Interview Kishwar Desai talks about her novel and its courageous protagonist through whom she has raised the issue of surrogacy
In the stories of Kishwar Desai, fact and fiction become perfect bedfellows. It is the starkness of the issues she raises that pulls you in and then the characters take over. Sometime ago, it was Witness The Night , where her gutsy protagonist Simran grappled with the problem of female foeticide. This time,Simran faces the murky side of one of the supposed boons of science. Kishwar is exploring Origins of Love in the days of invitro-fertilisation and surrogacy. Beneath that beguiling smile, there is a feisty social commentator biding to arrest your attention. “I wish I could be Simran,” says the journalist-turned-author.
For Kishwar, the major reason for coming up with a character like Simran was that she was fed up with books where the women are only young and gorgeous. “I wanted to have a character who is middle aged, doesn’t have a man in her life and has the ability to enjoy life alone. We don’t see such characters in our literature but we do meet them occasionally in life.”
A career in journalism must have helped. “I have worked in small towns and villages and know what India is all about. So when I started working on surrogacy, I had an idea of the characters involved. I spoke to a lot of people and read extensively. Then characters began to take shape.”
Is the issue really going out of hand? “Fertility is declining because of stress and changing lifestyles but the want for one’s own kids is still very much there. And science is proving to be an ally. I wanted to have a female protagonist who doesn’t want her own kids and then juxtapose her with people who desperately want them. In India, there are a lot of women who don’t want a biological child. Sushmita Sen has proved that adoption is also a way of life. There are plenty of children in this world who need a home.” So in a sense we are reinforcing our stereotypes through science. “I am not against surrogacy but we should talk about it and keep other options open. The ethics of the science are also equally important. Right now, it seems as if commoditisation of babies is going on. Also, the society should understand that it is the body of our women that is being exploited.”
She unravels the complex layers which show how poor women are being exploited. Will it help if there is a law? “There are around 2,000 IVF clinics in Delhi alone. You don’t know where the parents are coming from. Anybody can come to the country and commission a child. If somebody wants to adopt, there is a huge legal process but the authorities don’t seem to mind when somebody comes and plants an embryo in a surrogate mother. What if some of them are paedophiles? And then, there are those bizarre clinics where the embryos come but the parents don’t come. The embryos are sent by courier to be planted in a surrogate.” She found it through a newspaper headline which said: ‘Embryos held at Mumbai airport.’
With Simran in hyper mode, Kishwar has put her book on Manto on a pause. “Right now, Simran is in Goa working out a case on young girls involving exploitation of their sexuality. Young girls don’t have a childhood anymore.” We are waiting…