By Jeanne Fredriksen
Q. In BOMBAY TIME, you introduced us to an entire
Parsi community of friends, each of whom was as important as the
next. In THE SPACE BETWEEN US, you've
concentrated on two women and the people immediately
affected by and cared for by them. How different
was it to have gone from one focus to the other
in terms of writing and character development?
I suppose each book takes shape based on what the
writer is trying to get across. In Bombay Time, I was
interested in exploring the bonds of community across
time. My focus was this broad canvas where each
member of this community is a single strand of thread
that makes up this canvas.
The focus of Space is different. It is a story more
about what divides people than brings them together.
It is not so much about connection and community-in
that community generally requires a parity or equality
between its members-as it is about isolation and
private space. In that respect, it made sense to
focus more minutely on the lives of these two women,
who like each other but who, in a fundamental sense,
are strangers to each other.
Q. While it was made clear that Bhima's touching Sera
or any of her family
was forbidden, I never felt that there was much
physical demonstration of affection within Sera's
family. Was that a conscious decision, or did the
characters as the developed demand that?
I think Feroz's shadow hovers strongly over the Dubash
family, even after his death. He is such a strange
man-so stunted and stilted in his emotional
responses-that he has somehow robbed his wife and
daughter of their spontaneous warmth, also. Dinaz is
playful with her husband Viraf but even here, their
relationship seems based more on physical teasing and
verbal banter than on quiet intimacy. I can't claim
that this was a conscious decision-I think the
characters just wrote themselves into being in this
Q. So much of Sera's and Bhima's lives parallel each
other, yet Bhima, the character who has very little,
is the stronger of the two. Is this a comment on the
class system and the people it produces?
Yes, I think so. Bhima's life has been unmerciful but
she has survived every major blow a human being can be
asked to suffer-the death of one child, the loss of
the other child and her husband. There is something
timeless, stoic and heroic about Bhima. It is one of
life's paradoxes, I think. Just as the poor are much
more generous with their meager possessions than
people who have a lot more, I think suffering produces
(at least in some people) a kind of compassionate
Q. There is a strong duality of emotions and
viewpoints running through the characters. Only
Dinaz seems to have a non-conflicting sense of
relationships and the world around her, rendering her
the peacemaker in a modern world. How strongly do
you see these conflicts as being a natural, driving
force in everyday life in general?
I think the fact that any two human beings on earth
can communicate with each other and be heard and
understood, is a miracle. The fact that this miracle
occurs daily, doesn't make it any less potent. I
mean, when you think of how complex human beings
are-how our brains are wired, how much of the past
lives within us, how much of our childhoods we carry
into adulthood, it's a miracle any of us can overcome
the prison of our own skins and display empathy and
understanding of another. So yes, I think conflict is
the natural course of human interactions but so is the
human capacity to transcend conflict.
But when you add something like class differences (or
gender or race differences) to an already complicated
situation, then you can see how the potential for
misunderstandings, miscommunication and
incomprehension-the sheer inability to enter another's
world-can grow exponentially.
Q. Do you feel that the more two people grow together
and depend upon each other (as with Sera and Bhima)
those conflicts of feelings come easier, faster, and
deeper? Or is class separation the major factor that
I think all human interactions have the potential for
misunderstandings and lack of awareness. But when you
add complications like class differences, the
situation can get even messier. It is not impossible
to suppose that Bhima and Sera may have been good
friends and would've realized that they had a lot in
common if they came from the same class background.
But the rigid class roles that each is forced to play,
compounded by Bhima's illiteracy and ignorance about
the world, make this impossible.
Q. The entire story illustrates not only the
separation of women by caste/class and religion but
the closeness those opposites share. It is evident
that Sera had been much more personally attached to
Bhima than others to their domestic help. Was that
the case in your own personal experience, this
employer/employee relationship that was in many ways
"sister-like" without all of the benefits?
This story is totally made-up in terms of the plot.
But Bhima's character is based on a woman who worked
in our middle-class home when I was a teenager in
India. I was extremely close to this woman, adored
her, really, felt like I could see her essential
goodness and decency. TO me, she was worth more than
most of the neighbors and other middle-class people
around me. She had a dignity and quiet pride that I
thought was admirable. I'd like to believe that she
loved me, also.
To know more about my relationship with her, you may
want to check out this website: Click Here
Q. Of the various generations represented in the book,
only Dinaz and Maya
express an honest need for liberation from the
class/caste separations. Dinaz is vocal in Bhima's
defense on a humanitarian level. Maya, on the other
hand, chastises Bhima for thinking first of Sera and
her family rather than of herself and her family.
Was it your intention to have this point up
selflessness vs selfishness or educated vs
non-educated, or is it merely two arguments for the
I think it's the latter-two arguments for the same
cause, looked at it from two view points. Dinaz's
viewpoint, for all her sincerity and well-meaningness,
is still ultimately an elitist position-it's a gesture
of benevolence and fairness. For Maya, though, this
issue is emotionally charged and not theoretical at
all. She speaks from the view point of someone who
has been cheated or robbed of something, of someone
whom this twisted class system has victimized.
Q. Viraf, the charming golden boy, makes a flip
comment about the eventual extinction of Parsis (p
174). There also are more than one reference to
Parsis deliberately "being targeted". This thread
appeared in BOMBAY TIME as well. Are these beliefs
and concerns that are commonly expressed within the
Parsi community, or are these just character traits?
No, I think this sense of persecution is real. And I
think it has to do with the ever-prevalent knowledge
that this is a miniscule ethnic minority that is about
to go extinct-that their numbers are fast thinning.
Of course, at the same time there is a general feeling
that India has been good to Parsis, that they have not
been oppressed or persecuted as so many minorities are
in so many places. In fact, quite the opposite. But
there is this sense that their time has come and gone.
Q. What is the one thing that you would like your
readers to come away with
after reading this book? Is there anything that you
would like to comment
on regarding THE SPACE BETWEEN US? Anything that you
would like to point
out or express?
I would like my American readers to not read this
novel as something that depicts an exotic class
structure or a tradition that they simply cannot
relate to. I realize that the concept of having
domestic servants etc. is an alien one to most
middle-class Americans. But this is really a story
about the rich and the poor and the imbalance between
them. And that's a theme that I think any perceptive,
socially aware person can relate to. We have our own
caste systems in America. And if I had a wild hope,
it would be that this novel would make readers examine
their own areas of prejudice and discomfort with the