Writing simply as a writer

A very special lecture.  

THE JAM-PACKED seminar room of the American College for a meet-the-author programme was a sure-shot indicator of the writer's popularity.

The Sahitya Akademi Award winner, Shashi Deshpande, and her works are, in fact, a thesis subject of 37 scholars at the Study Centre for Indian Literature in English and Translation (SCILET).

This was an encouraging note to begin the session with the Bangalore-based author, who came for an official launch of her volume of collected essays, `Writing from the Margin'. And she was in for a double surprise to see another compilation of separate essays in print for the first time here. Addressing the gathering later, she confessed her joy also at her decade-long association with the SCILET.

"But I am not 10 years old, I am only two more novels old since I came here last in 1994,'' said this author of eight novels, six short-story collections, four children's books and numerous essays and articles.

"When I started writing in the early 1970s, I never thought of publishing books. But politics of the world invariably had an impact, and I started expressing myself constructively on issues," she told the eager audience. On her latest book, she said, "It is not a scholar's book. But all those thoughts that constantly bothered me, I penned them down."

And what were those thoughts? That she wrote as "a writer", but was always identified as a "woman writer." That how vexed the issue of critics and reviewer who simply dismiss writers at a stroke without understanding their work. The interrogation of the world of the Indian writers in English. The issue of disproportionate attention given to some writers in the global market. The concern over the reader who is bombarded with media hype and has little scope to choose a book of his or her own choice. The issue of how she could separate the feminist streak in her personal life and not be known as a "feminist writer".

"My writing life is a struggle because I have nothing more to say other than that I am simply a writer, a novelist and a short story writer," she said.

All these scintillating arguments have been presented in her latest collection in a running conversation. She nicely puts it in her book on how self-explanatory the title is because all those numerous words she wrote in the big margin as corrections and alterations to the main text in the centre finally merged to become the real text!

Best known for her works on the middle-class urban working women doing the tightrope walk between the traditional and modern setting, the author was earlier welcomed by the SCILET Director, Paul Love, who described her collection of essays as "challenging."

Shashi Deshpande was introduced by one of her old friends, Amrita Bhalla, from Delhi, who said the writer had beautifully constructed the Indian womanhood in post-colonial period without projecting myths and going through the filter of Western feminism.

From Soma Basu

Photo: K. Ganesan