Against the backdrop of a modernizing India, Malik’s debut novel Three Bargains follows Madan from his impoverished childhood to his unexpected rise to wealth in Delhi.
You travel back and forth between San Francisco and Delhi. Where were you when you wrote the book?
I was in the States. We come back every summer, so I would remind myself, but it really helped to have that distance. When I’m in India, I’m so involved in it; but when I’m in the States, it’s so much easier to look at India from far away and reflect on everything that happens here.
When you’re writing, did you have a particular audience in mind—either Western or Indian?
No, I didn’t. I was just writing the story I wanted to write.
How did the idea for the novel first come to you?
When I started it, I knew I wanted to write the story of a man who goes in search of a child he has given up for lost. The idea stayed with me for many years, but not until I sat down to write did I really think about who the boy would be, who would grow up to be this man. I had never read a story in which a man went in search of a child. I have a very close relationship with my own father and found myself wondering what he would have done for me. I know he would have moved heaven and earth.
Although you attended school in India, you grew up all over the world. Do you think your time abroad made you that much more attuned to the differences in India?
I think so. I grew up in the 1980s in socialist India, and now, when I come back, it’s all new clothes—same India, but very different. People who live here don’t notice the change as much as if you go away and come back. Looking at it from afar definitely made a difference. It takes a long time to write a book, and as I was writing, India kept changing.
In what ways did the writing the book impact you?
I started to write because I had a story in my head, and I wanted to prove that I could sit down and write it. I never really thought long-term about publishing, so when it was done, I was really taken aback. But I learned that I have more patience with myself than I thought was possible, and that I can give a lot of love. What started out as proving something ended up as a loving relationship with these words I was putting down on paper. That was a big surprise to me.