As the title suggests, this session was about listening to Shashi Deshpande, an eminent English writer who has recently penned down her memoir recollecting all her good old and bad days. This session was specifically interesting because it contained many readings from the memoir itself which gave an idea about what to expect in this piece of Shashi Deshpande. She is the daughter of an eminent Kannada playwright who spent her early life in Dharwad followed by education in Mumbai to be followed by marriage and motherhood. But, this book is about the journey of how she became a writer. It is a book of gratitude towards writing life for it gave her space to express what she wants to express and in the way which is unique to her. This book also has a kind of self-depreciating humour, which to quote Shashi herself, she does not like to take herself very seriously.
Commenting on her writing style, author Usha KR said that her novels are images of a life far removed from today which is juxtaposed with an important historical event. Like in the memoir, Gandhi’s Death comes during the time when she grew a fascination for the library. To this Shashi responded that it is her way of writing and also fiction is about people and not historical events, it is about the lives people own.
Another panellist, Nancy Batty was curious about her descriptions of living in Mumbai, her girlhood and also not all parts of the novel are direct narrations of her life. Shashi agreed to it. She said while writing her novel she always faced the dilemma where to draw the line between private and public and so her solution was that she would share as much of her life as she can unless it does not invade the private sphere of her people. Trying to break the stereotypical image of an English writer, she says that it is a very wrong assumption that an English speaking and writing author comes from a privileged background only because even in her younger days she has seen her share of poverty.
Taking the question of language, Vivek Shanbhag appreciated the book for her tender tone and then asked how she managed to write the memoir in English when her mother tongue or the language which gives her emotions are Kannada and Marathi. Deshpande replied that it never occurred to her in the starting when she was writing the memoir that it was in English for it was what she knew best. But after a point of time, she realised how certain emotions fell short in English. At this point, she gave the example of RK Narayan who wrote Rice and Lentil Soup for Annasaaru but her tone was not to ridicule but to show how Indian English writing has transitioned from blind translation to mindful skilling of word usage with different languages.
Lastly, focusing on the solidarity of women writers, she said that earlier she felt a common language was enough to be close to Jane Austen but she lived a life very different from ours. So, when Shashi Deshpande took the pen there was practically no Indian women author to look up to. And she had to literally create her own language, for a man’s language and perceptions wouldn’t help. A very simple example she gives is that women in her times engaged in the kitchen or in baby talk and to Indianise and womanise it in English needed its own set of skills. On the issues of writing, she felt language has to be given more importance to, by the contemporary Indian authors and second was equal importance given to women’s writing also. She ended with few questions and the one which stuck with me was:
If we think man and woman are equal then why to make anything like women’s writing, consider it as a writer with a women’s voice, why is there no genre called men’s writing? Why the need for performativity from women?
About the Author: Kalpita is a Bachelor in English Literature. Her ultimate goal is to fulfill the romantic notion
of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.