At the launch of her book Shadow Play, novelist and short-story writer Shashi Deshpande spoke of feminism and how stories about people move her
She writes with the same fountain pen every day. If something happens to it, she ensures she replaces it with the same brand. It is after writing several drafts in ink that writer Shashi Deshpande moves to the computer. “It’s all very peculiar,” she said, describing her way of writing to a small group of booklovers at the launch of her book Shadow Play recently. Organised by Prakriti Foundation, the event started off with a reading of the book by four young actors.
Shadow Play tells the story of newly married couple Aru and Rohit. It’s Aru who holds her sisters and aunts together after her mother Sumi’s sudden death and her father Gopal’s desertion of the family. The book is about “kinship, marriage, ambition, and the changing face of urban India.” It is a sequel to Shashi’s A Matter of Time, a novel for which she “moved outward” for the first time to narrate a story inspired by an experience of her friend — she was fighting in court for her mother who was abandoned by her father after 40 years of marriage. “The story stayed with me,” recounted Shashi.
In conversation with Prakriti Foundation’s founder Ranvir Shah, Shashi spoke of how it angered her to be branded as someone who wrote only on “middle-class women.” “If I don’t write about them, who will?” she asked. Are male writers asked why they write about men? “One writes about people one knows best.”
As the daughter of revolutionary Kannada playwright Sriranga, Shashi developed the ability to think for herself. With a gift of a father who had very unconventional ideas during his time, she gained the flair “to go beyond what is considered the norm. I might look conventional…but all of us are different inside.”
The qualities of a good writer are “talent, hard work and discipline.” The ability to write is an “inborn gift,” said Shashi, when asked of what help creative writing courses were to aspiring writers. They may be good in a way — one could get an audience. Such courses were perhaps helpful to writers of non-fiction, she felt.
It’s the people we meet who shape the way we think and look at the world. For Shashi, it was her mother-in-law who opened up her mind to the lives of the ordinary women of our country. A widow from a village who spent all her life working for the family, she casually showed her hands to Shashi one day. Her palms were calloused as a result of making 60 or 70 rotis every day. “She told me, ‘maybe I was born to make rotis’,” recalls Shashi. “This struck me with enormity.” The idea of feminism hence started “at a personal level” for her.
What does she expect readers to take back from her works? asked a fan from the audience. “I don’t have any expectations. It’s a great joy if they’ve taken back something. That’s enough for me.”