The Bangalore of “Boomtown Girl” no longer exists. The frenetic mashup of East and West, globalization and tradition that inspire — and, at times, confound — the young characters in Shubha Sunder’s debut story collection was very much the product of a specific time, and of the author’s own girlhood.
“In the ‘90s, the liberalization of the Indian economy brought about sweeping changes, especially in Bangalore,” said Sunder, who came to the United States for college in 2001, at the age of 18. “My generation witnessed the end of the era of Bangalore being this little backwater. Bangalore was suddenly on the world stage.”
Citing the sudden influx of Western corporations, which changed life in both profound and mundane ways, she recalled: “There was no fast-food place in Bangalore when I was in middle school. Then all of a sudden when I was in high school, there was KFC. There was Pizza Hut. There was Baskin-Robbins.”
These new temptations, their attendant pitfalls, and all the sexual anxieties of adolescence play out in these nine stories. In “Independence Day,” a teenager squeezes into the ill-fitting American-made sandals her father has given her, even as she wishes she were out on a date with a boy. In “The Footbridge,” an Indian boy walks a white American woman home, fantasizing about how he will protect her from danger — until he can’t.
Like many of her protagonists, Sunder was originally oriented toward the sciences. “I loved to draw. I loved to write poetry. But I grew up in this ethos that saw those things very much as hobbies.” Her father was an engineer, and she majored in physics, coming to Boston to teach math and science. “My plan was I would teach during the day and write in the evenings and weekends,” she said, laughing. After six years of that, she went to BU for creative writing, earning an MFA.
“I didn’t know anyone who was a writer, so I really had to figure that out.”
Sunder recently finished a novel. Set in Boston and Cambridge from an immigrant’s perspective, “there’s still a lot of India in it,” she said. “But it’s from a completely different angle.
“I’m not nostalgic for Bangalore when I’m here in America,” Sunder said. “I have a full life here. But I am nostalgic for Bangalore when I’m in Bangalore because when I go home there’s just so much that’s changed. It feels like I’m not actually home.”
Shubha Sunder will discuss “Boomtown Girl” with Grace Talusan at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, May 3, at 7 p.m.
Clea Simon is the Somerville-based author of — most recently — the novel “Hold Me Down.”