Power Women Who Write, an event that was held at aPaulogy Mumbai on March 20th, 2015 brought together six powerful women writers to celebrate their writings through book readings and audience interaction. They also discussed and opined on the future of Indian writing as well as the publishing industry at large. Morsels & Juices had the rare privilege to conduct a Q&A session with these brilliant and gorgeous authors. We thank Kiran Manral, Madhuri Banerjee, Meghna Pant, Parul Sharma, Aastha Atray and Anjali Kirpalani for taking our questions.
M&J: Amitav Ghosh once remarked, today a woman writing is a woman fighting. For truth, for honesty, freedom, even if not for equality.
As a woman and most importantly as a writer, do you ever feel burdened to deconstruct conventional “stereotypes” through your writing? What is your opinion on the above comment made by Mr. Ghosh?
Anjali Kirpalani: Definitely! I think I speak for every woman when I say that we hate gender stereotypes. I hate the perception that many men have-that women can’t be funny. It downright pisses me off! My novels are chick-lit novels but I don’t do sappy. Although romance plays a key role in my novels, I ensure that it is realistic romance. I bear in mind that we’re in 2015 and relationships today are much more complicated than they were say, 20 years ago. So I try and reflect the times we live in through my writing. And humour plays a very important role in both my life and my writing. So when men assume that my novels will be mushy and my female protagonists ‘girly’, I cannot stand it!
I received a lot of praise for the protagonist Nikita in my début novel, Never Say Never. So I gladly deconstruct conventional stereotypes through my writing. And I do it because I enjoy it. I never feel ‘burdened’ that I have to do it. I do agree with Amitav Ghosh’s statement. The fact is that we live in a patriarchal society. Whenever a woman achieves something, men like to believe that she got where she is because she’s the fairer sex. The reality is that women usually work harder than men to achieve their goals. And what’s surprising is the number of educated men that are sexist. We see it all the time in the workplace. And the world of writing is no different. There are still men who prefer reading books by male authors. And so, what we need right now are more women writers and their unique voices and stories. Which, thankfully, is happening. And that’s what this event ‘Power Women who Write’ is celebrating.
Madhuri Banerjee: No, I don’t feel the need to do anything like that. I just empower my women protagonists. I write complex characters and tell a good story. I leave it to the readers to do the rest. I do wish the Indian readers would pick up more women writer’s books and read them. Women are definitely trying to break boundaries, try different genres, and explore new territories whereas the Indian male commercial fiction authors are writing the same genre they know for years.
Kiran Manral: A woman writing was always a woman fighting. Not just today, not just yesterday, but also tomorrow, the day after and until the end of time. From the time women wrote under male aliases, till the current age where women writers are slotted as chicklit, there is always a battle–and the battle might not always be as lofty as one for truth, honesty, freedom and equality as the good Mr Ghosh says. It might just be the small, very real battle of just needing to be heard out.
I don’t feel burdened by anything when I set out to write, except perhaps the weight of my own expectations and the fact that the novel in my head will always be, as a wiser author once said, always much more beautiful than the one I finally end up with.
Parul Sharma: I am always a little uncomfortable making a comment on behalf of half of the human population. So I will speak for myself. I think writers write for one reason alone – they have something to say and they fear that something terrible will happen if they don’t say it. I wrote and still write for this reason. The writing process for me is infinitely personal – it is not me versus the rest of the world. I am trying to make sense of the world, confused and bewildered as I am by it and my chosen tool is humour.
In all honesty, I don’t know if I am deconstructing stereotypes or pandering to them. My heroines have all been urban, well-educated women with a post-graduate degree or two, in love with men who treat them as equals – maybe my stereotypes are more modern but that doesn’t make them any less truthful.
As for honesty, I think there is no other way to write. We are scornful of bad language, of sentences not constructed prettily, of characters that are cold and inspire nothing – and yet, all of these are more acceptable than being dishonest in one’s work, of not saying what needs to be said.
I don’t think I am writing to gain equality. I am equal. Have people trying to bully me around, put me into comfortable, little-woman brackets? Oh yes. But damned if I am going to let someone else define my boundaries for me.
Meghna Pant: When my first book of short stories Happy Birthday was published by Random House India in 2013, a lot of reviewers had commended my ability to write stories from a male point of view. I found this disconcerting: why was it surprising that a female author could effectively delve into the male psyche? Were male protagonists the domain of male writers? Did literature have to be pigeonholed into female writing and male writing? Wasn’t a good story a good story regardless of whether it was written by a man or a woman?
Then I recalled VS Naipaul’s misogynistic statements in which he dismissed all writing by women because of what he viewed as female ‘sentimentality’ and ‘narrow view of the world.’ This despite the fact that the works of George Eliot and Mary Shelley have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his has. This despite Hilary Mantel, AS Byatt, Iris Murdoch, Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor.
Sadly masculisation of literature is not a Naipaul-led phenomenon. For centuries female writers have been forced to use pen names or androgynous pseudonyms to afford them mystery and, worse, authority. Charlotte Bronte published under the pen name Currer Bell. Her sister Emily hid behind the signature Ellis Bell, whereas Mary Ann used George Elliott. Is it a mere coincidence that Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor could well be mistaken for male names by the uninitiated? What does it tell us when the world’s most famous female author, JK Rowling, decides to publish her crime novel debut under the male pen name Robert Galbraith? Especially since Rowling has never published under her real name: the very feminine Joanne Rowling. Even the Grande Dame of erotica, the supposedly bold EL James, has not published under her real name: Erika Mitchell. Does this not serve to demonstrate the permanence of this issue?
As gender roles become less distinct, with more men in touch with their at-home sides and more women becoming action heroes, we should delight in our differences and remember that gender is a social construct. The sole purpose of literature, if it must have a purpose at all, is to transcend such fallacies and show us the world that we want to become. A story must be read not because a man or a woman writes it, but because it is written well.
With regard to Amitav Ghosh’s statement, the notion of equality is not so simplified that we can write our way out of it. Women writers can begin by writing exquisite breathtaking stories. But, as all writers know, our journey with a book doesn’t end when we finish writing it. Women writers will have to learn to fight for bigger advances, bigger royalties, premium store displays and invitation to coveted literature festivals. We will have to abandon our inherent diffidence and mainstream role-playing by marketing ourselves as aggressively as our male counterparts. Only then can we leave the world with no option but to give us our rightful place as equals.
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