Shelf Healing

Professor Sunny Singh Interview

November 16, 2021 Season 1 Episode 44
Shelf Healing
Professor Sunny Singh Interview
Show Notes Transcript

I chat with writer and academic Professor Sunny Singh all about translations, why representation is needed and how important it is to see other people's stories. We also chat about the Jhalak Prize, whether teaching creative pursuits is therapeutic, and how powerful the stories and relationships attached to books can be.

Prof Singh's Twitter account
Prof Singh's books
The Jhalak Prize
Fabindia

Things mentioned in the episode:
Salman Rushdie
Amitabh Bachchan by Prof Sunny Singh
Georgette Heyer
Hindi and Urdu poetry
The Grand Sophie by Georgette Heyer
Inferno by Dante
Hotel Arcadia by Prof Sunny Singh
Alice Walker
Critical Fictions: The Politics of Imaginative Writing
bell hooks
Three Fat Men (Три толстяка) by Yury Olesha
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Rebecca Markwick:  And before we start, if you could say your first and last name to make sure I pronounce it right. And if you'd like to give pronouns, give pronouns.  

 

Sunny Singh: It's Sunny Singh, and it's she and her.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Well, hello and welcome to Shelf Healing. UCL's bibliotherapy podcast. I'm your host, Rebecca Markwick. Our guest today is Professor Sunny Singh. Professor Singh is a Professor of Creative Writing and Inclusion in the Arts at London Metropolitan University, she was born in India and grew up as a global citizen, earning degrees from the USA, India and Spain.

 

Before joining academia, she worked in the private sector in a large number of countries, including Mexico and Chile. Professor Singh has published three critically renowned fiction novels, numerous non-fiction and creative non-fiction pieces and her work has been everywhere. Her work explores ground-breaking contemporary topics and research interests include decolonization, social justice, equality, and representation.

 

Professor Singh is also the founder of the Jhalak Prize for book of the year by a writer of colour, its sister award, the Jhalak Children's and YA Prize, founded last year last year in 2020, and the, so I'm going to try it again, The Jhalak Art Residency for Artists of Colour. I'm sorry. I felt like I butchered that three times over.

 

I apologize. When we talk about it later, you can make it sound fabulous. Uh, I went with, you know, published that all your work is everywhere because it is, it really, really is. 

 

Sunny Singh: Wow. Well, thank you for having me on. I think having my work everywhere sounds really fabulous, but, um, I think I'm increasingly turning into that, that writer. Thanks to mostly the Jhalak Prize, um, who people know, but never read. So, it's kind of like, in some ways, it's, it's a kind of weird sort of fame, you know, a writer’s fame is apparently, and I think it was Rushdie who said it, is the best kind, because you can get, uh, a table at a fashionable restaurant, but nobody knows you well. Now he did say this before the whole mess, the Rushdie affair started.

 

If I remember correctly, mine is quite interesting. I could, I get recognised in places I'd rather not. I don't think I could get a table at a fashionable restaurant. Um, but nobody reads me. So yeah, everywhere is problematic. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Well, you have your most recent book is obviously a nonfiction book about Indian celebrity. I love that. 

 

Sunny Singh: Indian superstar. I mean, yes. And I'm always, I'm one of those, actually, because I'm an academic, I think I get really pedantic about things like, okay, there are celebrities then there are movie stars. These are not the same things. Then there's other people who are famous, not the same, so yeah, but he's, he's particularly interesting because yeah, he's, he's.

 

On screens for now 52 years, and he's been a superstar for most of that half a century, which is pretty extraordinary. I mean, he's kind of slowed down and you could kind of take off a first, first few years of his career, but that's still an enormous amount of time to just be, all over, everywhere to use your words…

 

Rebecca Markwick:  It's true. It's true. So, our first official question is, is nice and easy. I say, do you feel that reading is therapeutic? 

 

Sunny Singh: Um, yes, absolutely. Somebody who spends most of their time, not having enough time to read. And I feel kind of bad saying it because last year has been difficult. Um, anxiety-inducing and worrying, and there's been grief, ambiguous and particular, but there's been something really special where as long as really, I could get books, I don't, I don't really care about going out or venturing out or doing anything. And, um, it was a useful reminder of that little kid, me, who just looked forward to the summer break. Summer holidays, not because it was something extraordinary was going to happen, but just because I had collected all the books I was going to read and I had spoken to the librarian, so I could go get all the books I had made a list of through the whole year and be there every day and say, okay, can I take these now? Um, and it felt like that I felt like that little kid who just had lots of time to read. Um, it's amazing. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  It's wonderful. So, what kind of books did you read, or do you read? What do you reach for? 

 

Sunny Singh: I read, I read everything, which is perhaps, you know, my mother would say, this is a child who read stuff, who would go through the ingredients list and tomato counts.

 

Um, it's just like, if it's, if it's words, I'll read it. But last year I went through doing a lot of, you know, I was just, I wanted to read about, um, cinema finally, because it's something I work with something I'm looking forward to, you know, towards the book. Um, I'm putting together. I did a lot of non-fiction.

 

Um, also because I'm finalizing a collection of short stories and those are overturning the tropes and conventions of the traditional war story. So, I was getting a lot of reading there. I was in a lot of research. I was doing a lot of kind of all kinds of stuff. Of course, I'm not a judge for the Jhalak Prize, but I just love the books from it because I just like, I just go, I read every one because I'm just like, "Oh my God! This is so amazing!". All these books come to me. Um, so I do the Jhalak Prize reading just to, to know how amazing the books were. And then I do two things. I have, for my switch off the brain, I love Georgette Heyer.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  We love Georgette Heyer on this podcast! We have a whole episode on her it’s great.  

 

Sunny Singh: But this is great! It's just, it's easy. It's fun. But most of all, it's somebody... I love the way she uses English, that English isn't my first language, but it's, it's playful and funny, and I just enjoy that, that rhythm of the language. The way she uses it.

 

So, I read a lot of that. I read a lot of poetry, which was also nice. Um, although primarily in Hindi and Urdu, so not quite. So, it's quite strange, you know, your mind goes a bit weird. In a sort of compartmentalized way. If you speak more than one language, you do certain things in one language and the others in another.

 

 In my case, um, certain anxieties seem to work better or are more manageable if I'm reading in that language. So, when the whole thing with the massive, horrific, wave in spring in India, where it was, I think no family in India that I know was untouched and it was just this horrific time, I couldn't read in English. I was just reading an enormous amount of poetry. And, um, and it was all in Hindi. It was all in Hindi and Urdu because it just kind of kept me somehow together. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I've only, obviously I cannot speak Hindu or Urdu, but I have read some very famous poems you know in translation. Do you feel like they translate well, or not really?

 

Sunny Singh: I think, but, you know, I worked in other languages as well, and I think, um, so I can't write in Hindi. Even though that is technically my first language, or Hindustani. Um, and that is a linguistic thing, by the way, I'm making a kind of a political choice to call it Hindustani rather than Hindi or Urdu, which was, which is a kind of a bifurcation that is a politically loaded one.

 

Um, Urdu is, in its current form, primarily Persian and Arabic and mostly spoken in Pakistan, it is more 'Arab-ised'. Hindi has been 'Sanskrit-ised' but the lingo as we learn it in a quotidian way through the Northern Indian belt is Hindustani because it draws from multiple languages, including Turkish, Persian, Khari Boli, um, Arabic. I mean, it's just this incredibly rich vocabulary and we mix and match. But there is this, obviously, there's a political, politically loaded way of how it's used and how it's in some ways, given a sectarian colour. So, I prefer to call it Hindustani because my favorite writers are from sort of mid 20th century and they tend to use the language more the way I use it. But weirdly enough, I can't write in it. Um, and strangely enough, I started writing, um, flash fiction during the second wave. So, during the spring, you know, for, in India, the wave, um, which was the second wave. But I also write in Spanish, and I can't translate it. It doesn't for me, it makes no sense.

 

Um, but I've, I read it in translation constantly because I don't speak lots of languages. Um, but there is a kind of trust that the translator knows what they're doing. So, I don't know, in my head, there are very clear categories for the languages I speak and then everything else I read in any of the languages I speak, I don't particularly, um, have preferences. So, I've read...most, most of the...most of the Russian literature I know, I first read in Hindi. Most of, um, pretty much all the Korean literature I know, and Chinese literature I know, I read in English. But most of the, especially the canonical, classical, French literature I've read, I read first in Spanish.

 

So it just, it's this weird muddle. I can read other, other translations if it's a language I speak. That's fine, but I can do it for myself. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  That's really interesting. I love it.

 

Are there any books that you return to over and over again? Like comfort food, but a book. 

 

Sunny Singh: Well, I think Heyer is a good case in point, right? Georgette Heyer is a great comfort food. Um, I always, I think there's things I go back to probably because, um, should I go back to The Grand Sophy a lot with this because that's my favourite Heyer, partly because it's. Um, also really strange thing, so, um, my parents had an arranged marriage, and my father was in the army. So, they spent the first couple of years just not really living together or not really seeing each other very often. And so, he would...he wooed my mother by giving her Georgette Heyer novels. And so, we have this whole collection of, of novels that have these really beautiful, um, messages from my dad to my mom.

 

Um, somewhere as a teenager, I found a copy of The Grand Sophy, and that was the earliest novel that he'd given her. So, in some way for me, it's a way of kind of a comfort food. It has. It has as much to do with the book as it does with the circumstances around it. But it's just like, oh, this is, this is how people get to know each other. And, other than that, there's the complete other opposites. Um, I'd go for me where the comfort food is, (Dante's) Inferno. So, I probably read it once a year, not in its entirety, I'll just come dip in and out. I decided that I was going to read it through the pandemic, um, sort of counterfactual and I'm just still kind of doing it.

 

So, it happens in bits and pieces. So, I read it and put it away and then sits next to my bedside table. It's comforting in a very, very different way. Um, definitely no nice story about it, but... 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I wouldn't recommend sending that to, to woo someone with.

 

Sunny Singh:  No, but on the other hand, you know, I, I'm still in touch with my Dante professor at university who, uh, that's now 30 plus years.

 

Who in so many ways gave me the love, the writer and the text. And, um, I will, you know, with my last novel, which was called Hotel Arcadia, that when I started writing I was like... So, we had like this sort of an online tutorial 20-something years after I had left university going, do you remember where you explained?

 

So, you know, there's this, there is a story there as well, but it's quite personal and it's odd that it still holds in the back of my head that he could still give me an answer. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Yeah, and I feel like books have a very special place in those sorts of relationships, you know? Romantic relationships, friend relationships, platonic relationships, relationships over huge swathes of time.

 

That just one book can... 

 

Sunny Singh: And I do, you know, and it's quite strange because I agree, and I think there's another relationship. And I was quite strange because of course that horrific story from Oxford just hit this afternoon. Around, you know, if you want to call it 'MeToo' at Oxford, but, um, which by the way, I have no links to.

 

So, um, but that is a problem with academia as you know, particular to a university and I was reading it, you know, there is an extraordinarily precious, fragile relationship. Because as in my, with my academic hat that we also have with students and it can go, it can be really nurturing and wonderful, which is what I feel about my professor, because, you know, he immediately wrote back going after 20 years, I've had a new student from India and I'm looking forward to having our calls because we would have these slugging matches in our seminars. Um, because I'd be like, he'd be like, and that's a mentoring, nurturing relationship. But even though I haven't seen him in 30 years, it stays it's around this particular book. And then I was reading it today. Um, and I kind of feel, I really feel bad because that's, that's, that's that's…that's not a relationship, but just this completely toxic. And that can go increasingly toxic because all the elements of the abuse of power are there embedded. I mean, I suppose it's the case with many relationships, but, um, but it just feels like it should be a lot more sacred and special, but you know? Complete tangent, but there you go.

 

I write about, I write a lot about gender issues and sexual violence, so.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  And that’s why we are talking to you. That's why I was so excited when you agreed to come on the podcast. So, you are a professor of creative writing and inclusion in the arts. Do you find writing creatively to be therapeutic to you? And do you find that helping other people learn to write creatively it's also therapeutic in some sort of way? Feel free to say no and to rip my question to pieces. 

 

Sunny Singh: No, ma'am, I don't think that's bad. I would repeat the question. Cause I think now that you've asked it, I'm just thinking it through. Yes, I don't, I don't find creative. I don't try. I don't find fiction therapeutic. I find most of my fiction is written from a place of distress. Um, anger, frustration, rage, um, it's written constantly, um. Probably because it's so politically engaged. It always, you know, it's, it's blood and blood, sweat, and tears in many ways because it just takes everything out. Um, I find academic writing and non-creative, non-fiction therapeutic.

 

Um, partly why I think I tweet so much because it's, it's a very quick way of getting that idea out. Um, with academic writing, obviously it has its own process of substantiating and, you know, citations and so on. But, in some ways it works more within the intellectual field than an emotional embodied physical field.

 

Um, so it's, I find that they're sort of that stepping back, taking a step away, um, from the creative, emotional side or an embodied side, therapeutic. I guess that's also linked with, with teaching. So, it is I think Alice Walker who... do you know, it's just, if I'm going to get the citation wrong, I might as well… I'm sure I got the Rushdie citation wrong. Um, I think we're allowed to note out perfectly academically cited podcasts. Um, she said that, you know, there's, there's something along the lines of paraphrasing. The purpose, you know, the whole point is to free yourself of liberation. So not only you free yourself, so you can free others.

 

And, and I've always found that a really powerful idea. So, the idea of, for me, of being able to write is, has always been extraordinarily powerful. To tell your story or tell a story, some exercise of power, but to tell your story, when for whichever reason you are in some way, minoritized or marginalized makes that power more, more potent in some ways. So, for me to teach creative writing fits into that, it's about sort of saying, well, I've done this. I can show you how to do it until you can tell your story.  Then that would be more of us telling our stories. And then more of us are liberated. Um, so I guess that part, I find so therapeutic because that's more important.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  You're a really strong proponent of representation within literature. Do you feel that enough progress is being made in this area? Is it going in the right direction? Feel free to go wild with your thoughts? 

 

Sunny Singh: Well, gosh, that's a really tricky one, isn't it? Because, um, so here's the thing. I actually start by going, why do we need representation?

 

Why is it important that it's not a kind of a checkbox exercise of saying, oh, we have so many people in so many people in so many people. For me, it's, it's not even a moral case, but it's, it's the lived ethical, political, social, human case. The way we recognize each other's humanity is if we know somebody's story, when we go on that first date, we start by telling each other stories.

 

When we have anniversaries. You know, we go back to that restaurant or that place or that park, because that becomes part of our joint collective, you know, united story. It's very curious because when relationships start to go wrong, that same story gets retold and rewritten in order to break ourselves away.

 

So, when I look at stories and when I look at representation in culture, I start with the fact that we need to hear each other's stories because we can't live together while we pretend one set of stories are important. That the other stories don't need to be heard, or one set people can tell all the stories because they're somehow better at it.

 

And it's like, that's not how we build a community. That's not how we build a culture. That's going to be sustainable. That's going to be related. That's going to be ethical. So, for me, representation's not just about the number of books that are published and who gets commissioned it's about who we want to be and who we want to become. When I start from that point, no, we're not doing enough. But also, you know, that's not just a criticism because yes, I can go through the numbers and tell you, this is not good enough. We need to do much better. All parts of cultural production need to do better, publishing, TV, films, et cetera, et cetera. We go down the list. But here's some idea we will never do enough.

 

And the reason for that is the more people who are liberated and more stories we know, the more we will be able to identify which stories are missing. So, freedom, isn't the kind of state you kind of reach at. It's not a pie, it's an ever-expanding circle and that's the good side. That, that, you know, instead of sort of a, oh, we've now hit that mark and we're done. We should start by going, 'We're never going to hit that mark, but that's the good point because that means more people, we, we are striving constantly forever towards greater justice'. That doesn't seem like a bad thing. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I love that. I love your pie analogy as well; I love it when stuff like that happens. 

 

Sunny Singh: Well, we could have had cupcakes, but I'm like maybe not... 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  It's evening when we're recording this, so cupcakes feel a bit more of a mid-day idea. That's lovely. Kind of on the back of that, is there a single book that sort of profoundly affected you in this kind of... 

 

Sunny Singh: Whew. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I know throwing the hard questions at you late in the evening. 

 

Sunny Singh: ...Because so many of them did. Intellectually, you know, sort of in that kind of early twenties way.

 

Um, there's, there's a series of, there's a collection it's I think '92, '93. And it's a collection of, um, short essays. I think it was, uh, it comes if I remember correctly from, um, a conference or something and it's called Critical Fictions and it's a whole lot of writers just talking about their politics and why their fiction is what it is.

 

And I constantly go back to that because I remember finding it and reading it while I was just starting my first novel as a 20 something. And it just went well, this is amazing. This is like real stuff. So that, um, Bell Hooks, you know about on everything she has to say about pedagogy, everything, she has to say about liberation and education and how we go through that. But I would even go to further back. Um, so I grew up in India during the cold war. That's where I was a child. And we've got books, mostly. I mean, British books where, you know, it's the sixties, early seventies. Not, they were expensive. Not exactly found everywhere.

 

We had some, we had American books and Indian books, and then we had these enormous amount of Soviet books. Which were translated into English. I mean, they, and they were cheap, but they were beautifully made. And have, I still have some, um, sitting at home and there was one book which I absolutely loved, and it was it's called, The Three Fat Men. It's a children's book about these three men who are enormously powerful and rich, and they control the city and they're quite awful. And this entire thing is about how a bunch of people who are quite marginalized. There is a circus acrobat. There's a doctor, there's a little girl and they basically organize an overthrow of the regime.

 

I'm not sure if maybe that might be the book that influenced me, like, oh, you can, you can get rid of people like that. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  That sounds like a great book. I'm going to hunt that out. 

 

Sunny Singh: So, I think that would be, that would have to be my, my top read influence for books. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Now you created the Jhalak Prize in 2016 for works, published within the UK, by writers of colour. First off, how hard is it to pick judges for a prize with such varied and fabulous entries? 

 

Sunny Singh:  I have to say there's a whole set. So, we always look, it's a jury of peers. So, everybody who judges is a writer themselves. That's the starting point. But I think one of the most extraordinary things that I've learned over the last years since the first year of the price is how incredibly rich and diverse and complex the readings are, um, that our judges bring to it. And I think some of it is just that if you don't see yourself in books or you don't see your stories told in the big books, you by default go and find other things.

 

So, you read, let's say the cannon, but you also seek out other things. And that also means that I just kind of sit back and listen to the conversations that the judges have at the meetings. And it's like a master class on literature each time. And I'm just going, 'Ok how, how does this work?' And it's Ghanaian, um, Ukraine and Nigeria and Singapore and Malaysia. And you're just going, there is this enormous wealth of knowledge that our judges bring and that's really extraordinary. Um, so no, it isn't the judges, that are difficult to find because they're very good at what they do, and they bring so much touch and expertise.

 

Um, I think there's, I think that the tricky part is that we're so few that there's always, it always feels like, you know, I look at it and go, oh, look there and there. And, and it just feels like it's are we running a slight risk of nepotism because I know every book that has been submitted. Um, and that worries me always, because it's like, It's an I, you know, kind of, but also all of us, not just, we mentor our people, we're friends with people.

 

We are informally, all be it colleagues and it just feels at one the good side is it's truly a jury of your peers. The other side is like, all of us are in that kind of place where we all know each other, so it can get tricky. I think that's, that's some of the harder balance. Um, we've never had a question about it because I think the, the.

 

The discussions are always so rich. And so, and the ways in which the decisions are made by the judges is always kind of always awe-inspiring. But I always wonder because it's like, am I being seen as a kind of a nepotistic person, because all the books come in and I'm like, oh no, that person that I've tweeted about them, and I've talked to them and I'm just.

 

Yeah, you will. Somebody kind of say, oh, well that one, um, is there because, you know, I saw Sunny tweets, or I saw them kind of go out and have drinks. And that's just really that, I mean, that's probably me on my sort of thesis. Life must appear to be just kind of logic. That's not let’s not go there. You know... 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I think it's also a, it's a thing that happens when you become very widely read and embedded, within literature. I feel like it's very easy to know everybody. Because that's what you do. It's like, I know loads of people in the horse industry, which is, I've worked in the horse industry for years and years and years. And every time I watch the Olympics, I'm like, oh, I know that horse. I know that rider, and then everyone looks at me, like, I'm crazy. And I think it's just because. That's it's my niche. And I feel like because your niche is the Jhalak Prize and you're an inclusion professor and a creative professor of creative, creative writing professor. And you're so active on the social media that you just come into contact with everyone.

 

And I'd be worried if you didn't know all these fabulous writers!

 

Sunny Singh: I mean, the good thing is there's enough of us out there. And there's more of us coming up each week here and each day that I don't know people. So that's the nice part. So, um, I mean, what I tend to do is it's, it's, it's really hard around this time because books start coming in to the submission and, um, I was kind of do this thing where I'm like, okay, I've read that one because it's a friend and I was really excited about it, or it was a writer that I love and I'm really, I was really excited so I already went out and bought it and read it. And then it's kinda like, okay, for each book by somebody I know, I'm going to then read somebody who's completely new because that just keeps me open and thinking about what else is happening. And it's just, so I kind of alternate my reading back and forth. But most of the times, and this is the nice spot for me, I mean, Jhalak Prize has been a learning curve for me. Most of the times for each book by a writer that I know there are three or four that are brand new. So, I discover new writers every year and that's good. Yeah. And I don't, I mostly don't know them and then I started following them, but yeah. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  That's what we love to do isn’t it? And last year was the first year for the children's and young adults’ version, which must've been fun. I hope you had lots of picture books come in. 

 

Sunny Singh: We did, we did have a picture book. Um, not as many as we'd like, but you know, we, I mean... We still had 70 something entries across the age range. It's not perfect. It's but it's good start, especially because it is, it's a sign, you know, I think that the children's side of the industry is trying to move forward and make changes. So, it's good. So, I'm not going to, you know, knock them. I have a niece she's three and because of her, I know all about picture books. Um, so I was kind of like, wait that one they sent in, so I was just like, I'm floating here because of three-year-olds kind of monitored it and decided that that was published and why it hasn't, you know?

 

So it wasn't, it wasn't. Yeah. So, I have a sort of a research market assistant who is three and the books come in. It's brilliant. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Now, final question, Professor Singh, is going to be the hardest one and I apologize in advance. But, if you could suggest one book, that you think embodies everything that you love about literature, et cetera, for people to read. What one book would it be? 

 

Sunny Singh: It's hard because that's just like, I'm just like in, well, first of all, the answer would change every day… 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  See I love asking this question! You can have more than one if you'd like more than one... 

 

Sunny Singh: So, I'm going to start with mostly because I've been teaching. You know, this, these past weeks, um, I'm going to start with Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie.

 

Um, um, it's what he apparently read for his son after the fatwa and the whole thing kicked off. And what I like about it is that it's a very simple way of explaining to somebody why telling stories is important. And why it's important that we continue to tell stories and tell lots and lots and lots of different stories…

 

Um, and it's, you know, at the heart, yes there is a philosophical aspect to making a case for freedom of speech and freedom of representation. And yeah, there was a lot of complexity to it, but it's also just a fun book. Um, thankfully, because it's Rushdie, even though it's written in English, he draws from the Islamic traditions.

 

He draws from the Hindu Sanskrit traditions. It's sort of an era of the vocabularies of Hindustani mixed with everything else, but it just makes for a fun read. At least when I'm not sure my, my students would agree.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I'm sure they'll come round; they've only just started...

 

Sunny Singh: It's a first-year module, so they're all fresh into, into the degree so we can hope.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Well, I'm going to try when I am editing to write down all the authors and books you've suggested and pop them in the show notes and links to everything that that needs linking to like the Jhalak Prize.

 

And I'm sorry, my pronunciation is terrible. 

 

Sunny Singh: Don't worry. 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  You'd have thought that all those years of international boarding school would, would help with languages. And I still can only speak one language and a tiny bit of German. 

 

Sunny Singh: I think um, it’s to do with when you start learning it and how much you use it. I think it's just, yeah.

 

Um, there are languages. I still come functional because I can't say exactly, you know, I can't speak, um, with the appropriate accent, um, or say the sounds, but I can muddle along with more of them mostly because I think it's an early, early age thing. And in India we grew up bilingual at least if not more, um, without even including English.

 

So, I think it's. The messy messiness of it. I'm all for people learning more languages.

 

Rebecca Markwick:  Like, definitely! I have a friend who can speak about seven and I always feel really incompetent because she can speak Japanese. And it makes me very, I have lots of Japanese friends and it makes me sad because I just can't hear the tonal shifts. I just can't. I just can't. 

 

Sunny Singh:  Yeah. My niece is very amusing because she's she's three and for the moment, she's probably well, but she's, she's able to kind of imitate accents and imitate languages because it's just kind of in her head. That just makes sense. Yeah. So, but it's very interesting to watch somebody from day zero do it.

 

So, she just, it just doesn't even occur to her. Um, although she's learning to recognize that they're different languages, um, so that's quite funny. She, uh, she went to her mom and said, 'do you know that language you speak, i.e. Hindi? Nobody speaks it'. Her mom was like, well you're a speaker and she's like, yes, yes, yes.

 

But no, like 1.3 billion. That's lots of people speak it in India and she just went well, that's fine. But here, they live in Brazil, here, nobody speaks. And my sister was just like, well thank you for noticing. So yeah. I mean, this is a weird kind of thing that our brains do. So. You know, she's obviously picked up that, you know, some, there has to be a level of instrumentality to things.

 

Rebecca Markwick:   Well, thank you so much for coming on and giving your time. I've absolutely loved chatting to you.

 

Sunny Singh: Thank you, this was fun. And, um, I'll look forward to it. And, um, go to India! 

 

Rebecca Markwick:  I hope you enjoyed listening to the fabulous, Professor Sunny Singh on this week's episode. I had so much fun chatting to her. We chatted so much about silk as well, uh, that I had to cut off the end because it's not really bibliotherapy, but I'm going to put a link to fab India, which is a fabulous silk company in India. In case I know, wants to check out some fabric. 

 

Please, please, please go and read Professor Singh's books. They're fabulous. She's a beautiful writer; I highly recommend them! 

 

Thanks, as always to Nicholas Patrick, for our music, and to Nat Balch for our transcript this week. Please check us out on Twitter at shelf underscore healing and stay with us next week. We've got another episode of Shelf Healing.