By Melanie P. Kumar
Expectedly, a topic by this name had to have a line-up of male writers. To provide balance, Mita Kapur, a novelist in her own right, was the Moderator.
Mita imbued the session with humour, especially when joking that the organisers had specifically requested that she be kind to the male panelists. Mita added that literature was dominated by male voices and wondered if it was time now, to aim for gender neutrality in writing.
To this, Indrajit Hazra, remarked tongue firmly in cheek that he was a misogynist in his novels. He either killed off the women in his novels or, in one case, the woman happened to be the murderer.
Siddharth Dhanvant Shangvi, while referring to a seriously misogynist writer, remarked that he was surprised to hear him say that he does not read novels, written by women. Siddharth found this unacceptable since there are incredible women writers, like Toni Morrison. Also, a sensitive writer has the ability to employ any kind of voice. This is something that he discovered when talking to an actor, who said that writing is like acting, in that one must portray characters who could be polar to one’s own persona .
Palash Krishna Mehrotra claimed his male characters were not stereotypical. Their preoccupations were far removed from the usual ones, like cars and women.
Altaf Tyrewala referred to another kind of challenge in writing. To him, handling male and female voices is a breeze, compared to writing about people from economic strata, that are far removed from the one to which he belongs.
Siddharth felt, that today advertisers are conscious of the strong Indian woman and have her in mind while plotting their campaigns. “The genderless corporate tone is riveting,” he remarked.
Altaf, who confessed to tiring of the human story, has shifted his writing attention to the corporate marketing agenda. He calls it the “dehumanised space, where only the market prevails.”
One of the writers remarked facetiously that it was easy to pick up the material from a daily glance at the Times of India or the Bombay Times, to which the others agreed and the audience joined in with laughter.
Palash, whose stories cover the seamier side of life, said it was easiest for him to write about men as he could get into their skin. “There are spaces which belong exclusively to men, like men dancing with men in small-town bars, after a drink or two.”
Ragging in boys’ hostels or attendance at heavy metal shows, were all male things and could only be done in a male voice, he added. Palash also spoke of homosexual experiences that had made it easier for him to write about them.
Indrajit Hazra, said that humans and writers were basically faking it and this is what compelled him to write about fakers in one of his stories. He also felt that different people had differing skills in dealing with gender. “My male characters seem to be in a genderless state.”
Hazra spoke of writing two-dimensional novels, where there were just two strong protagonists, whilst the rest of the characters stayed in the background.
On the issue of genderless versus gender-full writing, the general conclusion was that writing is an act of transcendence. As Indrajit wisely summed up, “It is for the readers to infuse their own general angles to the books they read.”
While most of the writers read from their novels, Siddharth, who could not do so, used the occasion to pay tribute to Shobhaa De, who was sitting in the audience. As a young lad, fresh from University, she had encouraged him with letters and words, to help him in his writing. It felt good for the audience to hear about the mentoring of a fledgling male writer, by an established female one.