Saturday, November 26, 2011
The write way•
By Manjari Saxena, Deputy Editor, tabloid! on Saturday
Published: 00:00 November 26, 2011
Shobhaa De is an author, columnist and TV presenter known for not mincing her words. In more than two decades, the prolific writer has written not just bestselling novels but has commented on topics such as politics, film, social differences and gender discrimination. She writes regular columns for leading Indian English dailies and her books are course material in the University of London. With six children (two from her first marriage, two from her second and two step kids) De has surely seen a tumultuous family life but she plainly refuses to talk about her personal life.
"Family is sacred and out of bounds," she said, smiling. "Anything else is fine. And it's not like I haven't spoken of how to cope with it. It's all there in my books." De was speaking on the sidelines of the Sharjah International Book Fair last week where she was on the panel to speak on Outstanding Women in Fiction.
She says she's "like every woman in the world".
"I believe [a woman] is a juggler, an acrobat, a tightrope walker, a multi-tasker, a general dogs-body," she explains. "You cope and you enjoy yourself. Sometimes you weep with frustration, other times you exult and celebrate life. Women's lives are necessarily led and complex and hard to penetrate. You always have to look for the subtext."
De has definitely been a multi-tasker, having managed to be a bestselling author, wife and mother. Yet, at 63, she looks like a woman in her mid- to late forties. Time seems to have stood still for her.
"I'm a grandmother also now," she corrects me. "I think I've only a very good gene pool to thank for it because I don't think I do anything exceptional. I don't have the time. I lead a very busy life and I think that keeps me on my toes — large family, lots of writing commitments, I travel a lot. And I think the best kind of exercise for senior citizens is the one that is cerebral combined with a few basics — what you do in school — toe touching and limbering up. That's about it. But unless you are mentally active and feel good about yourself, you cannot look good. Feel good inside and you look good outside.
"The whole stereotype of a granny has changed," she continues. "You see a lot of women 60 plus today — and I can reel off names — who are very productive. So, as I said in my last book, 60 is the new 40 today. Whether it is Hema Malini, Shabana Azmi, Rekha, Sharmila Tagore, Simi or Sonia Gandhi and Hillary Clinton, older women are not like cows put to pasture anymore. It's a whole different way of looking at age and ageing. You must learn to make the best use of your time to be giving off yourself in a way that is meaningful to yourself and the people who are around you that is your family, your colleagues. If there is a mantra at all, it's to remain completely on top of your game, your life and be very productive."
With all her protagonists women, in the past two decades, how has she seen the Indian woman change?
"My next novel has a male protagonist," she laughs. "I'm returning to fiction after 13 years, and hope my readers accept this protagonist with as much enthusiasm as they have the women in my books.
"As for the Indian woman changing — dramatically. She's an unrecognisable person from the woman I knew when I was growing up. And I see it as a huge step forward. It's a very optimistic portrait that I can visualise for not just my daughter's generation but definitely for my granddaughter's generation who will grow up with the idea, for example, of a working grandmother. My generation grew up not even with a working mother, forget grandmother. But for Avantika's [my daughter's] generation, some of them took it in their stride that their mothers were working women and this generation of Indian girls is growing up with fantastic role models as they are seeing what is possible. With a two-income family being a reality in India, today it's no longer an option or something you do on the side as a hobby. It is required if you want any quality of life, education for your kids and so on. So women are definitely the biggest catalysts of social change. They are leading a quiet revolution without giving up on their feminine selves, without having to take to the streets, without having to ask for concessions. And they are doing it wonderfully well. The future, especially for the Asian countries, is absolutely dazzling."