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'I'm merely a wordsmith, trying to do my job'

Last updated on: May 06, 2008 17:49 IST
She's done it all. She's been a magazine editor, writer, columnist and, at 60, an age she shares with Free India, Shobhaa De continues to push the envelope.

In her latest book, Superstar India, the best-selling writer talks about how her own life is intertwined with India's.

Growing up in an India of deprivations, and watching India unleash its potential, can be a giddy experience. Shobhaa De, it cannot be denied, occupies a vantage position in life that affords her a spectacular view of changing India.

Coverage: Incredible, unstoppable India

You can, of course, debate if it is the entire view of an India still caught up among its old demons of poverty, casteism and rural backwardness. But what you can't question is the writer's belief in what she writes about a new dawn.

The author took time out to chat with rediff readers on May 5. Here is the chat transcript:

Shobhaa De says, Hi guys! I'm all set; are you?

Praveen asked, Hello, I want to ask .. How has the response to your book been?
Shobhaa De answers,  at 2008-05-05 16:44:39Here's the good news: It debuted at number one on the best seller list. So I'm feeling a little bit like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Rihanna at this point. In other words, I'm flying high, and so is the book.
bhav asked, What inspired you for writing story of television serial swabhiman?
Shobhaa De answers, It was an offer that was hard to resist. The project was pitched to me by Mahesh Bhatt. It was my first attempt at writing a TV soap. The subject was left entirely to me. And the chance to collaborate with Mahesh was completely thrilling. I'm glad I did.
Vamsee asked, Hi Shobha -- I was in India just for a week last week and I picked up your book at the Hyderabad airport.... I was glued to it for rest of my trip back to the 'adopted country'. Your book does make me think of my choices right now, before it gets too late for my children!! You are a great writer and Thank you so much.
Shobhaa De answers, What a wonderful thing to say! It's made my day, and possibly several more to come. The whole idea of writing Superstar India was to convince young India to fall in love with their own country.
Chinku asked, Will you recommend writing as a career for youngsters ? What advise will you give to aspiring writers ?
Shobhaa De answers, If you are hoping to crack the Forbes list as a writer, then you have to be JK Rowling. She's born once in a century. Writing has to be an enduring passion. And hopefully, at some stage in your life, that passion gets converted into money. And hopefully, that passion gets converted to money but don't count on it.
Dinyar asked, Shobha I have read most of your books including your latest book "Superstar India". My question is why are you always critical about the INDIANS in general and INDIAN MALES (husbands) in particular?
Shobhaa De answers, I think, as a writer, it is important to also address the less attractive aspects of ourselves, without being hyper-sensitive. Every country has its flaws, as we do in India. There are enough books out there, which go gaga over our many merits, as I have, in parts of my book. About Indian men, they need a wake up call, since a majority are still stuck in the Middle Ages. Whereas, Indian women are very 21st century.
pramod asked, Hello mam .It has always been a pleasure to watch you and know about your writing. If you were in the film industry you could send young girls running for their money. How on earth do you keep yourself in such a beautiful figure and looks. Can we ask your mantra
Shobhaa De answers, The credit goes to an excellent gene pool. You should have seen my Dad at close to 100! Now that's what I call a 'dude'! As for me, my routine is ridiculously simple, go ahead and follow it: Live smart, Eat smart, Enjoy your wine, and don't forget to moisturise!
Hamza asked, do you get frustrated and bored as a writer sometimes and what do you do to get your focus back ?
Shobhaa De answers, Never, never, never! Writing is possibly the world's biggest high. It is what keeps me ticking and sane.
rama asked, What do you mean very 21st Century kind of woman? The ones who are found drunk in bars or the ones who are found whoring around?
Shobhaa De answers, Excuse me. Where do you live? And what kind of women do you know? That's a serious question, unlike the one you asked me.
akassh asked, Hi shobha,tell us abt ur new book realeased by Mr. Amitabh bachchan
Shobhaa De answers, With pleasure, Superstar India is my very personal take on a country with which I share the same age. It's a chronicle of two lives, mine and India's. The journey was both frustrating and exciting, but definitely worth taking. Check it out!
Chinku asked, Hi Shobha. If you had not been a famous writer and critic what else would you have been otherwise ?
Shobhaa De answers, An architect. I read Fountainhead at a very impressionable age, and dreamt of being Howard Roark, as I'm sure thousands of Ayn Rand fans must have.
mimarathi asked, Do you agree with what Raj spoke yesterday?
Shobhaa De answers, Raj is someone I have known for a few years now. He is a hugely ambitious and hugely intelligent man. He has a think tank around him, that is pretty smart, as well. If he's saying what he's saying, it is either a canny vote-catching strategy, or, spoken from a despairing heart.
Nev asked, Hi Ma'am Which author would you say has influenced you the most?
Shobhaa De answers, F Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night transformed my life and thoughts almost as much as Tolstoy's War and Peace.
mimarathi asked, hello madam do you recommend sex education in indian schools?
Shobhaa De answers, Oh completely and totally! I'm always astonished at the ignorance levels, in a country that is supposed to be in the throes of a sexual revolution. Talking to a pre-teen the other day, I was shocked when she told me, that she thought girls get pregnant when they swallow a boyfriend's spit.
akassh asked, What do u think about male casting couch in modelling and film industry?Does it really exist?
Shobhaa De answers, The sad answer is that the male casting couch does exist, in both modelling and the film industry. The sadder answer being it has existed for women since time immemorial. I guess it's all pretty gender equal now.
ra asked, can you name an indian male and female celebrity whom the younger generation can consider as a role model and why?
Shobhaa De answers, Sania Mirza for sure; she has gone into terrain knowing the odds are stacked against her. She has fought prejudice and continued to stay in the game. Similarly, a lot of our young cricket heroes, from small town India, are worthy of praise and emulation.
sorab asked, hello, Shobha, could you please justify the bold lines by you recently for India...saying ITS OUR TIME NOW
Shobhaa De answers, There is a marvelous desi phrase, which goes, hamara number aa gaya hai. It pretty much says everything. We are an economic powerhouse, and just this side of superstardom. From being seen as paupers, to achieving superpower status, in less than 15 years, is a huge achievement, in my book.
Princess asked, Shobha, I can understand you being flooded with queries. This is my fifth one, please answer me. Tell me, across the length and breadth of this country, is there ONE superstar ALL Indians look up to? Who is it?
Shobhaa De answers, India has produced a whole host of semi-superstars, in its sixty years, but only one legit individual, whose position cannot be questioned, by anybody. And that is -- Mahatma Gandhi!
hjs asked, You know, Ma'am, with due respect, you are probably referring to your own husband when you say Indian men are living in the middle ages. Pardon my language, but you sound no less than a typical feminist who just likes to try and blast the male species every opportunity she gets! I am using highly restrianed language as it is a public forum, otherwise you would certianly not want to hear my exact views. I suggest you ought to criticise your sex also in an objective manner, why be biased just towards one sex (males)?!? And you speak for the minority when you make trash and absolutely nonesensical statements like " Indian women are very 21st century", I would LOVE to know exactly how many '21st century' women you have seen in the villages of India, where they do not even know their basic rights due to oppression. Ms. De, with due respect, I am disappointed with what you have written.
Shobhaa De answers, Woah! Is that a question or an essay? With due respect, you have a point of view worth paying attention to. But be a sweetheart, and leave my husband out of this. By referring to Indian women as very 21st century, I believe with all my heart, that they have made that quantam leap, despite society's efforts to keep them in the Dark Ages, not even the Middle Ages. Men have no such
Shobhaa De answers, Hello? And hello again? Where are you getting that junk from?! I have never ever supported irresponsible sex, whether it's towards my own kids, or anybody else's kids. So get your fact file right!
Chinku asked, Hi Shoba - You may have written and brought to light women's issues. Will you write about genuine men's issues too ?
Shobhaa De answers, You guys can't find a guy to do that job for you? But seriously speaking, I'd be happy to do so. I'm always with the underdog. But right now, it's looking more like a female dog to me.
jram asked, what's your opinion about kalam's 2020 india.
Shobhaa De answers, Kalam is, perhaps, one of the few bonafide personalities worth looking up to, in a country filled with pretenders. He's a visionary and an amazing thinker. I respect his take on 20/20, all the way.
zzz asked, I have some problem with my wife can you suggest me one of your book should I refer to get better guidance.
Shobhaa De answers, I can, as a matter of fact. The title is, "Spouse: The Truth About Marriage". I'm told it has saved many a rocky relationships; I hope it does the same for you.
Pal asked, Tell us about your personal phenomenal power and responsibilities you carry as a writer
Shobhaa De answers, See, it's hugely narcissitic and egotistical for any writer to believe in 'personal power'. All I do is hold up a mirror to the realities I see around me. But I must specify, I'm neither an activist nor a messiah. I'm merely a wordsmith, trying to do my job.
rama asked, Just out of the way question now that you have spoken abpout Ayn Rand. I would have loved to ask this question gfrom Ayn Rand but unfoprtunately that she is now no more ....Do you think Howard Roark is possible in todays world? And also which character you associate yourself to be most close as depicted in it Dominique or Wynand or Toohey.....
Shobhaa De answers, Howard Roark was not possible in any world at any time. He's an idealised image of the perfect male. Let him just remain every woman's fantasy. Oh, Dominique, of course! But perhaps a little less ruthless.
lovelylala asked, You have said once that you write thrash,'Readable Thrash' for the matter of fact.You might never win a Booker,but who cares when you mint millions from the sales of your books.Any comments ?
Shobhaa De answers, It has never been about 'the millions'. It's always been about my right to self-expression. That was a comment taken entirely out of context, but I'm not complaining.
naren asked, Mam, I am asking this below question again..! I was wondering whether where we are headed, is not where we should be headed/going, because the present emphasis, focus, even goal seems to be broadly, at the macro-micro levels etc. for us as a society/nation to 'Urbanize-Globalize'? It is definitely not about fundamental matters such as the quest for 'broader generalizations', 'fundamental innovation' etc. Do we really want to be all about consumption-consumerism etc., since this is what 'Urbanization-Globalization' is essentially about...
Shobhaa De answers, With no value judgements attached, all I can say is, it's too late for us to be asking these questions in the first place. Whether Asian societies approve of it or not, globalisation, with all its fault lines, is here to stay. How we cope with the multitude of changes, is the real challenge.
Saurabh asked, don't you feel there are are many unsung superstar exist in India. Amy be greater than what you have mentioned - Mahatma Gandhi
Shobhaa De answers, There are probably thousands of them dying for recognition, even as we speak. But, as we all know, it is only what appears in the public domain that runs away with all the laurels. It's the same old story, about unsung heroes, through history.
VishalNast asked, Dear Mam i read you columns with a lot of interest. you must have travelled all across the world . Which country have you liked the most apart form India
Shobhaa De answers, Tough question, but if I were to be completely honest here, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, in the present charged atmosphere, it is still the United States of America. It is the one country that genuinely respects democratic principles, and provides every citizen the basics that they can take for granted. That's a precious gift, and let's not undermine it.
hjs asked, Thanks for answering my earlier question and my sincere apologies for bringing your spouse into the discussion. Coming back to the topic, the '21st century Indian women' you are referring to are very much city-based and bred women, Ms. De, I am absolutely sure they are NOT the village belles who have to live their lives in oppression. For every wonderful success story, there are many, many dark truths out there about oppression, slavery, exploitation, dowry and rubbish like that, which disgusts me to the core. I am being a realist here, not a pessimist. I hope you take note of this point. And honestly, I feel you need to get real, today's Indian men are a lot better than what they get credit for and really do not need any 'certificates' from other people.
Shobhaa De answers, What you're referring to is a given. WE ALL KNOW THAT! In every society, there is a percentage of women still struggling to break out of terrifying oppressive situations. In India, those numbers happen to be more staggering, given our 1,000,000,000+ population. I might remind you, that a book such as mine, is necessarily urban in content and tone, and is not meant to address the sort of sociological, cultural problems that are rooted in our rural reality.
bhavani asked, what was ur inspiration behind this book
Shobhaa De answers, A country as enticing as India, offers rich material to any writer. India also can drive you crazy, because of its many contradictions and diversities. But that's precisely why it inspired me to do a book that would attempt to capture its many modes and avatars.
nandawat asked, Just a plain question, why should i read this book and who should read this book ?
Shobhaa De answers, You should read this book, period. Just kidding! Why? Because it is a very contemporary look at a rapidly changing India. If the country and its new contours interest you at all, then I'd say: Buying Superstar India is money well spent!
Sanjog asked, Do you think that your writing will change the society or its thinking? what is your contribution to the society or to the country when it comes to writing. There are set people who dislike your writing and never read your books.
Shobhaa De answers, To those who don't read my books, I'd say: Your loss, honey! And to those who do, I'd say: Keep reading! In an earlier response, I did mention that I don't see myself as either a messiah or a social activist. I believe I am a reasonably good story teller (read my novels)! And I also believe, I'm a fairly competent social commentator (read my columns)!
kc asked, what is ur definition of a woman of substance? and what do u hate about men?
Shobhaa De answers, A woman of substance is one of the worst cliches of our time. I have never known what exactly that term connotes. Substance? But the woman I admire, would have to be someone who is on top of her life, and has sovereignity over her body and mind. What do I hate about men? Let me clarify: I am not a male basher. But, in a patriarchal society like ours, I do have issues with brazen and blatant discrimination.
kajras asked, According to you what are the 3 greatest risk towards the growth of INDIA which indian YOUTHS should address?
Shobhaa De answers, That's a good question. The girls in India form a particularly vulnerable section of society. The greatest risk is to their physical selves, which is sad, because it suggests a certain level of brutality. The other risk is the fact that millions of young girls may not get a shot at an education. And thirdly, that cruel as it sounds, they may just be, the last priority in a family, when it comes to addressing their health issues. It is only through educating society at large, and sensitising the youth against these awful social ills, that any real change is possible.
funny asked, does ur book not sound like india shining just a media hype . with no facts no reality only having urban life ? ur flying high may be too high ? y does ur book not have rural india cause its less attractive and down to earth , may be it will sell less
Shobhaa De answers, I'm not a social scientist, nor am I an economist, a historian, a research scholar, or an academic. So perhaps a comprehensive book on rural India should be tackled by those far more qualified than myself to do so. A writer can only writer that he or she is on sure ground with.
Shobhaa De says, Thanks guys! I've had the best time. Brilliant questions, and ahem, brilliant answers. Check out Superstar India. I mean the country and the book, in that order! Ciao for now! -- Shobhaa

Photograph: Hitesh Harisinghani