Anupama Ukidve Sharma is an archaeologist by qualification, an educational entrepreneur by profession, a linguist by inclination, and a writer by vocation! She is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya due to her husband's job, but she manages her Academy in her hometown Pune from across the Indian Ocean and continues to teach her students online on Skype. Her dachshund Maple keeps her company as she writes in her favourite genre, creative non- fiction. She has recently come out with the book Kenyan Kronikals, which chronicles her life in Kenya, and is equally a reflection of the times that we live in.
I chat with Anupama about her book Kenyan Kronikals, her interesting experiences in Kenya, book recommendations, and much more.
Hello, Anupama! Tell us a bit about yourself!
I was born in Mumbai, India and then traversed the length and breadth of the country, as my Dad was in the Indian Army. After I got married, I have lived in Russia, Tanzania, India and now Kenya. I’m a qualified archaeologist but now run an Academy in my hometown Pune, India and teach my 150 students creative writing and functional grammar online, from across the ocean. I love appearing for exams and am currently pursuing my 11th qualification, which is also my third full fledged masters. Hand embroidery is my stress buster, after the hammering my brain receives during my classes! I have enthusiastic students.
Which authors and books were your early formative influences?
I grew up on a staple diet of Enid Blyton and a few American authors in my very early years! James Herriot’s autobiographical books based in Yorkshire and Agatha Christie have played a huge role in influencing my writing. R.K. Narayan was the first Indian author I read and I adore him for his very Indian sensibilities.
If you could only describe your book Kenyan Kronikals in five words, what would they be?
Nostalgia, Adventure, Daily Life, Poignancy, Teenager travails.
Now tell us a little more about the book! What can readers expect?
If you are looking for fictional stories, this is not the book for you. It is all about major events in our lives, as they unfolded from the day we moved to Nairobi, Kenya in 2011, with the impact of major world events on us, thrown in for good measure. Bringing up children is no easy task, compound this with moving to another country, on another continent, and you add a whole new element to a tough mix! A healthy dose of nostalgia has wended its way into the book, as my home country, India, always calls out very strongly to me.
You were writing blogs about your experiences in Kenya, which were being widely appreciated. But how did the idea of converting those blogs into a book come to be? What made you pursue it?
I wrote my first blog exactly a month after moving to Nairobi, to give our immediate family an idea of our life here, as we were not using WhatsApp in 2011! Then other folks from around the world began reading and appreciating my posts, and people began asking for a book, where all the posts would be consolidated. And that’s when I began pursuing the idea seriously too, but it still took me two years to actually get it done. This resulted in a really fat book comprising nine years’ posts! I could also tie it up with a good cause, and plan to donate royalties to an organization working for the education of the girl child and to one working with special children, in Pune, India.
Can you tell us some of your interesting anecdotes in Kenya, and which find a place in this book?
You cannot live in Africa and NOT be chased by an elephant at some point in your life! This happened to us at Meru National Park of ‘Born Free’ fame but we lived to tell the tale.
No corner of the world is terror free nowadays and how we escaped being caught in the Nairobi mall terror attack of 2013 will give the readers goosebumps. The lessons a boy, whose mother died in the attack, taught me remain with me to this day.
Sending a child away to college is never easy but when the child is in another country, not your own, and on another continent, it is that much harder. My stories and poems on this topic will resonate with mothers everywhere whose children do not study in their home towns. And if they do, it will make those mothers appreciate that blessing even more.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Kenyan Kronikals?
I hope they will realize that there are good people everywhere and no man or woman is an island unto himself or herself. The best gift one can give one’s children is a happy childhood, filled with plenty of books. My parents gave me that gift and it is reflected in my book.
Some things are beyond our control and we need to accept those and move on. We have seen this time and again in our lives in Africa. Life is too short to remain mired in regret or the past. Move on and see what good you can do today!
How have you been coping with the current pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?
I’m always happy to stay home with my family which includes our dachshund Maple. Hence night curfew in Nairobi, for the past eleven months, has not made an iota of difference to our lives, as we are not the clubbing and pubbing kind of folks at all! I’m deeply saddened by the loss of livelihood, especially in Kenya which is a tourist economy, and have increased the amount of donations I give every year in memory of my Dad, my in-laws, and my grandparents, both paternal and maternal, to organizations working for people directly affected by Covid-19. This will be my new norm for the near future.
What are you reading currently? Do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
I am currently half way through a book called Lallan Sweets by Srishti Chaudhary. I recently finished the book The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris. I love reading about strong women who have made an impact on the world and autobiographies of women authors rank among my top favourites. I read plenty of light romantic fiction in between as I strongly believe in happily ever after!
The book ‘Kenyan Kronikals’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.