A Conversation with Children’s Book Author Jyoti Rajan Gopal

A Conversation with Children’s Book Author Jyoti Rajan Gopal

November 19, 2022 | Author: Jyoti Rajan Gopal

Jyoti Rajan Gopal, a children’s book author, recently published a book titled My Paati’s Saris. In the interview below, she told us about her inspirations for the book, and for her writing in general.

1.Tell us a little bit about your background and how you started writing. 

Growing up in many different countries, attending international schools, I straddled multiple
cultures in my daily life. My South Indian home, my very American school, and the culture of
my home country. It was a gift and a challenge. Moving to America and discovering the many
ways I belonged and yet also did not, reinforced that sense I had of belonging everywhere and
nowhere at the same time.

I had no aspirations to be a children’s author, either growing up or into adulthood. But my
experiences as a global citizen, a Kindergarten teacher and finally a mother – all of those things
eventually led me to writing.

As a teacher and a mom, I searched long and hard to find stories that represented my students or
my daughters, and I often found myself searching in vain. It never occurred to me that I could
write those stories.

It took a broken leg which prevented me from teaching for six weeks, and a seed planted by my
husband that started me on my first non-fiction manuscript about a historical figure. The
manuscript sat on my computer for years until four years ago when I decided to be brave and
send it to an author offering professional critiques. She was very encouraging, so I plowed
forward, learning about the industry and working on my writing craft!

I still had no notion of writing fiction. That happened quite unexpectedly with my first book,
which started out as a poem I wrote for grown-up me. It was a terrible poem, but it was the
beginning of what grew into my debut American Desi, a story in rhyming verse. Once the
floodgates of fiction had opened, I began to write stories that I didn’t even know I had in me.
Now, I work on multiple writing projects at once, hopping between nonfiction and fiction as the
mood strikes me.

2. What was your journey to this book? 

I wanted to write a book about saris because it’s such an important part of my desi identity and I
love saris so much. But I had no idea what that book was going to be until the day I brought saris
into my classroom to share with my Kindergarten students. I noticed one little boy draping the
sari over himself and smiling and twirling and that was the spark for the book. That moment took me back to days of playing dress up with my brother, of the love I had for my paati, who was such a giving, kind person, and that feeling of joy that wearing saris still gives me!

3. What made you think of a ‘Sari’ as the object used to talk about culture, love, identity,
community, etc?

I have such a deep love and connection to saris. Every sari I own holds memories, moments
captured within its folds. I love the colors, the textures, the designs, the variety, the stories of
where they come from. I remember so well the first time my mother taught me how to wear one,
and how grown up and special it felt.

When I wear a sari, the way it wraps around me and flows, I feel transported in magical ways
and yet also deeply grounded in who I am as a desi. Saris connect me to my mom, my
grandmom, to my culture and to my family’s history.

The sari is one long piece of fabric and yet, there are so many ways you can make it your own,
from the way you choose to drape it, to the blouse choices, to how you accessorize. It can be a
casual, informal piece of clothing or a lush, formal expression of art. For me, this versatility
represents the essence of what I hope readers take away from this story – to embrace the
possibilities. Just as we are more than one identity, the sari too can be many things, it can be
what you need it to be in the moment and it too, is full of beautiful possibilities.

4. Can you tell us more about the open-ended nature of the key moment of the book? Was it a
conscious choice?

I wanted very much to make this a story about joy and acceptance, about the freedom of being
true to who you are. In our South Asian culture, it feels as if we more readily accept gender play
and gender fluidity when children are young. I wanted to celebrate that in this story and remind
readers of the power of love and community in nourishing and caring for our young people, no
matter their age, and no matter how they identify. I also wanted to honor the role of the
matriarch and the arc of family that threads through our experiences. Art Twink’s illustrations
do that so gloriously, elevating the text and filling the pages with love and tenderness!

 


Growing up, Jyoti lived in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, China and India. She finally settled in
New York where she raised two daughters with her husband (who also grew up all over the
world). As a child, she adored and devoured books but did not enjoy writing. At all.
As a grown up, she is a forever kindergarten teacher and mom. She still adores and devours
books. But now, she likes to write! Find more of her work here.