‘While writing, I was furious about all that is done to women in India’
By Yogesh Vajpeyi
17th June 2012 12:30 AM
After 25 years in TV and marriage to economist Lord Meghnad Desai, Kishwar Desai decided to try her hand at writing. Her third book and second novel, Origins of Love, is about commercialisation of artificial reproductive techniques such as IVF and surrogacy. In an interview with Books Editor Yogesh Vajpeyi, she talks about her work.
Why writing after TV?
I had spent almost 20 years in TV, starting as a scriptwriter for educational programmes for UGC, Kolkata, and ending as a VP of Zee Telefilms. In between, I’d done everything, from producing to anchoring shows and even had my own production house. However, I felt many of the serious issues I wanted to address were no longer possible on TV: it was becoming celebrity-oriented and was all about game and reality shows. Even news programmes are veering towards entertainment. I thought it was time to do what I’d wanted to do since childhood—write!
When did you conceive the first: Witness the Night?
The story of Witness the Night — about a young girl who is accused of murdering 13 members of her family, had haunted me for many years. I’d read about a similar case more than 10 years ago, and had initially wanted to make a film on it. It was such a bizarre case — why would a teenager want to kill her family — if indeed she had? I sat down to write the plot : it was meant to be the basis of a film — just to find out what could have possibly been the motivation for someone who had her whole life ahead of her, to make her want to kill anyone. But once I started writing the ‘plot’, the book literally wrote itself (and even though it was fiction) I realised, that in my years as a working woman I’d observed all kinds of oppression of women. All those stories came flooding back. At the heart of the novel is female foeticide and infanticide — and I found I couldn’t stop writing till I was done. I was very angry when I wrote it — furious about all that is done to women in India.
Your feeling when it won the Costa first novel award?
Amazed! I hadn’t expected it — even though Witness the Night had been nominated for many awards including the Man Asian Literary Prize. Besides, this was a serious subject. But I felt overwhelmed that judges had seen what I’d hoped to do— to show the contrast between a modernising India and how badly women are still treated. It made a huge difference — and the book is still doing well, and being translated into more than 20 languages. Two years on, I keep hearing from people who are reading it. They all love the central character, the quirky and feisty Simran Singh.
It’s the best form to make people aware of what is happening. Most people don’t want to read non-fiction, so I mixed fiction and facts and hope the message gets across. If you want to make people change their mind or make them aware of something — it’s wonderful to be able to touch their hearts. That’s what fiction does: it draws people into the narrative, lets them enter the minds of characters and helps them understand the problem through their emotions. Anything emotional is remembered much more than if it were just ‘cold’ newspaper stories and statistics.
I’m working on the third book in the Simran Singh series, tentatively titled The Short Life and Long Death of Susannah K, on commodification of young girls.
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