She’s bold, upfront and uncompromisingly forthright with her words. Pick up any of her piece and you won’t be able to put it down until it ends. Her frank style is much celebrated among the readers. Shobhaa De, highly acclaimed columnist and widely read writer, does not just pen down a story when she sits down to write, she gives you a food for thought. Her unapologetic opinions on the society at large are not just a casual read. In an exclusive conversation with Shobhaa De, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, she talks about her writing style, her say on contemporary women writers and much more with us.
When asked about her approach towards the readers, and how she defined her success in writing, she was pleased to say, “It’s difficult for me to say what it is, but people would describe it as understanding the pulse of your readers, and the society that you live in, trying to hold up a mirror to the society, to reflect it as truthfully as you can, to create characters who people are interested in reading, fiction in particular.” Her style is unique, every reader is aware of it. “People connect to things which are candid,” she remarked.
One set of writers, like Shakespeare wouldn’t let their personality reflect in the characters and there are other writers who don’t feel the urge to put up a wall between themselves and their characters. On this, Shobhaa De firmly believes that a writer has to immerse into the writing. “It is a total immersion and some of it maybe from your own life, from your own emotional draft but a lot of it is what you create. A gift for any big writer of fiction is being able to create characters that readers can identify with because they may be completely flawed characters and failed human beings but there’s vulnerability, there’s something that appeals to the person reading them.”
An avid traveller, she proudly claimed that she drew inspiration from “the people around, her life, her travels.” Indeed, perhaps that is what brings her books and work so close to reality!
Drifting the conversation towards her beginning days and also, the drastic change in the status of women writers over the last two decades, Shobhaa De recalled the time when her first novel, Socialite Evenings came out. “It was when there was no market at all for women voices in India. And I took that as a huge challenge to prove the publishers wrong and I am glad I could but since then it’s been fantastic, almost like an explosion of women writing.” Extremely delighted, she exclaimed, “New young writers and their voices are very powerful and compelling, and I think there’s something going on there that we need to recognise. Women across the world are speaking up. And it’s lovely to be a part of this process.”
Shobhaa is one of those writers who like to welcome and endorse fresh talent! Not shying away to confess her biasness towards women writers, she candidly said, “I am very attracted to women’s voices, I gravitate towards them. I mean if I have to pick between two books, I’d first pick up the book written by a woman. I am telling you, it’s a terrible confession to make but yes I just want to know what she is saying, it’s new, it’s thought provoking.” She continued, “I don’t necessarily like the description of new writers, women being categorised as ‘chic lit’. I find it very offensive. It’s a put down. So, I don’t always pick up a book because it’s written by a woman but very often as word of mouth and being in publishing you get a lot of books coming to the house for review.”
Much like her writing her speech too is crisp and sharp! Not an iota of reluctance when she talks on important matters.
So has she managed any Bollywood collaboration since the film adaptations are becoming a trend? She unhesitatingly responds, “So far I haven’t met anybody I am comfortable enough to say, ‘Okay! Go ahead and make this.’” Films are mushrooming at various digital platforms these days. The theatres are no more the only medium for films to be screened. Realistic stories and compelling narratives are gaining momentum among the youth.
Shobhaa’s novels are not short of any such thrilling content. Yet her novels haven’t yet seen an adaptation. She revealed, “I have had lots of producers approaching me. Now with Netflix, lots of Studios but I am taking my time because I have to feel from within the confidence, because it’s a huge thing. So, I don’t want to just give it away.”
(Interviewed by Dolly Bansal)