Reshma Ruia. From economist to poet…

By Fay Wertheimer

Reshma Ruia profile

Reshma Ruia. From economist to poet…

Reshma Ruia profile

Award-winning writer, poet, lapsed economist and mother-of-two Reshma Ruia states, “My writing reflects the world we live in today. I see our universal dilemmas in life-affirming, not depressing, terms and am constantly struck by the similarities not the differences across cultures.”

Still Lives final cover

Born in India, brought up in Rome, educated at the London School of Economics, then living between Rome and Paris for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this feisty, quietly spoken author carries her ‘roots in a suitcase’. Her sense of belonging emanates from her emotional attachment to a place and Manchester, a city she has found ever-welcoming, is now home. 

In 1994, she left her high-flying FAO post and the world of economics for love and settled here with Mancunian Raj Ruia. Balancing parenthood and family whilst resuscitating her lifelong passion for literature, Reshma, a UN poetry prize winner at 16, has succeeded in putting herself on the literary map. Adding to her Masters in economics, she gained herself a Manchester University doctorate and teaching in creative writing. She co-founded the British South Asian writers’ collective The Whole Kahani and has fulfilled BBC and University of Cumbria commissions. For instance, to stimulate a greater interest in the Lake District and redress the lack of ethnic minorities’ presence there, a recent brief had Reshma residing in Wordsworth’s home to compose poems reflecting her reaction to the landscape.  

No lockdown layabout, in 2020, Reshma published her poetry anthology A Dinner Party in the Home Counties’, which include a poem selected for the English Literature Edexcel syllabus. 2021 brought us her short story collection, Mrs Pinto Drives to Happiness. And now, two Reshma Ruia novels await your perusal. Her 2003 offering, Something Black in the Lentil Soup, was rated by The Sunday Times as ‘a gem of straight-faced comedy’. And this June, after an extended eight-year gestation period, Reshma’s intended PhD dissertation emerged as Still Lives. This highly original, incisive book – nominated for a SI Leeds Literary Prize – is based, guess where? South Manchester!

The novel showcases multi-faceted Manchester and Reshma adds,

“Not many new contemporary novels are set here. But going back to the Industrial Revolution, the suffragettes and Turing, this UNESCO City of Literature has always defied the world in its strong belief that ‘come what may, we shall succeed’. That’s what I love about it here and I felt it was high time to focus on our city.”

Insightful Reshma maintains a natural curiosity in the parallels between minority communities, such as the ambition and drive shared by both Asians and Jews. So, unsurprisingly, her two main characters in Still Lives are Indian and Jewish. Flawed and ageing, each is impelled by youthful dreams and romance. When aspects of their upbringings emerge, the subsequent conflict does not necessarily resolve. 

Reshma concludes, Still Lives covers love and betrayal, belonging and exclusion, and it highlights my belief that we are products of our own life choices and compromises.’’

Gripping, direct and easy to read… do try it.

Still Lives is available from Amazon, Renard Press, Waterstones & Foyles at £10.