Hi Sapna and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, A New Mantra!
To start off, can you please tell us a little bit about this book?:
A New Mantra is a story of redemption—of self-discovery, and a second chance at love. The story follows the life of Mira Sood after her traditional Indian arranged marriage—along with the pressure-packed expectations of her family and her close-knit community—crash and burn when her husband, Jay, cheats on her. Mira’s a traditionalist, and she’s always done what was expected of her—from marrying the boy her parents chose for her, to doing what tradition deemed were her wifely duties. But when her world falls apart, Mira’s forced to rethink her life mantra of always following in the path of people’s expectations instead of her own desires. Fortunately, for Mira, an accidental run-in (no pun intended) with a half-marathon idea, and a handsome White elite runner named Andy Fitzgerald might have all the answers to her questions—that is, if she can bring her traditional self to uncover them.
Please share your favorite lines or quote(s) from this book:
This quote below comes to mind. It’s a scene right at the start of the book when Mira’s Indian arranged marriage falls apart when Jay tells her he’s having an affair and wants a divorce. Mira’s left to find a place for herself to live, a source of income, and well, a new life.
“It was rather shocking—and a little sad—how it only took Mira three days to deconstruct a life it had taken her three years to build.”
The second one that is my favorite is this one:
“Did Mira love Jay? No, not really. But her mother did, along with the family astrologer who had lauded the match and guaranteed its success. And considering Mira had zero excuses (and zero men) queued up, she was left with the “no choice” choice. This was the norm. Besides which, she’d absolutely no reason to mistrust Jay—he was polite to her friends, he came from a well-respected Punjabi family, he was well-settled, well-educated, and Mira knew America was the land of possibilities. She’d married Jay on account of trust, hoping love would find a way into her heart with time. She’d bungee-jumped into an arranged marriage, hoping to fake it till she made it.
Lesson learned, Mira Sood. For here she was now, a thirty-year-old, “married-but-separated,” Indian woman.”
What inspired this book?
In general, I’ve always been very intrigued by the concept of an arranged marriage—two people who’ve never met in their life before suddenly deciding over the course of a few minutes, to get married and spend their lives together. It’s how my aunties and uncles all got married, it’s how my grandparents got married (and they met each other for the very first time, on their wedding day…yikes!); and my great-grandparents before them. All these folks stayed married for decades and if they were unhappy, I never knew it. I wanted to shed a new light on this idea, and explore the other side of the concept when maybe things don’t work out as tradition demands. The second idea that inspired the story was my own journey as a runner. I wanted to coax my traditional, Indian heroine out of her shell and get her to do something she’d never done before. And I thought having her run a half-marathon (after never running in her life before, or doing anything for herself before outside of serving her husband) would be an interesting way to go.
How did you ‘get to know’ your main characters? Did they ever surprise you?
I had the big picture idea for my heroine, Mira Sood, and my hero, Andy Fitzgerald. I tend to roll with my instincts when I write. I plan the larger idea, and let the smaller pieces fall into place as the words flow. Mira seemed to have an untapped side to her personality—a fun, zesty side under the custom-abiding traditionalist, that came to life in scenes. This surprised me, as I hadn’t planned it. Andy’s feelings for Mira are strong, but the different ways he gets her to notice them was a journey of discovery for me, as I wrote.
What was your favorite scene to write?
I would say the scene that I most enjoyed writing was the one where Mira goes for the first run of her life after she impulsively signs up for a half-marathon, a month after Jay dumps her. It’s on this run that she also encounters Andy. This is their second run-in after he rescues her lost purse at a concert.
“Sheepishly standing before the dirt path of the Discovery Loop trailhead, ready for the first run of her life, Mira Sood felt the adrenaline rush of a shoplifter at a mall. It was cold and raining softly, and the trail appeared mostly deserted, which was comforting to Mira, since she preferred to make a fool of herself in isolation anyway. Wearing a pair of joggers, an oversize sweatshirt, a pair of leopard-print shoes, and a fanny pack, Mira likely resembled a New-Age rapper more than a runner, but the important thing was, she felt like a runner.
Armed with a free mile-tracker app which she’d downloaded on her phone (which her research on half-marathons had highly recommended), Mira began walking down the trail, deciding to warm up first. She walked a couple miles, then turned on her run-tracker app and began to run down the trail. Her adrenaline kicked in, along with some anxiety, as she brought an unhelpful image of Jay to mind. And then, almost immediately, she started to lose her breath. Her muscles tightened and her airways began to contract; her heart began pounding wildly. Her pace slowed as the muscles in her legs ached for her to stop. Mira tried to push through it, hoping she could at least manage a decent distance before giving up. But she was gasping for air as her lungs threatened to explode. After a few more seconds of struggle, she sheepishly pulled her body over to the side of the trail. Mira bent over; her hands cupped her knees as she hyperventilated, afraid she was going to pass out. When she finally regained herself, she looked down hopefully at her phone to check her mile-tracker app: 0.2 miles.
“What? That can’t be right,” Mira cried out. She clearly was out of her mind with this mission to run a half-marathon. She couldn’t even run half a mile without falling to pieces. How on earth was she ever going to run 13.1 miles? Shit.
She pictured Jay in her head again. He was laughing at her, looking smug. An unusual anger stirred up inside Mira, which caused her to shake her head at herself. She allowed herself to catch her breath, and when her lungs were plump with air, she restarted her mile tracker and began running again.
A new wave of confidence flooded her, carrying her across the next few meters, and then she spotted something that made her gasp. Mira tried to squint against the falling rain. No way! she thought with horror. It was him—it was Andy Fitzgerald, her purse-rescuer from the concert, in the flesh, running right toward her. Holy Mother India! He was a runner and—oh look, he was topless. Mira couldn’t help but be drowned in a cocktail of awe and dismay as she watched Andy. The sun now theatrically broke through the vapor-logged clouds and glinted off his delicious runner’s six-pack. Mira recollected how she’d shot her mouth off to him at the expo, about how much she couldn’t run or relate to runners. Very, very nicely done, Mira Sood.”
What was the most difficult scene to write?
The hardest scene for me to write, and probably a hard one for my heroine to fictitiously live through, would be the scene when Mira confronts her auntie, Sharmila Sood, the Sood family matriarch from whom Mira had kept her divorce a secret. Mira calls her “Mummyji”. When her auntie begins to suspect trouble in paradise, Mira’s left with no choice but to tell her the truth. It was a hard scene to write because I didn’t want to soak the scene in gloom, yet it was a gloomy moment for my heroine. I wanted to balance out the narrative in a way that highlighted Mira’s emotions in the scene without overcooking it.
“She couldn’t bring herself to ring the doorbell, so Mira simply stood outside Auntie Sharmila’s door, brain numb and ankle throbbing, until the older woman’s territorial instincts kicked in and she proactively emerged to open it.
“Mira?” she said, eyes widening. She was wearing her bathrobe and her makeup was off, so she was probably getting ready for bed.
“Sorry, Mummyji. Maybe it’s later than I thought—”
“Nonsense. Come in, come in,” she insisted. “I was just watching the latest Bollywood hits on that new cable channel your Papaji installed.” She herded Mira past the television room, however, and straight into the interrogation room, a.k.a. her breakfast nook in the kitchen. She then paused to consider Mira’s limp. “What happened to your leg?”
“I-er . . . twisted it. It’s nothing.”
“Sit down, Mira,” she instructed softly. “I’ll make us some chai.”
Chai. Great. A.k.a. the Indian truth serum—a sweet, milky, cardamom-flavored puppet master.
Mira watched in contemplative silence as Auntie Sharmila shuffled in the kitchen before pouring the tea into two cups. She lined the saucer with homemade savory cumin crackers.
“Here,” she said, placing the tray of items between them. “Now, tell me what’s going on, Mira. All is not right with you, my dear—I feel it.”
“Jay—” she began to say, but the words were firmly lodged in her throat.”
Would you say this book showcases your writing style or is it a departure for you?
Yes, I’d say the writing showcases my style.
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
Trust in yourself, in who you are, and what you can do. You’re stronger, braver, and more beautiful than you realize.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned?
Books 2, A Rebel’s Mantra and Book 3, A Mantra for Miss Perfect are in production at the moment. Book 2 features the rebel cousin, Laila Sood, who helps Mira get back on her feet in Book 1. Book 3 features Mira and Laila’s perfect, overachieving cousin, Sahana Sood who also features in Book 1. Book 2 is set to release July 12th 2022, and Book 3 is set to release Jan 16th 2023.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: An ebook copy of A New Mantra & 3 Tule ebooks
To enter Giveaway: Please complete the Rafflecopter form and Post a comment to this Q: Chai tea and samosas are a staple in Indian culture. What’s your favorite Indian food or snack, if you have one?
Excerpt from A New Mantra:
It was a proud moment in the life of Mira Sood, as she admired the set dinner table before her. A true work of art completed over the course of eight hours. Mira smiled down at it—the seven-course, traditional Indian dinner she’d made . . . from scratch. From the half dozen samosas to the paneer tikka masala, to the saag, the biryani, and not to forget, the gulab jamuns—deep-fried dough balls dipped in sweet syrup which alone had taken two hours to make. It was a meal fit for a Maharaja. Or in her case, her husband of three years, Jay Mehta. The latter had been acting strange for many months now, and Mira had no idea why. She’d tried everything from asking him about it, to making fresh parathas for him every morning (her mother’s advice), to offering to finally take the plunge and bequeath her maiden name for his last name (an aunt’s advice), to trying to start a family (everyone’s advice).
Mira considered this last piece of advice as she attempted to straighten out a plate. She’d spent the years of her married life shelving away her own dream of working so she could cook, clean, and support her husband’s career. Be the “good Indian wife” that tradition demanded. But with her turning thirty, the pressure had been mounting from her family for her to have a child. And so, Mira had (yet again) succumbed to her wifely duties. Did she want to be a mother? Did she think she had the chops to be a good one? Maybe. At least she was willing to try to bring her best to the table. Clearly, having a career wasn’t in the cards, so maybe motherhood was her calling. What was troubling, of course, was that Jay had been acting distant. They had vaguely tried to get pregnant, but only so much could be achieved in the absence of intimacy. Nothing had helped shake Jay out of his funk. Hence, Mira had decided to go all out. Tonight, she was determined to get to the bottom of her stale marriage.
When the doorbell rang at seven, Mira bounded up like an attention-starved puppy to open it. Jay stood there with his laptop bag slung across one shoulder, and yup, there was that ridiculous mood. She could see it as plainly as the nose on his face. “Hi, Jay.” She smiled, letting him in, determined to pivot toward cheer. “Look what I made. Diwali’s coming up in a few days, so I thought we could celebrate early,” she said, allowing him to take in the beautifully set table with the dishes all steamy, hot, and smelling irresistible, even to her.
But Jay turned and faced her instead. “Mira, we need to talk.”
She was glad to hear those words, because that’s exactly what she wanted to say to him. “We do, Jay. Listen, I know you’re stressed at work, and I’m sorry if I haven’t been supportive enough, but—”
“I’m having an affair.”
“Wh-huh?” A tsunami-like shock wave engulfed Mira from the inside out. “You’re—”
“I’m having an affair,” he repeated.
She was hearing him, but she couldn’t comprehend his words. “With a p-person?”
“Uff. No, a squirrel. Of course, with a person,” replied Jay, shaking his head.
“Oh, m-my . . . GOD!” Mira cried out, her hand muffling her mouth. “You’re having an a-affair?” She felt the earth ripple as the ground slowly began to sway under her feet. The women in her family had been prone to anxiety. Her great-grandmother’s panic attacks were notorious to the point where, by the end of her life, the old woman had taken to running down the street butt naked every time her nurse tried to get her in the shower. The gene’s baton pass down the generations had diluted the severity of this condition, but not enough to stop Mira from having a full-blown panic attack.
Jay rambled on. “Look, I met her on an airplane about a year ago while I was on my way back to Seattle from a business trip, and we hit it off right away. I wasn’t even sure what I was feeling at the time, but as the months went by, we got close and—”
Mira felt an explosion inside her head—a potpourri of shock, anger, and realization. “Oh my God, is that why you’ve been acting so aloof with me? Not wanting to—” She stopped short. She was a conservative Indian housewife, after all. Talking openly about their sex life (or lack thereof) wasn’t second nature to Mira. She preferred to imply. “Is this why you and I haven’t been close in months?”
Jay frowned, appearing almost confused at the insinuation. He offered up a shrug and off-loaded his laptop bag. “Mira, I’m tired of pretending. Reema just got a new job in California which made me realize, I have a choice to make . . . and I choose her.”
The words cut through her heart like a knife “Reema?” repeated Mira, incredulously. All this time, she’d been picturing Jay with an uncharted blonde with blue eyes and peach-pink breasts. But the fact that he’d cheated on her with another Indian woman was humiliating. Like losing a home game. Clearly, he wasn’t looking for someone different. He just didn’t want her.
By the time Mira surfaced from her deliberations, Jay had stomped away and was in the bedroom packing his suitcases. Instinctively, Mira tried to stop him.
“What are you doing?” he scolded her.
“Jay, this is crazy! You can’t just leave me?”
“I told you, I don’t want to be in this marriage anymore, Mira. I want to live my life with the woman I love, and that woman isn’t you. Don’t you understand?”
“But I gave up everything for you. My career, my family back home, my friends. I dedicated my life to you.”
Jay paused midway through laying a stack of his shirts into an open suitcase. “OK, so I am now giving you your life back.”
His words sent a shiver down Mira’s spine. She wasn’t getting through to him, and time was running out. But giving up wasn’t a choice; her marriage wasn’t the only thing on the line. Her father had, only recently, suffered a massive stroke which had left him completely immobilized, strapped to a wheelchair, and no longer able to speak. She couldn’t risk giving him another (and likely fatal) stroke with the news of Jay’s affair. “I’ll do anything, Jay, please. Don’t leave me . . .”
“Stop embarrassing yourself,” he replied waspishly as he continued to empty his side of their closet, packing his things into two large suitcases.
For the next two hours, Mira seesawed between pleas and reprimands. “Please don’t leave me, Jay” to “Shame on you, Jay” The lowest point in Mira Sood’s life was, hands down, her attempt to body-block her husband, to stop him from leaving her for another woman. But he left anyway, towing her heart through the mud behind him.
“Here,” he said, ceremoniously holding up his set of keys to the apartment along with a check for three thousand dollars. “The rent’s paid through the end of this month, and I’ve closed out my bank account. This is your share. It’s whatever we had in there, split evenly. It’s generous, considering it was all my earnings.”
Mira stood frozen, unable to move or comprehend the words hurtling at her like a meteor shower. Jay considered her with frightfully calm eyes, then dropped his keys and the check on a nearby coffee table.
When Jay finally left, Mira sat down on the carpet with her back against the apartment door. The moment felt surreal. Her brain felt numbed by the shock. It was as if she were in a movie, suddenly playing out the life of someone else—someone she did not recognize. Because this neither looked nor felt like the life of Mira Sood anymore. This was nothing like the life she’d dreamed of for herself—the life she’d hoped to have when she agreed to marry Jay and move to America. Three years ago, Mira had been an emotionally secure, twenty-seven-year-old woman who was content with life and herself. She’d completed a B.A. in English, worked a few years as an academic counselor at a local school, and then at a call center. Yes, she was still living in a small town in Punjab, but she was happy. She’d never been overly ambitious and always assumed she would eventually marry and have children. As her clock began ticking, her mother and the family elders had begun needling her to get married. “Either you find someone you want to marry, or I will find someone for you,” was her mother’s ultimatum. Mira didn’t exactly go out of her way to find someone she could love enough to marry—there were only so many options out of the handful of men in her small town. She’d had a couple of boyfriends over the years, but none of those relationships had been serious enough to stand the test of time. So, in the end, her mother won the “find-Mira-a-groom” race. Jay Mehta was a highly eligible bachelor, living in America. “And he just became an American citizen,” Mira’s mother had beamed. Did Mira love Jay? No, not really. But her mother did, along with the family astrologer who had lauded the match and guaranteed its success. And considering Mira had zero excuses (and zero men) queued up, she was left with the “no choice” choice. This was the norm. Besides which, she’d absolutely no reason to mistrust Jay—he was polite to her friends, he came from a well-respected Punjabi family, he was well-settled, well-educated, and Mira knew America was the land of possibilities. She’d married Jay on account of trust, hoping love would find a way into her heart with time. She’d bungee-jumped into an arranged marriage, hoping to fake it till she made it.
Lesson learned, Mira Sood. For here she was now, a thirty-year-old, “married-but-separated,” Indian woman. Such a phrase didn’t exist in her conservative community—a place micromanaged by age-old stigmas and family orthodoxies. As Mira sat sobbing, she tried hard to search for a point of reference. She couldn’t seem to remember anyone in her family who’d crossed the forbidden line. Not one broken marriage among the hundreds. Unhappy ones, yes. But they’d all stayed put in their nuptial prisons, preferring to slam doors and sleep in separate bedrooms, speak in sardonic tones and whispered threats, but never daring to break the sacred matrimonial pact.
Mira suddenly felt overcome by shame. She felt like the failure who had dropped the baton and cost the team the race. If word ever got out about her, she’d be shunned by one and all in her family. Her parents would no longer be invited to weddings. Her mother would lose her coveted spot in the inner family circle—the place where stories of gossip not only first reached but were freshly churned for the benefit of the masses.
Mira closed her eyes, trying to shut out her panic-inducing thoughts as she slowly succumbed to a second anxiety attack—she was nauseous, dizzy, her heart raced like a spooked horse, and the walls closed in on her. In the hours that followed, she sat on the couch and oscillated between a jaded, half-awakened state, and moments of involuntary sleep. Amidst her transitions, her dreams felt like flesh and blood reality, while everything she’d known to be real appeared to turn to smokey imaginings.
It was the pain in her neck that woke her the next morning. With her head throbbing, and her hair smelling like a koi pond from all the tears it had absorbed the night before, Mira zombie-walked from the couch over to the window to look at the dewy world outside. The rain fell incessantly. It had been for three days straight. Typically, on a day like today, with the raindrops softly playing percussion on the leaves amidst a cool breeze, Mira would have taken her cue and banged out a dozen handmade kachoris—perfectly crisp pastry shells, with a sweet and spicy lentil filling. But that Punjabi-Indian housewife in her had just been fired. Who was she now, without a husband to cook for? Just a woman with a ladle. Mira’s head felt like it weighed a ton, so she let it slump forward to rest against the cool glass window. She had no appetite, but she knew she needed to eat something. She turned around in the hopes of finding some leftovers in the fridge. But then her eyes fell on the fully laid dinner table—it looked perfect from the outside, but on the inside, it had all turned cold. Walking over to it, Mira reached out to grab a cold samosa, which she then stuffed into her mouth with anguish. With her mouth overfull, she went back to the couch and picked up her cellphone.
She felt no shame in desperately calling Jay (many, many times). She knew it was a mistake each time she called. But, at the moment, she felt hopelessly devoid of any self-respect, so she called him. It hurt each time it went to voicemail. It hurt as she left him another message, begging him to call back. And each time she hung up, she felt even more worthless than before. At the end of it, she’d exhausted the hours in her day, finding herself on the couch again, physically beaten, and so desperately heartbroken. She wanted Jay back—even though she knew he didn’t deserve her—just so this massive sinkhole he’d left behind in her life would be filled. By the end of the week, it became clear to Mira that Jay wasn’t coming back. Her brain had understood, but her heart refused to comply. She continued to dash to the phone every time it rang, hoping it was Jay calling. But it never was.
Mira was now a separated, unemployed, thirty-year-old NRI housewife with absolutely no financial prospects, and in dire need of a plan. And along with it, the answer to the universal question that follows a predicament like hers: What the hell am I going to do now?
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
She’s always done what was expected of her. Until…
When 30-year-old Seattle-based Indian housewife Mira Sood is blindsided by her husband’s extramarital affair, her three-year arranged marriage is shattered. Humiliated, heartbroken, near-broke, and facing the united dissension of her orthodox family, Mira is desperate to rebuild her life. She moves in with her rebel cousin, searches for any job that will take her, and impulsively signs up for a half-marathon race. There’s just one problem—Mira’s experience with running starts and ends with running to catch the bus.
With herself as her biggest critic and doubter, Mira commits to the race and is assisted by entrepreneur Andy Fitzgerald, a handsome, elite marathoner who helps her create a training schedule and personal goals. When the lines of friendship begin to blur, Mira realizes she’s facing an even bigger challenge.
Can Mira embrace her stronger, more independent self—risking another heartbreak and disappointing her family—or will she once again play it too safe and let the possibility of happiness slip away?
Meet the Author:
Sapna lives in Seattle, WA with her perfectionist husband and perfect daughter. Her name in Hindi means “dream” and true to its meaning, Sapna finds gratification in dreams and storytelling. She was born in southern India, raised in northern India, and spent the better part of her adult life in the United States. She, therefore, unabashedly clutches her Indian roots while embracing the American in herself. She loves to cook traditional Indian food and, yes, she uses cilantro in practically everything. When she isn’t cooking, writing, or being intellectually stumped by her daughter, she may be found running down the nearest trail by her Pacific Northwest home. The inspiration for her debut novel, A New Mantra, has been her own journey as both a woman of color and a runner; the latter being a sport that was introduced to her by her husband.
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