BT: As immigrants, activists, world travelers and human beings, I’m interested in your thoughts on the importance of story in one’s life and work, and how your respective parents may have influenced your thinking about this.
SATISH: My love of travel, and my quest for learning were fueled from a young age, when my father sent me to Varanasi in India, at the age of eight, as there was no school in my village in Nepal. My father felt strongly that I should be educated, and sent me on my first journey. I write about that first trip in my book, and in a sense, I have not stopped traveling since then, nor have I lost my curiosity and love of learning. I am 80 years old now.
My activism was fueled initially by the injustices I observed—the injustice of poverty and inequality, the crushing oppression of the caste system. Later, I was influenced by the anti-war movements: the violence at Kent State University, the crushing of the “Prague Spring” in Czechoslovakia and the brutal murder of students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing all shaped my activism.
Coming back to your question of the role of story: my earliest memories have to do with my mother (who could not read) reciting passages of the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramayana that she had memorized. Not only are these important religious texts in Hinduism, they are epic tales of good and evil, of love, of jealousy, of betrayal, of war and of peace. Later, when I could read, and when I could find books, I discovered and delighted in stories from other traditions and faraway places. Books have played such an essential role in my life that I even included a list of books that shaped my thinking, in telling my own story in Fragments of Memory.
SARINA: The first stories I remember are those my mother told me. She made up elaborate tales and I never wanted these to end, and begged for more. My paternal grandmother, who lived with us in her old age, told me stories too, based on Hindu mythology, and I pestered her with questions. She was patient with me, and loving, and often rubbed my feet while telling me stories, I remember the feeling of being loved and comforted more than the details of the stories themselves.
I grew up surrounded by books. We moved around a lot, but the books came with us. I often asked my dad how many of these books he had read. There were shelves and shelves of nonfiction, biography, history, and my first love—novels. I read many of them without fully understanding them. I read voraciously. My favorite trip as a young child was to the bookstore. I loved the place, the changing displays, the children’s books in the back. The agonizing, impossible task of narrowing down my pile to the two or three books my parents had told me we could buy. I loved the feel and the smell of the books. How the pages crackled on a brand new hardcover book that had never been opened. And I joined a used bookstore/paid lending library of sorts, when I was in the second grade, and delighted in the notes, comments, and underlines others had left behind. I loved finding clues to other stories within the stories I was reading.