Varsha Bajaj on Writing a Mystery, Water Inequity, and THIRST
Our dear friend (and neighbor to some of our staffers!) Varsha Bajaj returns this month with a brand new middle grade novel, Thirst. Friends, the book is incredible. It's a poignant, page-turning mystery that addresses the class divide and access to resources head-on, and its Mumbai setting provides an incredible window into life on the other side of the world. The book is also full of jumping-off points for important discussions, and has already been named a Global Read Aloud selection for 2022. We can't wait for you to read it.
We are honored and excited to welcome Varsha to the shop for an in-person event celebrating the book's release on July 16. If you pre-order the book through us before then, you can get a signed, personalized copy — and we'll make a donation to Water.org. (If you're an educator, the deal is even sweeter — you can upload your proof of purchase and receive a free educator's kit for the classroom, courtesy of the book's publisher.) In the meantime, check out our Q&A with Varsha below!
Congratulations on your latest book! Tell us a bit about Thirst.
I’d like to thank my friends at Blue Willow Books for your support over the years.
Thirst is the story of a brave young girl named Minni, who lives in Mumbai and continues to dream of an education despite her circumstances. Thirst is about Minni’s fight for water equity.
In the novel, you describe the class inequities in India, including access to water and education. You were born and raised in Mumbai; did you ever encounter these inequities? What was your research process like?
I was privileged to be born in an upper middle-class family that valued education above all else.
I do remember the water shortages. No one was untouched. We were taught to conserve water, to never leave a tap running. I do remember storing water in buckets during times when the water supply was affected because of delayed monsoons. Water shortages during the summer were especially brutal.
My father did a lot of social work as a member of the Rotary Club, and I have vague memories of accompanying him when I was a preteen. I worked in neighborhoods like Minni’s as an idealistic college graduate. In 2020, right before the pandemic, I returned and walked through the streets to corroborate my distant memories. I listened to the accounts of so many who live in similar neighborhoods, and I’m indebted to them for their honesty.
I did online research on water inequities and theft. I went down the rabbit hole and at one point had to make myself stop and start creating the characters and storyline. These characters are so familiar to me, and have been with me for a long time, and I love them dearly.
Minni's story really kept us turning the pages, and we were intrigued by the mystery that you wove into the narrative. How did you craft the mystery? Was the process of writing a mystery different from writing a non-mystery book?
I loved reading mysteries like Nancy Drew and the Enid Blyton series when I was a kid. It kept me turning the pages too, even at night with a flashlight. I’ve always wanted to write one. When I decided to weave the theft of water into the story, I knew that it was my opportunity. I wanted this global issue to not feel like an abstract concept. I wanted this story to be accessible and engaging in a kid appropriate way. The events in the story led to questions: What will happen to each of my characters as a result of what they inadvertently witness? What next? Who might these criminals be? Will Minni encounter them again? A mystery was thus organically born.
You can see that I’m trying very hard to not reveal any spoilers! ☺
Are there any organizations you recommend for people who want to support access to water around the world?
Water.org is a global organization that works for water equity and I am a huge fan of their work. Thank you for supporting their work with your very generous donation. Here is a list of the top ten charities that work globally for water.
Tell us, what do you have on tap after Thirst?
I’m working on a chapter book and a young middle grade novel. They will be out in early 2023 but I can’t share any other details. Sorry.
I also have a picture book coming out sometime in 2023 called Henna Garden, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan, and published by Nancy Paulsen books.
Thirst is a Global Read Aloud selection for 2022, so I look forward to spending time and talking with a lot of young readers during this year. Lucky, lucky me!