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Suneeti Rekhari’s new novel The Lost Souls Dating Agency gives readers a rather spirited take on romance

When SuneetiRekhari arrived in Australia in 2003 it was to do a PhD on the Australian Aboriginal people. But 12 years later, the anthropologist seems to have discovered a hidden side to her—that of romance novelist.

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Rekhari, who has been living in Melbourne since 2008, has published her first book The Lost Souls Dating Agency, which is a light-hearted take on arranged marriages.

Published by Harlequin Escape, the story revolves around an Indian teenager in Melbourne who sets up a matchmaking agency for supernatural beings.

The book is making news as it is one of a handful of young adult novels set in Australia that has an Indian protagonist, along with other main characters.

The Indian Sun speaks to Rekhari on her first novel and the market’s reaction to it.

What made you choose a topic like arranged marriage? Didn’t you think it would be a bit of a cliché?

Hey, there are heaps of interesting books about arranged marriages! My very good friend ItishaPeerbhoy has just written a hilarious book about it, called Half Love, Half Arranged. My book is not about arranged marriage per se, but the idea stems from the concept of ‘arranging love’, if such a thing is possible. My protagonist, Shalini Gupta, is a young girl in Melbourne who through a series of events, decides to open a dating agency to arrange matches. Then I asked myself, why should humans have a monopoly on love? I decided Shalini should arrange matches for the non-human paranormal community! So you know, your everyday vampires, and were kangaroos and witches.

How has the market reacted to your work so far?

The reviews have been positive so far (I may or may not be checking my Goodreads and Amazon status every few hours…). I have received a lot of flak about the cliffhanger ending (sorry!) and that seems to ignite many passionate responses. But I see this as a great win for the book, because readers want more and they want it soon! So that must mean they enjoyed it right?

Tell us about the Australian influences in the book.

Australia is my adopted homeland and features vividly in the narrative. I’m originally from Nainital in Uttarakhand in India. I’ve lived here for over 10 years and feel like I can speak from a place that I have made for myself and for Shalini. And really, were-sharks and were-kangaroos (who both feature in Lost Souls and may even fall in love, you’ll have to read the book to find out) are quintessentially Australian.

How much has India and Indianess influenced the book apart from the concept of arraigned marriage?

Growing up, I devoured books on mythology and the whole pantheon of Amar ChitraKathas on it. My interest in the non-human paranormal world stems from this. Being brought up in Dubai also made me appreciate the culture I belonged to and this sense of ‘belonging’ was most tangible through the stories and myths that make our culture so vibrant, rich and unique. So I would say that ‘Indianness’ is splashed through the book, from samosa providing friends to overbearing family shenanigans to a whole host of mythical madness!

Could you share your experiences with digital publishing?

I sort of stumbled upon digital publishing in my search for the right home for Lost Souls. I received some very helpful feedback from Allen &Unwin on initial drafts of the manuscript (who decided it was just not quite right for them) and pitched it to a few other publishers before sending it to Harlequin Escape. They have an amazingly knowledgeable and supportive team of editors and publishers and the whole process was so enjoyable. I also think that young people these days are reading more on their electronic devices, and traditional print media is changing rapidly because of this. So I decided this might be the best way to proceed with Lost Souls. Plus, you can have a worldwide release on the same day. I find it very exciting to think that someone in Ulan Bator might be reading Lost Souls right now.

Could you tell me a bit more on what you think about affirmative action in media?

I’m not sure I can answer this question in the space of a newspaper column! My PhD research looked at identity representations, and I believe that the Australian media could do better in showing more non-Anglo faces on screen. Why is it relegated to SBS? As far as affirmative action goes, that’s more a question for the pollies and decision makers. But I would love to see Lost Souls on TV here, and that could be one way to get more Indian faces on mainstream Australian media?

Can you tell us a bit of the work you have done around domestic violence.

I joined a very dedicated team of people in the ACHRH a few years ago, when I was looking for a way to contribute to the Indian community in Melbourne, particularly in addressing the issues that affect migrant Indian women in Australia. I have been away from this work for over a year, while I was on maternity leave, but plan on returning 110 per cent in the next few months. I think we need to build an awareness about the issue within our community first and then the broader Australian community. There needs to be a research ‘think-tank’ that provides the facts and figures and social analysis needed to support the campaigns and get people comfortable about talking on this very sensitive and complex issue.

How easy or hard is it to make it in Australia as an Indian-English writer?

I wouldn’t say it is ‘easy’, but if you have a good narrative and characters, that’s half the battle! In my experience, my publishers have been very supportive about ‘ethnic’ writing, but again I think the publishing industry in general could do better. We need to hear more voices from the Indian community, so to any budding Indian-English writers out there, I would say, just write what you know, from the heart! It’s the only way to enjoy this craft, and to connect with readers. That’s what it’s ultimately about isn’t it?

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