm not very feminine. You don't see this in this video, but I am-- I was a tremendously masc child. And... it was truly shocking to me, and confusing. I mean, as a child, you don't even get offended that much, because offense takes a framework, right? You just get confused to why you get called that. That's why the whole ‘you look like our domestic help’ thing I was like how? I have seen other people's domestic helps - that is not what I look like remotely. Why do I look like your domestic help? So, yeah.

DA: (23:19)
So did your family talk to you about caste and being Dalit? Or did you just figure it out by yourself?

MM: (23:29)
Long answer. So... my parents, especially my mother - and I don't know where it came from, it did not come from her brain - like my mother has mostly-- whatever my mother has passed on to me is largely community wisdom rather than her own-- like she's very, very conventional. So.... so a bunch of things that she said to me I have not found in any documentation, or why-- where it came from. One of the things she used to say is that, “We are not refugees.” And eventually I was like, “Everybody who was displaced is a refugee.” But the difference she used to make is that ‘my family are not refugees because we didn't take government aid’. Like, we came from a different part, but we didn't take government aid to be resettled, and only the people who got government aid are refugees. And I-- later, as an adult, I looked up all kinds of documentation, and I'm like, “Who told you this thing?” This distinction I have not found in anything. Like, where did you get that one? And clearly, she got that one from somebody. It's not her thought process. But I couldn't trace back who she got it from, and what their cultural context was. It may have just been like, you know, even within small differences people... people make that distinction because that changes your social circumstances. So maybe, because those people were getting government aid, they were refugees on paper, and it's probably a status which some people don't have, which is pretty much the same as us having different visa statuses when you come to this country. You really identify with your visa status, even if you're from a different-- from the same country, because you're... the permissions you get in the world are different. Like I am on an O1B Visa, which is not the H1B Visa, and it makes a difference. An H1B Visa person can't change their job. So eventually you end up identifying with what your little piece of paper said to you as opposed to the next person.

MM: (25:39)
So, about caste, my mother... Okay, nobody actually used the word Dalit. Dalit is not an organic word, as you know, and it's very distant from especially the Bengali language. So, I don't know what word at some point I picked up from school or something - like one of those slurry ways, like untouchable or whatever-- the Bengali version of untouchable - and I came back home, and I told my mom that this person has called [inaudible] that, and my mother maintained... This is what she said, “We’re [inaudible] caste. We are not untouchable.” And once again, that is not a distinction that officially exists. But what she said and what she explained to me - and I think I said that again to her maybe in my early 20s? I met S. Anand, who runs this publishing house called Navayana, and we-- he was very kind. I was at that time a college student, I was about to graduate - I was in my master's degree - I was about to graduate, and I think I just wanted-- had one of those informational interview kind of meetings with him about joining publishing. And he talked to me about a bunch of things where he said that, “Since you’re a Dalit editor-- You're an editor-- You're aspiring to editorial, you should consider joining my house.” That's one of the things he said. And I was like, “I don't know if I'm Dalit. I'm not sure if I'm Dalit. That is not a term.” He's like, “Yes, clearly you are.” And I almost felt resistant at that meeting where I'm just sitting across the table from this person, and I'm like ‘you're just assigning an identity to me?’ I didn't say that. I'm just like ‘you, an outsider, are telling me what I am’. That is not cool. Right? And he's a great guy, and it turns out he was correct. But then I came back home - and again, mother - and I'm like, “ I met this Dalit publisher, who clearly knows a thing or two about this community, who said I am Dalit.” And my mom's like, “Nope, we're just...caste.” So um...

DA: (27:56)
I've heard this - honestly, I don't mean to interpret - but I've heard this four times in the interviews. People refuse to be... you know, refuse to categorize themselves as Dalit - just SC.

MM: (28:06)
And a large part of my family actually still does that, which is kind of why I'm not bringing a lot of them into this interview, because a lot of them aren’t on board with this whole paradigm. They're just not on board with it. I've been in this country, I mean, it's just about to be five years this summer, and I only kind of identified - at least publicly - after I came here. Which is pretty late in my life. I was in the UK, I was in-- you know, I have three master's degrees by now, so by the time you're starting to acknowledge your ethnicity - by the time you're doing a third master's degree - is pretty late. It's pretty roundabout. So… yeah.

DA: (28:50)
So what made you start identifying as Dalit when you came to the US and why?

MM: (28:58)
I mean, I was slowly scuttling towards that I guess. Say that conversation with Mr. Anand - and I didn't end up at Navayana, but I ended up at Penguin India where Mr. Anand’s partner - who herself is Dalit - was one of the senior editors. Some of my feelings feel very much like Indian immigrants or other immigrants to America, who are raised among white people thing, because I was so raised among Savarna people, and I was not really... You know, parents weren't around growing up, and sure I was raised by a rural person, but she was not a lower caste person. So I actually-- I got a lot of the village culture from her, but I didn't particularly get the caste culture from her - the old lady who raised me. And so I was so surrounded by Savarna people I didn't have Dalit friends, I didn't really identify as Dalit, and then at some point - like I'm twenty two or something - and my father is like, “We will find you an accomplished man of our caste.” I was like, “Yeah.” And I was also-- like, I was artistic. I was a little radical. I was into a lot of Western music, and fandom, and I-- You know, an accomplished man of our cast - who was probably in the Civil Services - does not feel attractive. I was hanging out with people in bands. I was like, “Nope. Bye.” And I was gay. My mom knew this. My dad probably doesn't really know anything about me. And, I mean, I had always been dissatisfied with my parents - or my mother, at least - telling me that, “We’re scheduled caste.” Because ‘scheduled caste’ is an English term. It's not a thing. It's not a thing in our culture. And I had always been dissatisfied, and the more I read into these things - which is still not a lot compared to a Dalit scholar - I was like ‘clearly this is a thing that we are’, but it's also very hard to find resources.

MM: (31:03)
I was cautious of really getting in touch with Dalit academics or other people. Because look, I was also myself an academic in some manner, and I was like ‘if I commit to this thing, and find this community, and then I later realized that they're not my community and I don't want to be part of them, that will reflect tremendously badly on me’. So I didn't. And there was also this other thing - once again, insinuated not really spoken while I was growing up. My parents didn't-- partly didn't want me and my sister - sibling, both daughters - to be part of the Dalit community, because they thought there would be a lot of sexual harassment. Which is not unique to just the Dalit activism scene, is the only thing I can say. That clearly my parents, at that age, they put the fear of God in me that, “If you hang out with Dalit men they're sexually harassing.” And... it's probably not untrue. It's not untrue, but it's a case in a lot of social movements. So, yes, I didn't feel safe around... Like, say my father was in the city - which is better than a lot of other people from his village had done. So there would often be these people coming to our house from the village when I was growing up - like people coming to ask for favors or whatever - and a lot of them were men who would... who didn't put a very nice gaze on me. Even the daughter passing by to the living room or something. My parents basically-- my mother wouldn’t let us come into the living room while these people were visiting. And partly because villages also have very low age for marriage, and some of these people were literally assessing up that whether they can enter this man's family through marriage. And so, um... So yes. My parents clearly didn't put it in these terms, which make it sound more humane. They put it in terms that are fully biased. You know, ‘terrible people, don't go there’. But the warning and the heart of it was also possibly not untrue.So yeah, I mean, I didn't - if you really just don't want to be sexually harassed, like if that is your priority - I didn't really go into those communities, because I was scared.

MM: (33:55)
Especially because my parents also didn't support me going into them. So you know, if you go into an unsafe zone, and at least your family or your other people are supporting you in going in there, then they-- then you have some framework of taking care of yourself. But then I would be going into these communities where my parents have already told me not to go, and then somebody sexually harasses me. Clearly I would not even have anywhere to get support. So that is another thing I did in the US, because I was not really going into any community. It also helped me to look at Equality Labs, which is headed by largely non men people. And it helped me see that a lot of people doing Dalit conversation... Like when I was literally looking at-- and also the internet, right, because you can actually see the people before you have to interact with them. I am super internet savvy. I am one of the first people of my generation in India to have a super super internet life, but the other end wasn't there. I didn't see Dalit activists on the internet. I didn't actually meet them before I wanted to meet them in person, so the whole idea of like ‘you can't avoid the sexual harassers if you're going there’ influenced a lot of my life for a very long time, because I really didn't want to go in there and find out. What makes me sad is that given that even my family is from inside that community they still perpetrated the idea that there are sexual predators in our community... without juxtaposing it against the idea that they are there in other communities as well. If you don't juxtapose it, it becomes biased. Then it becomes ‘Dalit men’. And literally, my father - who is himself a Dalit man - was doing that.

MM: (35:54)
Look, I've had some-- well, a few terrible relationships which are - well, if you look at the whole Dalit paradigm they're not terrible enough, because at the lower end there are people getting raped and lynched in villages of India - but my relationships were terrible on an urban, educated scale. They were pretty terrible for caste reasons. And these are also conversations you'll find in other Dalit oral history - urban oral history narratives - where, like, your boyfriend dumps you - things like that - but you're strung along for a very long time, then they go get an arranged marriage. And they basically-- so the amount of emotional damage - amount of gaslighting - when they leave you after a very long time, and they tell you that you're a bad person, and it's actually because they just don't want to talk about the fact that they didn't marry you because of your caste, because they don't want to be that person. They self delude themselves that they're better than that, but in the process they're also gaslighting you into believing that you're a terrible person. I was in a horrible relationship - about two years, I’m still having to take therapy for it - through which that guy's mother, apparently right in the beginning, said that, “This woman’s like no. We-- I will never accept this person.” And the guy was very close to his mother, and... but he also really wanted to be with me, and he-- in the process-- now I look back, and I'm like, he really wanted to be with me, apparently really loved me, but he also tried to gaslight me like some experiment subject instead of confronting his mother-- whatever, having an unpleasant conversation. And throughout that relationship I absorbed so many negative ideas - especially because I thought they were coming from love, so they couldn't be manipulation - including that I'm a terrible person on several verticals. Some of these are contradictory to each other. So I am too boring - I'm too meek and boring - but also I am tremendously ill behaved and arrogant. So I am both arrogant and too meek, and both smart enough and over-- not smart enough, but also over educated, and so... different. At one point it was that I am sexually dysfunctional, which really messed me up, because I’d really, really-- Look, I've had sexuality struggles for a very long time in my life because I am queer. So for a long time I had-- I mean, those things also did not have a lot of resources when I was growing up. More than the Dalitness, but still. So, for a long time in my life I had to learn to pinpoint what I'm attracted to and what I am. And so I've had phases where I have not been sexually very active or aroused, and I've had phases where I thought I was dysfunctional. So basically, that really hit on an insecurity that I already had, and this person just fully convinced me that I was sexually dysfunctional. So... and therefore he was also like, “If you're-- since you're sexually dysfunctional, you'll never find anybody else. So clearly you stay here.” So these… these damages, right? And these damages… well, they're not always maybe only done to Dalit women. They're probably done to black women, they're probably done to other marginalized sexualities and other things, but it's… if it’s not a unique feature of Dalitness, it's still a feature, and it still exists for women like us. For Dalit women like us who largely people - like so many other casteist people - don't even want to extend the definition of Dalitness to women like us. Where they’re just like, “You're not getting any of these things.” Well, we are. We’re still getting these penumbral abuses, if not the core abuses.

DA: (40:17)
Can you - if you're comfortable - can you just-- I'm interested in the intersections of identity also, and you were talking about how there weren't enough resources to explore as a queer person and also a Dalit person. Can you talk to me a little bit about those intersections and moving along this world having both of those identities?

MM: (40:43)
So when I explored-- like when I actively went into exploring sexuality in Calcutta - let's say when I was 13/14, etcetera - Calcutta among Indian cities it has had resources for a long time. So, there have been lesbian organizations - one of the earliest organizations, queer organizations in India is a lesbian org in Calcutta. So at that time, say me being 14 is like... man, I was 13 in 2000 - at the turn of the century I was 13 - so like that early aughties as they say. Is that what they say? I don't know. God.

DA: (41:28)
Yeah, that’s fine.

MM: (41:30)
So, a lot of us were fortunate in Calcutta to already have queer elders, right? They were like people who were proper elders. On the other hand, you had to go and seek them out. You had to go into the community, go into that organization. They had resource centers and so on, and-- But... there was a queer culture, there were-- there were a comfortable queer culture if you looked it up. Like, it was not just the party culture, especially for the women, but it wasn't huge. And it was largely Savarna. I have not really been out in society as a Dalit queer person, and I recently met the first person - Dhrubo Jyoti, who is also-- who's Dalit and queer - who actively identifies as both those things. So they’re literally the first person that I met, and I mean for various other reasons - mostly psychological - I'm not a huge community person and I-- like community in any sense. I am pretty homebody and I have a long time-- it takes me a long time to form really close friendships. So I went into the queer community in Calcutta. There were a couple of friends. It was funny, but they were like a couple of very gay friends - very gay children growing up with me around the same time. They've all had different journeys, it's just that lots of people my generation didn't even know any other kids. There were at least two gay kids around me when I was growing up, and one of them was, say, a guy who was very fem - extremely fem, like since his childhood - and so I saw this kid growing up. I mean, otherwise, if I had not seen him growing up, I would have probably thought that was a very distant concept. And I'm using he/him because he still uses he/him - he’s not trans. He was a very, very fem child. He was extremely gender confused - didn't know whether to sit with the boys or the girls at school - and he had a really terrible childhood because people were mean to him. And he was my neighbor - he was in the same classroom, but he was also my neighbor. He was a really, really sweet kid. So I knew all these gay kids, and I go into the gay community in the early 2000s, and... I didn't always have a great time. There was a point where I stepped back from at least the Calcutta India, gay community - like the public community - because… God...

MM: (44:29)
I mean, I'm not a lesbian. I am pansexual and I... kind of non binary, and these were not even really-- there was a lot of like-- I mean, pansexual was not even a term. There was a lot of bi erasure and hostility towards bi people in that community. And these are all things that are natural in queer history - if you look at the stages of queer communities developing you see that when there are very few resources people don't - and when it's conservative - people don't like bi people, because often by people don't stay in the community, they break their hearts. Like, these are stories I heard: bi people always leave their partners - queer partners. [pause] Which was which was happening. Sometimes you could see that a bias comes from a thing that... like it's a... it's an ignorant way of framing something, but it's also framing something that does exist. So there were a lot of bi people not being fully committed to their queerness, not being fully committed to their queer partners, but I had a hard time. There was also a lot of pressure to have sexual relationships with people who had been in that community longer, and... which affected me also, because I am not actually fem. I am not fem, and that is a thing I can now say while still looking like this, but I had a very hard time really even articulating that even to myself. So I was constantly being cornered and pursued and worse with the assumption that I was fem, which almost felt like rape, etcetera. It didn't feel good. It didn't feel good, it didn't feel safe, and even when it wasn't directly sexual harassment it became like-- Since I wasn't really sleeping with anybody in the community - anybody with power - I was also losing out in other arguments. Arguments that were not strictly framed in sexual terms. So, I was just basically invalidated because I was told, “You're not a real queer because you haven't proved your queerness.” At one point I just decided that look, I'm not like-- there are good people in the community. There are also people in the community who are... powerful who I am not being able to navigate or sidestep. I don't know what stepping out of the community means, because clearly I wasn't-- am always been openly queer. I just stepped out of the social scene, and events, and conferences-- gatherings. So, yeah.

DA: (47:57)
Do you find yourself doing the same thing in the US?

MM: (48:02)
In the US? I mean, the difference between here and there back at that time was that there were-- wasn't really any queer social space which was just a social space, right? Like we-- back then it was all an official definition of community, like the only events or whatever, right? There were people who would come to a conference who were not even an academic, because it's a queer event. So people would go do all these things, but it was just pretty much the same community everywhere, and all the events were the same thing. But there was not, say, a gay bar. In the US it's different - and in India it will become different now that 377 has been lifted. In the US, you don't have to be part of an organization to be gay. Like, it's just a lifestyle. And there are places that-- now if you're asking for things like calls for submissions - anything that uplifts the community - do you take that? I would, but I wouldn't prioritize it. I have not… if there's a-- if there's an opportunity that helps somebody who needs it a lot more than I do - while I can get that done by myself - then I would step back, but I would do that for Dalit things as well.

DA: (49:37)
I see.

MM: (49:38)
But I'm not averse to taking it. I wouldn't be ashamed to take it. I wouldn't be... unwilling to wear that flag when it's asked for me, and when it maybe helps other people. But-- and I’m clearly openly queer, if anybody needs representation. But I-- you know, if an anthology has 10 spots, and you have more than 10 people, then I'm okay with not being there.

DA: (50:05)
Are there specific communities in the US that you feel a particular solidarity with?

MM: (50:14)
So I will start with the caveat that I don't get out of my house a lot - that’s what I do. And this is not a ethnic community clearly, but then I-- my largest community in this country, and the most active, is the science fiction publishing group. And I would like more Dalit people in science fiction and fantasy, especially because this is a medium - especially with like things like afrofuturism - there is the opportunity for a lot of radical imagination. Not just close, not just immediate, but also what are our really large goals? What are we striving towards in the long run? Things like that. And not just futurism - not just futurism. I write mostly historical stories, but I write stories where Dalit characters have power, and dignity, and happiness. And those are some of the-- you’re powerfully imposing your happiness on a narrative on a history that has not allowed you happiness. But then, on the other hand, there aren't - that I have met - other Dalit authors in science fiction/fantasy, but science fiction/fantasy has been my way of meeting a lot of alternative narratives that I wouldn't have met, I think, in literary fiction. Especially because Indian Savarna culture has a big footprint in literary fiction. It's almost decided. If you read a certain kind of literature - if you're an active reader - then you always have a large to-be-read pile that never gets over. Right? And so which kind of means... which kind of means that what you're going to read is very strongly predicted already. And very few of us who have a large to-be-read pile actually add or take suggestions from a person completely outside that. Which kind of means that the mandatory reading list of literary South Asian literary fiction is filled with Savarna books. And you don't go beyond that, because you're maybe reading 50 books a year, and there are already 50 books a year of that. And when I moved into science fiction and fantasy I ended up reading... well, afrofuturism of course. I ended up reading Indigenous authors, I ended up reading Caribbean authors - Caribbean Indian - so all these different kinds of backgrounds. Sri Lankan authors, Pakistani authors. Because there were, like, 10 Indian authors, right? So I've already finished reading the Indian authors, now I started reading all these other people, and they-- that changed my worldview towards a lot of things.

MM: (53:14)
In-person communities no. I mean, I'm trying to so far connect to the American Dalit community, which is-- Equality Labs was my first contact. That's the first thing I saw. And it takes me a long time to get to meet people, because I don't actively make an effort, but it's happening. I don't really go into what I call ‘unfiltered Indian communities’. So I don't really go into Indian festivals and things like that. I know some Indian American progressive activist-y people. Some of them are Savarna, but they're all usually anti-caste. So that is a community who are largely young people who are my age - in their 20s, in their 30s. Largely their parents are not that, and they have stood up against their parents to be what they are. I'm very interested in - and I probably-- well, now we have Coronavirus and nobody goes out of their home even more. I'm interested in integrating more with the Bangladeshi community in both New York and outside. And maybe explore that Bangladeshi side of my family, which... Well not even the family per se, because the family - they were persecuted refugees, so they don't always have a lot of emotional connection with Bangladesh. They try to forget about it. But I'm largely finding that Bangladeshi solidarity... well, it doesn't-- it's not actively a counter to Hindutva. That's not what they're actually prioritized working towards. But if you have a different community to be part of, as opposed to the Hindutva Indian community, then why not?

MM: (55:22)
I think if I have an opportunity - and I don't know if I do, because I haven't explored it - would be interested in finding out more about Native American communities. Because one of the things I do, because I speak about Dalitness - or at least I am often a gateway person about Dalitness to a lot of, say, science fiction people who have never heard about it, so I'm not going very deep. My presentation needs to be the elevator pitch. Like, “What are these? What are the equivalent of these people?” And sometimes I've tried to-- I’ve scramble to find these weird, very flattened out equivalences to just do the elevator pitch to white people. But it helps. The thing is, I feel like we as a community not everybody has to do the same work. There are people who are writing academic papers, and my function is not that. And like you said earlier - much earlier - that as a Dalit person you want to find your own place. You're doing your own thing and your Dalit identity, and that should be able to coexist. Which is what a lot of other marginalized communities are doing. Not all black persons are doing the same thing. And given that I'm a fiction writer - given that I write-- I publish in an industry which largely doesn't haveother Dalits, doesn’t really know who it is - it is my function a lot of times to explain what this is at all and how it makes a difference. I've started reading and thinking a lot more about how Native American people integrate among white people. And some of them can't, some of them can. There’s a whole range of colors, there's a whole range of socialization, right? On the other hand, I don't yet have many close resources of that. So, I will not by far call myself an expert. So I've started reading on it.

DA: (57:31)
I'm really curious about your journey to becoming an author. So talk to me a little bit about when did your love of writing start, and how did you know that you wanted to write books, and how did-- just how did that whole process happen for you?

MM: (57:49)
I'm one of those unbelievable people - usually it sounds like one of those terrible things that you say at job interviews: “I wanted to be an accountant all my life!” But I actually had been writing since I was like five years old or something - I was rewriting the fairy tales that I read. So... I have a lot of publications. A lot of them are not super significant, because I did have to work my way through. I've had poetry publications since I was 15, and they were in the main newspaper - The Telegraph and so on - where they had this little literary supplement where mostly school and college kids wrote, but they did have that thing. In the beginning, I used to write with a pseudonym that hid my last name, because somehow my mother at some point had told me that nobody publishes people of our name. I did a bunch of journalism - like, I have 300 to 350 minor bylines. Very minor. Because, in Calcutta, there used to be this newspaper - which was a real newspaper, you could buy it from a newsagent - which was entirely school and school level news by school students, but it was part of The Telegraph umbrella. The ABP, which is the biggest news House of East India - so it was an ABP paper. It was called The Telegraph in Schools, but it was not a school newspaper. It came out of news vendors, and there were like these-- lots of school kids could join. It was like a free internship. So I did a bunch of journalism for them. And for them, you could also start doing interviews of celebrities and other play people if you had those skills. So I did a bunch that. I did the main telegraph - once again, culture section. Culture section is the softest kind of journalism, I know, but I did do that. A lot of it. I wrote a column in a newspaper for a long time. So, I ran two magazines when I was at college - like little literary magazines. One of them was on WordPress, which is still there. So, I've done these bunch of little things, and some of them are-- Mimi is actually my nickname. My legal name is Monideepa. It's not a dead name, but I just don't write with it. In India, I have a lot of publications with that name, then I have a lot of publications with my pseudonym. They're all small. But yeah, so I am not somebody who just sprung upon the scene. It's a little... because I came to this country the rest of it kind of got erased from the American gaze, but I do have a huge build up.

DA: (1:00:44)
Wow. That's fantastic. Um, so did you come here to start writing? Are you an editor? You're an editor, right?

MM: (1:00:53)
I am. Yeah. Yeah, no. Yeah.

DA: (1:00:55)
So you come here specifically for the editing position, or…?

MM: (1:01:00)
I came here to do an MFA, which is my third master's degree, and which technically does not make a lot of sense. I did that because I hit a point in my life - and because I'm an editor, and I actually have more recognition as an editor, except that editor is a behind the scenes job. But you know, when I got last-- two years ago I got the Hugo nomination - that was technically for being an editor. I edited that book. I didn't write it. I came here because... Okay, second master's degree I did from the UK, and I came back to India because I didn't get a job, and I was also in that terrible relationship and I wanted to put some distance between him and me. And then I'm just sitting at home in India, and I'm like, “I don't know what to do.” I may go back to Delhi and get a job again, but pretty much in the same position that I left to do this master's degree, and that doesn’t make sense. And I'm sitting at home and I started writing some stories - as I have always done in the background - and I feel like I had this... once again, one of those unbelievable narrative point kind of thing - epiphanies - that these stories are good. Till then I was publishing here and there in whatever - little anthology - and those stories felt self indulgent. Like, those stories were not great. They were not things that anybody would buy in a book. And suddenly... sure, it may not be entirely prescient but then I - and people probably think either better or worse of their own writing - where I looked at these stories, and I'm like, “These are stories I am completely happy to have written.” I feel like I'm hitting a point where I am actually coming together as a fiction writer who can be read by not only my own friends. And because I've always wanted to be that, but I've never actually had that epiphany, I was like, “I will take some time out.” Since I'm doing so well in my life anyway - I'm sitting at home in a terrible relationship, don't have a job - let me take that leap and see what happens. You know, not very far from the leap anyway. So I applied to MFAs, and I applied to this workshop called Clarion West, which is a great premiere science fiction writing workshop - happens in Seattle every summer, two months. So I made it to Clarion West and my MFA, so that's how I ended up... Yeah, so I came in the summer of 2015, did the... Seattle was my first-- like, my entry point to the US. Did a workshop for two months, then I did my MFA. So yeah.

DA: (1:04:05)
Okay. And then, after Seattle - you do two months in Seattle - did your MFA where?

MM: (1:04:11)
Um, I was at Rutgers Camden, which is next door to Philadelphia. So technically I was in Philadelphia. That is my base city.

DA: (1:04:20)
And then from Philly, you moved up to New York City?

MM: (1:04:23)
Mm hmm.

DA: (1:04:24)
Okay. What are the-- what are some of the-- you touch on this a little bit, but you talk about your stories. They are this undeniable happiness and dignity with Dalit characters. I just wanted to talk about the importance of that a little bit, and just take me through the process of realizing that you had to write characters in that way.

DA: (1:04:51)
So a lot of this I learned to articulate a lot. You know, sometimes you have amorphous thoughts, and at some point you start articulating them. So the articulation I learned actually from the science fiction community. So, there's a lot of conversation about joy, about of the marginalized. There's at some point editors or other community members would say, “We will no longer read gay deaths.” Like, gay people always dying, gay people always having a terrible, and like that is not a good representational thing. And representation... I-- as I've learned is a huge conversation, especially in science fiction fantasy. It doesn't extend that much into literary fiction - not in the same extent - because we really are working at-- For a genre that works with archetypes, representation is very significant as a theoretical point. And I-- the stories that I currently have out - the stories that most people know me for - are stories that I had started writing at that epiphenomenal in 2014, so it was already stories that I had... It's a world that has many stories, and so there were pre-epiphany stories and post-epiphany stories in that world. I don't have a book of them yet. And when I started writing those stories, I was still not really thinking from a Dalit sensibility. I was mostly thinking from a noir, and like many other genre points - you know, creepy noir goth, slightly glamorous characters, and a circus. So I wanted to use that kinda, you know, joyful, exuberant, grotesque of the circus. And the characters were not originally Dalit, because I was not coming from a Dalit perspective, and at some point I did a rendition of them, because-- well, the characters were me, right? Large parts tthey were coming from my-- different parts of my brain. And so when I had a Dalit awakening, and I framed it - like framed my experiences and desires - within that I could also see why, when I write a background for those characters, they are Dalit. Or they’re different kinds of marginalized people. There's a reason why their worldview is already what-- even before I started writing them as Dalit people their worldview is a certain way, which is congruent to mine, therefore it is them. But these are also very dynamic stories. They're not Dalit oppression stories. They're really people-- like, the people who work at the circus, they’re people who travel. So there's a lot of activity going on in that world and their life, which is not just them sitting and moping about their worldly condition.

MM: (1:07:58)
So I came to it through that. I came to it through revising my own work, which I'm still doing. I'm probably going to pitch an awful at some point, and I am somewhat committed to write something that makes sense from a Dalit perspective, but I realized that the more I think of it - if I really think of it in a theoretical way... Because, you know, theory builds upon all the theory. So the moment you start thinking of something in a theoretical way you're building upon other things that already exist, and the tools that exist for that kind of consciousness in Savarna Indian fiction - literary fiction - is very navel gaze-y. One of the reasons I don't write literary fiction that much is not even that strongly political, it's just it doesn't move. It's tremendous navel gazing. And especially for a person from a community which doesn't have a lot of history, I mean, navel gazing gets so painful. If you look at a lot of Dalit fiction that already exists - like Dalit realism, or Dalit [inaudible], or even other people writing about Dalits - so much of it is such a huge downer to read. It's psychologically very traumatizing. It's very valuable work, but where's the work that relieves your trauma?

DA: (1:09:39)
I'm a student of Toni Morrison, and she talks a lot about having her people - imagining them and having them imagine themselves in a new world. What does it look like to take yourself out of that trauma, and take yourself out of these narratives that you've been taught, and place yourself in joy, or place yourself in these deep, complex characteristics that are not afforded her community.

MM: (1:10:06)
I have this Twitter thread, which-- I mean, I felt very articulate when I wrote it. I'm now trying to remember it - it’s from a year ago or so. I wrote about how writing torment in fiction - or nonfiction, whatever - in writing brutal realities, the idea that reading about brutal realities opens your eyes, makes you a better person is itself an idea that comes from a position of privilege. You're a person who has not seen suffering, therefore, ‘look here! suffering’, right? But for the people who have seen suffering - and this is one of the reasons why a lot of poor people, uneducated people, they just go to the movies to entertain themselves. They don't give a shit about the politics. Because for a person whose life is suffering, entertainment doesn't have to play that role. You know, you read that triggering thing-- It's a triggering thing. Because it's a thing that has happened in your life. It's the thing that brings flashbacks. Not-- it's not having the same eye opening effect as it is on a person who doesn't have that background - who knows nothing about it. So the fact that torment literature is the best literature is itself a very privileged perspective.

DA: (1:11:37)
Yeah. I think this leads really well into my next question, which is a little bit more about self love. I know that a lot of people that I've talked to-- Dalit people that I've talked to for this project, I always asked this question. And I asked a question of: What were you taught about yourself by your family, and were you taught to love our Dalitness? Were you taught to love that part of you? And if not, is that something that you're interested in discovering? Are discovering? Just what does self love look like for you as a Dalit person as a form of, yes, resistance, but also apart from anything political or anything that has to do with society. What does that look for you as a person?

MM: (1:12:36)
Honestly, that's a thing I'm still exploring, still discovering, and I'm not doing so well. I am quite behind on that. I'm open to saying that because... Look, my family, like I mentioned, they didn't really frame our narrative within Dalitness at all. But on the other hand, they imbibed a lot of the pressure. So there was... and this is one of-- like I just mentioned earlier, that I can't even connect to my dad's side of the family, right? So there was massive tough love. There was pretty much nothing else. And so... My parents even said like-- they did this thing - which is clearly not very good parenting for people of any background whatsoever - is that they thought that telling their kids - maybe they didn't even think of it so actively - telling their kids that the worst thing that they could possibly hear would fortify them, which is tough love, right? So, I was told as a kid that I was tremendously ugly, and I was told that at home, where, you know-- “You're dark.” “You're not pretty.” In a very matter-of-fact tone. Not even in an abusive. Like, you know, “You need to understand that you're not a pretty person, so you need to work hard in life.” Right? “You're not a very pretty girl.” I mean, yay, misogyny! Patriarchy! But also you're just basically being told that you're a fail under patriarchy. Which is-- My younger sibling got the opposite of that, which also doesn't help. Where they-- she was told that, “Well, you're pretty good, so you don't have to try very hard.” So I-- and when it's told to you matter of factly, it seeps in in a different way than when it's yelled at you. When it's yelled at you sometimes you can think that these are words said in anger, right? I was just told, “Well, you don't-- you can't rely very much on your appearance. Clearly there isn't much there.” And also, just like you'd need to perform really well in your studies to be-- There was, you know... validation was constantly attached to academic performance. Like that whole-- My father actually did this other complete whole stereotypical thing of when the one time I got 98 in math - which I did, I did get 98 in math - and he said “You couldn't get two marks?” And for so long I've just attached... You know, this is one of the narratives that come out of complex PTSD - that you internalize that voice even when that voice is not speaking to you anymore. So I-- If I'm successful - like if I look at my successes sometimes, like these 250 bylines in very insignificant ways - I feel like it's almost my trauma response to life. I have done a lot of work, because work is all I do. I keep thinking that is my only worth in life. So yeah, it's not-- it's not a very healthy place.

DA: (1:15:56)
I understand. So I wanted to ask you about-- Has caste shown up in any way for you, in the US specifically? We talked a lot about India, but in the US has casteism or has caste in general shown up for you.

MM: (1:16:15)
A lot of it has not shown up in person, because I actually don't go into Indian communities anymore. On the other hand, I have faced resistance - and this is something that I don't phrase very well yet, because I haven't really started talking about it. Because science fiction/fantasy has so few Indians it basically means, like I said earlier, that there's a huge possibility of building Dalit rhetoric before it gets drowned by the Savarnas. There's also a lot of-- well, not a lot, but a few Indian writers, and among them there's a proliferation of extremely uncritical savarna narratives. So there are-- especially because, you know, science fiction/fantasy, people are interested in Ramayana/Mahabharata kind of stories, and there are all these Savarna people - who are sometimes American, who really just got their mitts from their parents - and they don't have the tools to be critical, and sometimes they're not aware that they have to be critical. Not even necessarily bad people. But sometimes, because I'm the only Dalit person around banging this one solo drum... I've been persecuted by people sometimes. And this is where it gets heartbreaking, because some of them are people of color. Sometimes... sometimes they're enabled by Savarna people who just come in and say, “This person is seeking attention” and “This person's narrative is bullshit.”

MM: (1:17:59)
And a few days ago - or maybe a week ago or something, I-- Or maybe two weeks ago. Whatever, time has stopped making sense. Somebody wrote me a long email - an academic, South Asian academic - wrote me a long email about a story of mine that they really enjoyed, which is-- which was a very angry Dalit story. It's the only angry Dalit story I've written in science fiction/fantasy. And the story’s from three years ago, because, at first, the editor liked that story, then everybody backed off. Lots of people just removed support from that story. So the story did come out, but at the same time I got sabotaged by some people in the writing community. And they framed that narrative, along with many different other things, as me being an attention seeker, a bad person, a jerk, an aggressor. Because I was writing a kind of angry narrative, and I was maybe, at that point, in that mind space where I was going into all these rounds. And, I mean, a lot of savarna people get super super defensive about caste. Even if you're not talking about them themselves - like, them as an individual. And I hit a point where I realized that I was very quickly losing friends if I write these confrontational Dalit stories. Even if they're just stories. I'm not, you know, coming out with a batton against beating up people, right? But I was going to not get support in even the people of color community in science fiction if I write aggressive Dalit stories. And I-- That story was supposed to be part of a longer narrative. And it was not going to be super aggressive - it was anger. I mean, you've read black literature with anger, where it's just seething, even if the characters aren't beating up people, right? And I just had to completely change the direction, because I felt like I-- and maybe this is an exaggeration, but I just felt like, “I'm very new in this country. My career hasn't yet taken off.” And sometimes when you're a very famous artist, you can take massive risks, because people will still read you. I just felt like if I keep writing in this line, then I will not find publishers. I will lose friends-- I did lose friends, and for accusations that I consider are false. And, I mean, while a lot of those people would probably call it not a caste-based experience - especially those who weren't South Asian, and they would probably say that, “I didn't even know what caste is. This is not a paradigm I was thinking of - this person is just a bad person.” But it also depends on whose framing you're accepting, on framing somebody massively marginalized as a bad person. So [long pause] that happened.

DA: (1:21:23)
And the story was published, right?

MM: (1:21:26)
It did get published, but that was because it was already contracted.

DA: (1:21:31)
I see. Yeah.

MM: (1:21:33)
So there needed to be, I suppose, a much bigger disagreement - or proof of me being a terrible person - to even break the entire contract, because science fiction, as a community, tends to be pretty vigilant on those things. So yes, I mean, it did get published. I wasn't so badly persecuted that it wouldn't, and I didn't have bad behavior. So it was possibly hard to really-- The thing is I had anger, because I felt like I was getting harshly judged. I replied with anger. So there was some social media anger happening. But it didn't really cross over to name calling. I don't particularly call names. And I didn't particularly like-- There wasn't enough, I guess, to just completely cast me out and never publish me again, but there was enough that I lost friends and allies over it. And--

DA: (1:22:30)
And this was-- Sorry, go ahead.

MM: (1:22:33)
Oh, yeah. What's your question?

DA: (1:22:34)
And this was writing-- this, all of this, was because you wanted to write a story about--

MM: (1:22:41)
No no, not directly over the story itself, but the story was partly collateral. Because I was bringing a conversation like that was when - this was back in 2017 or something, and I told you that I only started identifying as a Dalit in 2015. So that's when I was beginning to write, beginning to speak, beginning to, you know. When you start talking to people for the first time, sometimes you don't know how much they want to take. I obviously came into it through the American social justice, and I was like, “You know, I can talk about it just like black people can talk about their oppression. That should be that accepted, at least in the same communities that accept black conversation.” And I was wrong. So if a single black person comes up in a liberal community says, “These are the discriminations I faced,” there is a whole body of evidence, and other black people speaking, to back up that person. What happened with me is that I tried to speak pretty much in the same way, and a couple of Savarnas and other people in the community turned it against me. They were just like, “This person's ringing this completely false rhetoric to leverage themselves and also be excused for the fact that they're just a bitter, aggressive, competitive, etcetera.” That was not what I was doing.

Collection: Dhanya Addanki Fellowship Project
Item History: 2020-06-12 (created); 2020-12-02 (modified)

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