Books & Literature

What it means to be a woman in Modern India

By Sukant Deepak

She was in London when she saw the image of the hanging children, aged 16 and 14, circulating on Twitter. Though she had planned to write a book about the wave of sexual violence, seeing that visual of two teenage girls — Padma and Lalli who disappeared from their home in the village of Katra Sadatganj in Uttar Pradesh, author Sonia Faleiro felt that this case, coming barely two years after the 2012 Delhi bus rape, could serve as the focus of her next book — the recently released The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Random House India).
Faleiro flew down from London to Delhi and then drove six hours to the girls’ village, Katra Sadatganj, in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh, expecting to stay only a few days. But by the end of that trip it was clear that nothing was as it seemed. “I was then faced with a choice between choosing another case or digging deeper into this one. I decided to stay with the Katra case, and over the next few months it became clear that the story of the girls and of how their lives were impacted by gender, caste, politics, notions of honour, and the threat of violence, was really the story of what it meant to be a woman in modern India,” she recalls.
An experienced journalist, the writer reported the case over four years and interviewed more than a hundred people, many of them repeatedly. Supplementing this material with more than 3,272 pages of official records, she says it was a gruelling process, complicated by the fact that many individuals who were central to the events of the night the children went missing and kept changing their stories. “The main challenge was to pin down a clear and accurate narrative, the writing came much later,” says Faleiro, who will be speaking during the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).
Ask Faleiro, who also has to her credit non-fiction titles including Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars, 13 Men and the fiction The Girl if it was easy to keep herself ‘absent in the text’, and she says, “It was a conscious decision in order to allow the story to unfold naturally and to allow facts to speak for themselves.”
Stressing that it is important that she is moved and intrigued enough to want to stay with the subject matter for at least five years, as that is how long it takes her to write a book, Faleiro adds, “In the case of Good Girls, I had been thinking about writing about sexual violence in India for a while. And with Beautiful Thing, I had already been writing about bar dancers, when the ban came around. I knew that I needed to chronicle its impact on the thousands of women whose livelihoods were destroyed.”
Agreeing that it is not easy to move away from the many complex characters in her works once the writing is over, the London-based author says, “But it’s important in order to maintain my objectivity and also to allow myself to become immersed in my next reporting project.”
While the series of lockdowns in London may be a struggle at times, there’s plenty to keep Faleiro occupied including new writing and walks in the park with her dog. “I have recently published pieces with the New Yorker and Time, and am thinking about a new non-fiction book.” (IANS)

Cinema is part of my acting career, not my life: Anupam Kher 

Veteran Indian actor Anupam Kher, who has mastered his art onscreen, was the guest at Ek Mulakat Visesh session organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation and Shree Cement late last month. In a conversation with Ina Puri, Kher spoke not just about his films but his two books. Souvik Ghosh brings excerpts
Your book The Best Thing About You is You! brings hope and says today is the best day, not tomorrow or day after. How did you come up with such a book?
I am not an author by profession. I wrote books because I wanted to share something. My books are not fictional but about the things which I have learnt in my life. The Best Thing About You is You! is a series of articles which I wrote in a newspaper called Change Within. It was basically telling how we have to find our own strength to deal with the world. So that became a book and I had no idea that it would become a best seller.
How did you decide to write an autobiography, Lessons Life Taught Me Unknowingly?
When I came from New York finishing my shooting last year, I was horrified to see the deserted streets of Mumbai (due to Covid-19 and lockdown). It was fear that crept in me genuinely. Initially in New York, I thought people were paranoid there (over Covid-19). I am an eternal optimist and to get over that fear, I decided to write. So I had decided to pen down all my inner feelings. In this dark cloud of Covid-19 and lockdown, I wanted to see what is the silver lining around me.
You have also spoken in the book that you make stories of people on the streets in your head, which leaves you depressed or hopeful at times. That is an amazing quality.
Few years ago, I discovered that I had depression. So I went to a psychiatrist who had suggested that I should stop making stories of unknown people in my head. Then I became the brand ambassador of mental health and spoke about my issues publicly.
Your career has remained all eventful. But it started very simply, if we look back to your early days.
When one lives a life fully and does not pretend, he can talk about anything. That is the joy of not carrying the burden of Anupam Kher. If I don’t have issues around me, then it’s easy for me to convey who I am. We burden ourselves either by our past or the thought of doing something in the future. The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that we need only three things in the world and they are family, essential goods and wifi connections. The popular characters which I have portrayed onscreen are parts of my acting career. My life is not cinema.
You are a multitasker and a professional who doesn’t skip preparations for a show.
This is because I always want to be the best. The difference between the ordinary and extraordinary is an extra effort. Moreover it is about not taking the audience for granted, I don’t take myself for granted as an actor. Theatre does not allow one to do that. So I never regret my mistakes on stage because I give the effort. I don’t take myself seriously but my job and authenticity seriously.
Is there any plan again to make a film?
My first film as a director, Om Jai Jagdish, had failed in the box office though was popular on television. I had won an award for Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara. I am producing films now. I recently produced The Last Show with Satish Kaushik recently. I had also produced Bariwali. But as a director, I won’t do anything now. (IBNS-TWF)

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