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Meet the author: Radhika Oberoi

What aspects of your life inspired you to write "Exile"? Where are you in this piece?

In 2013, I found myself in Dharamsala, a picturesque town in the lower Himalayas that hosts the Tibetan government-in-exile. The visit resulted in a piece for the New York Times’ India blog, India Ink, about the predicaments of the Tibetan national soccer team, which has limited opportunities to play overseas. They are overlooked by FIFA, although they can now compete in alternative tournaments like the Confederation of Independent Football Associations (CONIFA) World Cup. I met several young Tibetans to research the piece (each, an outrageously talented player) and these interactions prompted me to think about what it was like to be in exile, without a country of one’s own. I also wandered through McLeod Ganj, where the government-in-exile is headquartered, and sipped rhododendron tea, and ate a creamy local desert called Bhagsu cake.


I could be Pia Ghosh, the female protagonist of  “Exile” (if you wish), but unlike her, I have never been casual about an assignment, or late for an appointment.


Could you tell us about your motivations for writing this particular story and what inspiration/message you would like readers to take from it?

The story was unplanned; it came to me a few years after my visit to Dharamsala. I had also been reading a lot of Gabriel Garcia Márquez back then, and was quite taken in by some of his exilic characters. For instance, Strange Pilgrims, a collection of short stories, is about people who find themselves in unfamiliar lands, cold corridors, unknown rooms. The first story, “Bon Voyage Mr. President” is about an elegant seventy-three-year-old ousted President, travelling incognito. I was keen to create my own tragic political head, and tell of his claustrophobia.


I also wanted to chronicle the Tibetan diaspora’s sense of disorientation, in a way that drew from facts, but wasn’t journalistic. The short story allows room for imaginative and intense recreations of history, and “Exile” is an impressionistic gaze at real events.


What was your process for deciding what characters would be included?

Actually, the characters decided their parts in my story! Pia Ghosh, self-absorbed city dweller, wanted to be a counterpoint to the Prime Minister-in-exile, who in turn wanted to be disgruntled and charmingly Marquezian. I had read news reports about the Tibetan movement for resistance, and the government-in-exile’s bid for “genuine autonomy”. Those facts have seeped into the story, shaping its characters.


The main setting of McLeod Ganj adds much to the texture of the story. Can you tell us why you chose to set the story there?

McLeod Ganj is where the Central Tibetan Administration is based, and since I wanted to write a story about exilic people, it provided the perfect magic-realist setting –touristy and spiritual, noisy and silent and ethereally beautiful. 


How does your piece show what might be otherwise?

In an unfettered world, the title Prime Minister-in-exile wouldn’t exist. People wouldn’t be nationless; tiny nation-states wouldn’t be incarcerated by larger ones.

Radhika Oberoi is the author of "Exile". She is a writer based in New Delhi, India. Her debut novel, Stillborn Season was published in 2018 (Speaking Tiger Books). It chronicles the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 through multiple interconnected narratives. Her new novel Of Mothers and Other Perishables will be published in 2024 (Simon and Schuster India). She also writes book reviews and essays, and has an MA in Creative Writing, Prose Fiction, from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.  

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This interview was curated and edited by Rosa Sansone

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