Shobhaa De is a shock, surprise and a savvy package with ‘Superstar India’. Serish Nanisettidiscovers the writer/ pop sociologist in her seventh heaven
Black leggings, a florid white and blue frock, mehendi blond parted on the side, bling jewellery with a ring that’s the size of a raspberry with a smile that never leaves her face which age has not managed to crease, you don’t meet her. She meets you.
The photographer wants her to talk while he clicks, “No, no, I will get distracted while I am talking,” she says. Then she goes on to essay a series of poses that are almost like Kareena Kapoor in Jab We Met where she pirouettes, pouts and says, “kaisi dikhti hun main? Mast? Sataak?” except for the fact that the woman happens to be 60-year-old writer Shobhaa De. Oh! A woman is so yesterday, Shobhaa is still the bindaas bai from Sangli who hit the Mumbai journalism/literary world with the force of a cyclone three decades ago when she brought in the sadak chaap Bambaiya language into mainstream magazine.
She still revels in that chutney language adding tang but connecting to one section nevertheless. As old as India after Independence, in January she started writing a book that is part memoir, part pride, part peeve of India, read Superstar India and you can see the face of Shobhaa on every page.
“I wrote this like an ongoing blogpost at demonic speed. You can read it at any page backward or forward. You can navigate the book easily,” she says when asked about the boldface/ italicised lines on every next page. “This is how I express myself, it is equally true that I have broken rules. You cannot do this as a self conscious act. It represents how you genuinely think and feel,” she says.
Breaking rules comes naturally to Shobhaa who says: “It is not a conscious effort but is a part of me,” she says. How natural is her rebelliousness can be grasped from a childhood prank which Shobhaa played in school where she sent the fire drill haywire by changing the exit signs, locked up the teachers in the chemistry laboratory and rang the fire drill.
But it is the book she keeps coming back to. “A book is like water it always finds its own level. I am surprised when people come up to me on the streets in different parts of the world talking about even older titles they have read and liked. But Superstar India is definitely aimed at the young Indian, what’s the point in talking to the converts,” she says.
“The book is a distillation of my experiences. It is by far my most journalistic effort to date. It is an accumulation of images and things that have stayed with me very vividly,” she says.
“I am curious. I am obsessively interested. Not just people everything in life. I hope that each one of us can nurture the child in us. Once the hunger goes we stop growing,” she says as she talks about the episodes in her life that flit in and out of the book.
Her parting shot: “I want to remain the eternal babe in the wood.”
With a tattoo in Japanese on her right arm that symbolises motherhood and positive female energy, Shobhaa sure is on the right track.