Difficult Daughters was my first book. It took eight years to see the light of day, years in which I learned to write, edit, to accept rejections from agents and publishers, from India and abroad, learned to live with hope deferred.
The story that came to be written, and it was trial and error all the way, was based very loosely on my mother’s life. That’s my mother’s picture that you can see on many editions of Difficult Daughters, and the man in the same sepia tints is my father.
Personal and not personal, in writing DD I came close to the history of Punjab during the time leading up to Independence. In going through ten years of The Tribune on microfilm at Teen Murti [the archival library at the Nehru Memorial Museum] I got to know daily life in Lahore and Amritsar in a way that was immediate and compelling. So taken was I by everything I read that the first draft of DD resembled a history tome and was double its present length.
Rejections lead to the painful process of removing a lot of the political and historical background. As one historian kindly told me, when I tried to get a clearer picture of those crucial days in the Punjab Assembly in 1947, you are writing a novel after all, you can afford to take liberties. But I was an academic and I needed detailed information to visualize my period, whether I actually used it or not was immaterial.
So my first novel was compounded of plenty of research from many sources, ranging from newspapers, history books, my relatives, every Punjabi over 80 that anyone could put me in touch with. I had reams of notes, which I seldom looked at once I had made them, for when I was writing I found them distracting.
So focused was I on the partition of our country, which I saw reflected in the break down of the family I was writing about, that originally I had called the book Partitions. The publisher who eventually accepted the manuscript changed the title to Difficult Daughters. Partitions was too academic he said, and yours is not an academic book.
Though I preferred my title, I was so beaten by the numerous rejections, that I was quite meek about accepting his suggestion. Now I am used to Difficult Daughters and I cannot imagine it being called anything else.
Difficult Daughters, Penguin India, 1998; Faber and Faber, 1998.