Read an Excerpt from the Book
Change was all around him, Abdulla thought. The cousins getting older, he himself soon to become a father. Abdulla felt the rise of his country’s profile most immediately in the ballooning volume of requests by foreign governments for new trade agreements. By the day, it seemed, Qatar’s international status was growing, which meant more discussions, more meetings.
He slid the car into a gap in the growing shadow between his father’s and grandfather’s houses. It would have to serve as a parking space. The Range Rover door clicked shut behind him as he walked briskly toward his father’s house, BlackBerry in hand, scrolling through his messages. Only then did the sound of wailing reach him, women in pain or grief, emanating from his Uncle Ahmed’s house across the courtyard. He jerked the hands-free device out of his ear and quickened his pace, jogging not toward the majlis where the rest of the men were gathering, but into the main living area of Uncle Ahmed’s, straight toward those unearthly sounds.
The sight of Aunt Wadha stopped him short. Disheveled, her shayla slipping as she howled, she was smacking herself on the forehead. Then came his mother, reaching her arms out to him with a tender, pitying look he hadn’t seen since his pet rabbits from the souq died. But it was Hessa, his other aunt – Fatima’s mother, his own mother-in-law – who sent him into a panic. Ashen-faced, her lips bleeding, she was clutching the evil eye necklace he had bought Fatima on their honeymoon. At the sight of it, the delicate gold cord in Hessa’s hands and not around his wife’s neck, Abdulla felt his knees buckle and the BlackBerry slip from his hand.
“What has happened?” he said. He looked from one stricken face to another.
Numbly, he saw his female cousins were there. At the sight of him the older ones, glamorous Noor and bookish Hind, both women in their own right whom he hadn’t seen in years, jerked their shaylas from their shoulders to cover their hair and went into the adjoining room. In his haste, he hadn’t said “Darb!” to let them know he was entering the room.
“Abdulla, Abdulla…” his mother began, but was thrust aside by Aunt Hessa.
“Fatima,” Hessa screamed, staring wildly at him. “Fatima!”
Rather than fall onto the floor in front of the women, Abdulla slumped heavily into the nearest overstuffed armchair. Fatima…
They left behind gangly nine-year-old Luluwa, Fatima’s sister, who resisted when they tried to take her with them. His father, gray-faced and tired, entered. Abdulla slouched and waited, the growing dread like something chewing at his insides. His father began to talk, but on hearing “accident” and “the intersection at Al Waab” he remembered the Hukoomi traffic service SMS. Then he heard “Ahmed”, and a shiver of horror ran up his back. The driver had been Ahmed, his uncle, the father of his wife.
Later that night in the morgue, in the minutes or hours (he couldn’t keep track) while he waited to receive her body, Abdulla flicked his Zippo lighter open and struck it alight. Holding it just so, he burned a small patch on his wrist just below his watchstrap. Even this couldn’t contain his rage at the truck driver who came through without a scratch, at his uncle, or at himself.
The morgue was antiseptic, mercilessly public. The police advised against seeing her, insisting that he wouldn’t be able to erase the memory of a face marked with innumerable shards of glass.
Surrounded by family and hospital staff, he couldn’t hold her, talk to her, stroke her slightly rounding stomach, the burial site of their unborn child. Any goodbyes he had hoped to say were suppressed.
He would mourn the baby in secret. He hadn’t wanted to tell relatives about the pregnancy too soon in case of a miscarriage. Now it could never happen: the need to visibly accept God’s will in front of them would prevent him from crying it out, this woe upon woe that was almost too much to bear.
Fatima’s body was washed and wrapped, the prayers said before burial. His little wife, the round face, the knowing eyes he’d grown up next to in the family compound, and the baby he would never see crawl, sleep, or walk were hidden to him now for all eternity. The secret she was carrying was wrapped in a gauzy white kaffan, her grave cloth, when he was finally allowed to see them. The child who would have been named after Abdulla’s grandfather if a boy, his grandmother if a girl, whose gender would now remain a mystery.
At the burial site, as was customary, he fell in line behind his father and uncles. Ahmed, the father, carried his daughter’s slight form.
They placed her on her right side.
Men came to lay the concrete slabs that sealed the grave, so her frame would not rise up as it decomposed in the earth. Abdulla regretted not stroking the softness of her chin or the imperceptibly rounding curve of her belly. I am burying my wife and our unborn child, he thought, the taste of blood filling his mouth from the force with which he bit his cheek to stem the tears. Their secret would be lost within her lifeless womb. News of a double tragedy would spread with the sand under doors and into the ears of their larger circle of acquaintances. Someone would call someone to read the Qur‘an over him. Someone would search out someone else for a bottle of Zamzam water from Mecca.
None of it would stop the acid from chewing through his heart.
Read an Interview with the Author
In conversations with people in Qatar, expat or Qatari, the subject of love inevitably came up. For women, the main issue involved the small pool of people they felt they had to choose from. My surprise and revelation came, however, when my male friends expressed similar sentiments. We often think men have all the power in male-dominated societies but from these discussions I began to realize how society limits both male and female aspirations with universal social expectations like marriage. The story began to form there: what would make a man unlikely to marry? And why? What would he do in order to keep his freedom?
2. You met your husband in Qatar although you are both American-raised and come from Asian heritage (you South Indian, and your husband of Laotian descent). How did the two of you meet? This sounds like such a magical love story!
We met at work, believe it or not, and at first the entire possibility of forging a lasting bond with someone I’d just met seemed as foreign to me as the desert landscape outside. I had my mind set on my career and wasn’t looking for a relationship; people were throwing dire warnings my way not to take anything starting overseas very seriously. But over time, I was impressed by the strength of my husband’s character and realized, despite the naysayers, I had never met anyone else like him. The desert is a great place to find out what someone is really about because you can’t rely on the busyness of life at home–work, family, friends–to hide behind. It’s just you, in a foreign setting, and that can be like a pressure cooker for most expats. What’s inside eventually comes out. Lucky for me, I listened to my gut, and six years of marriage later, I’m more and more grateful.
3. In Love Comes Later, how do the characters of Hind, Fatima, and Luluwa embody the modern Qatari (or Arab) woman?
They’re each their own personalities and have characteristics of different parts of Qatari society. Each of them occupies a space that demonstrates the changes in society as increasingly Qatar become open to the rest of the world. While Fatima was live, she was probably the most conservative of the three, which makes sense because she is also the oldest. She wanted to get married, and though she had a job outside the home, was much more excited about the birth of her first child. Hind has been allowed to study abroad without a family member, and during the story that causes her to become increasingly liberal-minded. Luluwa is very young at the time of this story, and she represents those in the next generation, who have even more choices facing them about tradition and society.
The Arabian Gulf is different from the Middle East, partly because of the oil revenues that drive the economy, but also because of the gender segregation that is very visible and preserved by the local community. While the female characters may have a lot in common with other Muslim women from the Arab world in terms of personal aspirations, their circumstances and context are unique to Qatar.
4. Based on your experiences, what is the one thing you believe Westerners would be the most surprised to learn about the city of Doha?
You can make relationships here that will last for a lifetime a lot more easily than you can at home. Part of the reason is that we are all in the same boat–expats and locals alike–everyone is searching for ways to make contribute to the rapid growth and development of the nation so that means you are engaged in meaningful work. Most people here are interested in cultural exchange and open about the world in general around them. This, plus the fact that the country is such a melting pot means that you and your children (if you have any) are more likely to have friends of different faiths and nationalities than many other places in the world.
5. What made you decide to relocate to Doha in particular, and what has motivated you to stay for so long (7 years)? Do you plan to move back to the U.S. one day, or might you set-up your permanent homestead in Qatar?
I don’t know of anywhere else that is investing as much in education as the Arabian Gulf at the present moment in time. I came to work at an American university, took some time to consult at the national university, and then worked for a newly established publishing company. They were all fairly big name organizations in their own right and the ability to contribute significantly on the programmatic level as I’ve done at a fairly young age would be difficult to replicate anywhere else.
Sorry, my academic side took over for a second! I am a scholar and this is a wonderful place to have the resources–perhaps most importantly time–to work on research and writing. And because I am a writer, I can’t remember another place I’ve lived that has so inspired me with subject matter–unless it was inside my own head as a teenage immigrant.
We agree in our house that we’ll stay as long as we’re having fun. And that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
6. In your memoir From Dunes to Dior, you note that your American upbringing combined with your South Indian heritage, doctoral education, and femininity mean you’re a rather unique mixture of social identities in Qatar. How hard is it for you to reconcile all these sides of yourself while trying to fit in to this new society and take pride in all that makes you you?
Depends on the context; when I’m in traffic, it’s not unusual for me to return stares from men elbowing each other to have a look at me driving while they’re sitting in buses going back to their accommodation. In the classroom some students are taken aback for the first few sessions but eventually I grow on them. In instances where I have one on one interaction–or people hear my Western accent–I don’t have that much difficulty. It’s when I’m in places where judgments are made by skin color–the mall or first time meetings–that I have slightly more difficulty but in general these smooth out over time.
7. You’ve published six ebooks within the space of a year. How on earth do you manage to be so productive? Do you plan to keep this pace up, or are you just sprinting to get started?
I had the luxury of a backlist of manuscripts that had been politely declined by a number of agents over the years. Each time I stalled, I would go on and write another. I decided to give all of them a home on e-readers as a way of reaching readers. I have two more to go as part of the original list of 8. And of course there are ideas for new stories that keep coming up–even the possibilities of two more books with characters from Love Comes Later–but I think I’ll take a more relaxed approach after December!
8. You chose to pursue indie publishing even though your PhD in English Literature would make you a prime candidate for the traditional publishing model? Why indie, and if given the choice to do it all over again, would you still choose this path?
I came to indie publishing because I put a lot of time and effort into my academic books and no one–not even my mother–ever read them. That’s a long time for them to just waste away in the library. I kept hearing the indie drumbeat at conferences I attended and decided these manuscripts that weren’t being picked up didn’t need to be rejected 60 times in order to make it into the hands of readers. I don’t regret going indie. I wish I had done it sooner in the sense that it would have been fun to work on a single book, release it, and then start another book, instead of this wild and creative space I’m in right now where I’m revising one book, researching for another, and promoting others.
9. As a writer, what is the message you are trying to get out to the world? Who are you trying to reach, and what do you want to tell them? Are your books more entertainment/ informational driven, or is there a deeper resonance you are trying to achieve?
I want to take readers to places they’d like to go but can’t physically get to because of time or financial considerations. A book is the oldest form of technology we have, and though we’ve put them on tablets and found ways to make them enticing through video or graphics, we haven’t actually changed what a book does which is transport us to worlds other than our own. I want my stories to capture the essence and wonder of storytelling for the reader who will enter a world unfamiliar and yet see something of him/herself in the characters, dilemmas, and settings.
10. What can readers expect next from MohaDoha?
I am working on other titles… the very next one is a coming of age story, set in the U.S., told from the perspective of a young female protagonist, Sita, who we’ll root for to grow up into an empowered woman despite those who have other plans for her life.
I love interacting with readers. The more feedback I get, the better content I feel that I create. So the door is open–tell me what you loved or what was confusing–and I’ll keep you posted on the release date for An Unlikely Goddess!
Read a Guest Post by the Author
Where in the World is Mohadoha?
A guest post by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar
Seven years ago, when I told people in the U.S. I was moving to Qatar, most people had one of two reactions. “Why?” was one. “Where?” was the other.
The prevalent stereotype was of oil rich countries was of places like Saudi Arabia where women cannot drive and houses were rumored to have gold inlay on the doors or doctors living on the family property. I found it difficult to navigate between these two extremes and avoided conversation with the uninitiated when at home in order to save myself time, aggravation, and the risk of offending with curt replies.
There was a minority who knew of the place where I was headed, but these were either engineers, oil industry professionals, or—as I found out at my 10 year high school reunion—people in the intelligence community (that’s right, one among us was in the CIA). He was the ONLY person at our meet and greet for whom I did not have to go through the standard questions about the heat, clothing, and food.
He knew no one had lived in tents in at least two generations and that camels were not the major source of transportation—but rather luxury SUVs.
If there has been anything positive from the many political and economic crises in the last seven years, from international banks in a tailspin to the overthrowing of dictators during the Arab Spring, it has been a shift in perception about the Middle East.
Now when I make acquaintances and mention I live in Doha, the capital of the city state of Qatar, people are not only more familiar with this region of the world, but also their questions have changed. “Do you like it there?” They ask.
When I moved here for an experimental year, I was single, hadn’t finished my PhD, and was twenty pounds, one marriage and two babies lighter. The country has been my greenhouse for personal and professional development.
I met my husband at work, eventually finished that degree, and had our first child here.
Five years flew by in this flurry of activity. My local friends were going abroad for graduate work while my expat friends were moving on to other careers. Being the one who stayed behind was strange for me; I was so used to the role of adventurer. Loneliness sank in.
I had copious amounts of time to myself. In boredom, I picked up the Doha Stone—the equivalent of the collegiate Freshman Fifteen pounds minus the bustle of campus life.
I worked in an office, so I was different from many expat women—stay-at-home moms who could socialize during the day. Since I didn’t have a strict 9-5 schedule, I was outside the category of those who work American hours. I was at home, alone, for at least three hours a day. Everyone I knew in country was at work; everyone I knew on the other side of the world asleep.
At the edge of despair, I did the one thing I knew best: I wrote. I considered my new life—being part of a multiracial couple, being so close to India after so much time abroad, being a young woman in the male-dominated field of academia. Writing was fun and yet a solitary activity nonetheless.
As an extrovert in an insular society, despairing at the idle conversation at coffee mornings for expat ladies, I started a group of my own, one for writers. Writing in a group became a way of making a lasting bond with others.
I started a blog.
I dug out old manuscripts and began tinkering.
I experimented with Twitter, starting with 170 followers while I tweeted my daily observations.
I co-edited the first published volume of essays by expats and locals in the country. Then came a second. Soon a series was created.
Last year I stepped off the corporate track to give my writing my full attention.
Eleven months and six E-books later, I’m proud to say I’m an indie. Being in Doha has changed my life in both fundamental and superficial ways—not the least of which is the time and space it’s given me to build a brand around my “Mohadoha” persona. I’ve been able to dabble in fiction, explore my interest in creative non-fiction, and hammer out my style.
The two books I’ve written set in Qatar, From Dunes to Dior and Love Comes Later, may not be the only ones. After all, who knows how much longer my family and I will stay; it could be quite a while.
The Social Media Events – This is Where the Prizes are!
Blogaganza on Novel Publicity. We’re kicking-off on the Novel Publicity Free Advice blog. We’ll ask Mohanalakshmi five fun and quirky questions to get everyone talking. Leave a comment or question in response to the post, and you may win an autographed copy of Love Comes Later or its companion From Dunes to Dior. VISIT BLOGAGANZA HERE.
Twitterview. A tweet is tiny, only 140 characters, and we all know writers loooove to talk. Come join us for a live interview via Twitter as we ask Mohanalakshmi to sum up her book, writing habits, and personality in teensy tiny tweets. We’ll open to questions from the audience at the end of the interview. One question-asker will win an autographed copy of Love Comes Later, another its companion From Dunes to Dior! Join us on Twitter at 4 PM EST by searching #emlyn. READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE.
Google+ Sharing Contest. Here’s an awesome opportunity to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and this time it just takes a single click! Visit Google+ and share Emlyn Chand’s most recent post (you’ll see Love Comes Later’s book cover included with it). On Thursday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. Autographed copies of Love Comes Later and its companion From Dunes to Dior are also up for grabs. GO HERE TO SHARE.
Facebook Sharing Contest. Stop by Novel Publicity’s Facebook page and share their latest post (you’ll see Love Comes Later’s book cover included with it). On Friday morning, one lucky sharer will be $50 richer. Autographed copies of Love Comes Later and its companion From Dunes to Dior are also up for grabs. Sharing is caring, people. GO HERE TO SHARE.
Super Big Finale Contest. Everybody loves a photo contest. Right? RIGHT?! We want to see where in the world (or just in your neighborhood) you’re reading Love Comes Later. Find an awesome place to read, then get creative and take a picture with your copy of Love Comes Later. The best setting wins a Kindle Fire. Sweetness! We’ve also got two $50 Amazon gift cards to the folks who take the most romantic photo with Love Comes Later and the most peaceful. Just remember the book cover has to be visible in order for your entries to be eligible. Check back on Friday for the full rules, but start planning now! VISIT THE CONTEST PAGE HERE.