Haunting Bombay is a…?

Literary ghost story.  It is also a mystery and a love story.  Some call it historical fiction.  It’s set in 1960s India.


What is it about?

The story opens on the day that a wealthy family’s newborn baby ‘accidentally’ drowns in a brass bucket.  Another child, Pinky, is adopted into the family and becomes haunted by the ghost of the dead baby.  Compelled to unearth the truth of the drowning, Pinky’s search takes her from the family’s affluent colonial bungalow to the darker parts of the city – the slums, the red-light district, the drinking dens, the burial grounds.  It is ultimately a story about a family’s darkest fears and desires, and the power of truth.


Do you believe in ghosts?

I believe that there are other realms – metaphysical, supernatural, divine – that exist beyond what we can experience with our physical senses.


If your book was one of the five elements, which one would it be and why?

Water.  Much of the book unfurls during the monsoons and there is a lot of liquid imagery: breast milk leaking, birth water defiling a sacred altar, vaginal blood enticing malignant spirits, illegal toddy fermented in city sewers, magical coconut-milk elixirs, watery curries, and rain, rain, rain.


Do you believe in reincarnation?



Have you ever had a glimpse of a past life?

Not in a clear way, but I sense that in one I was part of an ancient monastery, one based in a mystical tradition.  I think many of the things we are drawn to in this life come from unfinished business or experiences in our past lives.


Any thoughts on what you’d like in a future life?



Let’s talk about this lifetime.  What five words describe you best?

Romantic.  Driven.  Happy.  Quiet.  Searching.


What’s your dream job?

To be a writer-in-residence at a fantastic college or university.  That, and to keep writing novels.


What has been your biggest obstacle?

Living with Crohn’s disease.


What is that?

An auto-immune disease that affects the digestive system.  It is considered incurable here in the West.  But I don’t believe it.


What do you believe?

That our bodies have an incredible ability to heal themselves.  But that this healing requires a shift in consciousness.  My aim is to cure myself via alternative healing modalities, and I’m about 85% there.


What skill do you wish you had?

A photographic memory.


What is something you’ve learned since your book was published?

There is an elusive but vital balance between passionately going after what you want and patiently allowing things to come to you.


What is your favorite American superhero and why?

Wonder Woman.  She touts the ideals of love and peace, and has the ability to communicate with the natural world.  I am fascinated by her golden lasso which compels those bound within it to tell the truth.


What’s something about you that most people don’t know.

I’m a Reiki healer and a classically-trained pianist (though I haven’t played for twenty years).


Favorite quote?

From Gandhi: When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it–always.

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SHILPA AGARWAL is the author of Haunting Bombay (Soho Press), a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller and a winner of the First Words Literary Prize for South Asian Writers. It will be published internationally beginning next month in Italy. Shilpa earned her B.A. from Duke University and graduate degrees in Comparative Literature from UCLA. She has taught at both UCLA and UCSB and lives in Los Angeles with her family.

Shilpa is a member of the South Asian Artists’ Collective and a founder of ArtWallah: Festival of South Asian Arts. Her current writing is informed by glimpses into moments of alienation and awakening, especially during metaphoric and mystical crossings: east and west, heaven and earth, the living and the dead. She writes to call up the haunting utterances of the excluded, to excavate fragmentary memories that edge consciousness, and to imagine a more nuanced narrative of history itself.

Shilpa is currently writing her second book, researching madness, and developing a green thumb.

One response to “Shilpa Agarwal: The TNB 

  1. vinod agarwal says:

    Hi there Lovely Lady!

    Though I’m not much of a believer in the spirits or ghosts (to put in layman’s language), reading your book and now your interview, I have begun to have second thoughts! I have found your book engrossing, to say it in one word, and hard to put down, but now, I admire your indomitable spirit all the more. I wish I had a commitment in my beliefs like you do.

    Keep it up, Kid. You’ve got miles to go.



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