She's done novels and short stories before, and her latest book, a collection of poems I am All Woman, was released recently. Poet-journalist-author Kusum Lata Sawhney reflects on why her works have always centred on women.
Kusum Lata Sawhney is used to dealing with difficult issues in her books. Writing mainly about women and the issues that concern them, she'd churned out poignant stories about very real women and very real problems, not shying away from topics that are still, in many sections of society, discussed only in hushed whispers.
Clearly a writer who doesn't want to get stuck in a comfort zone, Sawhney experiments with her style and method, beginning with a novel and moving on to short stories and now, poetry. In this interview, she talks about her latest collection of poems, I Am All Woman, launched on March 25.
Tell us about your new book?
Like all my previous works, this is also about women and social issues that concern them. Before this, I wrote novels and short stories, and each book's purpose was to get across a message. Through I Am All Woman I try to do the same thing. It's an attempt to shake the public out of its complacency regarding certain issues. I want them to sit up and take notice.
This time, I'm trying to do it through poetry. There are poems about revenge, self-vindication, dignity, abuse and, above all, the stark reality. I've dealt in these poems with everything that makes up a woman's life, myth, superstitions, childhood, marriage, careers, history...
In your previous books you've dealt with difficult subjects such as incest and rape. What made you want to write about these topics in particular? Did you feel that, since you were dealing with subjects that are still taboo, your readership may be affected?
Not at all. One can never afford to be hampered by something like that. My aim has always been to get a reaction from people. I don't really think about who will be reading my books. I just want to get the message across and even if one person is affected by what I've written, it's good enough. There are so many important issues that remain hidden, and while we all know they exist, no one really does anything about it. It keeps happening around us and I just want to make people see how very real it is.
What is it like to juggle journalism with fiction?
I love writing. It doesn't matter what form or medium. It's equally appealing to me whether it's a story I'm doing over a period of days or one that I've been working on for a long time. Of course, they are very different forms. When I'm writing for columns for a newspaper, it's more immediate, in terms of style as well as practical considerations like deadlines. There is more time to explore and experiment while writing fiction.
You've written novels, short stories and poetry, each a distinct style of writing. Is it a conscious decision to experiment with different forms?
Yes, they are extremely different forms; it's a way for me to challenge myself. Just like I want my books to push people to think and act on certain issues, I want to push myself too. I'm constantly looking to try different ways to put my point across. Who knows what style or medium I might choose tomorrow?
Your short stories are diverse and deal with a number of issues. Where do you find these stories? Do you borrow from your own experiences?
At a certain level, yes, all my books are extremely personal. Because how can issues like these not be a part of anyone's life? Even if you don't experience them first-hand, it's always there. Rape, incest, poverty, we see these everywhere. We are aware of them and we hear and see things constantly. If one is sensitive, there is absolutely no way to escape the impact of these things. So, at that level, my stories are definitely personal. Also, everything I've written is based on a real life incident. It's just that I've fictionalised them so that a wider audience can relate to them.
Who are the writers you admire? Any specific names who've been inspirational?
There are so many wonderful writers; it's so tough to name particular ones. I read a lot of Latin American, West Indian and African authors and, of course, many Indian authors. I've grown up reading these authors and they've definitely had a deep influence over me. Though my themes and subjects are universal, my locals are all Indian.
Do you think Indian writing in English has found its own place in the literary scene now?
Well, we've come a long way, but have we reached the place we should be? Definitely not. There is still a long way to go, in terms of genres, authors, styles, everything. Indian writers are constantly experimenting and now we have science fiction and murder mysteries and thrillers, many more genres than we had a few decades ago. Women authors are constantly growing too. And this is all a small fragment of all that can happen and is going to happen.