Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Author Interview: Shuchi Singh Kalra

In the current times when India lies in a struggle between its orthodox treatment of women and their struggle to break all chains, a young writer Shuchi Singh Kalra has taken a pen - her ammunition to portray a character who is plus sized. Despite defying the traditional norms of beauty she is confident of herself as she faces the big bad world everyday which is ready to point a finger on her shortcomings every chance they get. We wanted to know the person who could paint such a powerful and much needed change in how women and especially an Indian woman is portrayed, which is not just being a doll, but being herself. So here is the author Shuchi Singh Kalra with us today, talking about herself, the idea of an outlier character taking centre-stage, feminism and much more....

Q: How would you describe yourself as a person?
A: Why do you have to ask the toughest questions right in the beginning of the interview! :P. 

I think I can best be described as a mildly complex person. I live in my head most of the time where all the awesome magical things happen. I love being by myself, amidst nature, travelling, reading, dreaming crazy things and generally drifting. In the real world, I am a businesswoman, an author, a wife and a mother who tries to look and behave normal for the most part.

Q: What does writing mean to you and how does it affect your everyday life?
A: Writing is central to my life, as it is both my passion and my profession. It also takes up a huge chunk of my identity because after my family, this is the only thing I can truly call my own.

Q: Are you a full time writer? (If not, how do you manage day job and writing)?
A: I am a full time writer and a part time author. Most of my work hours go into handling projects at my writing firm, Pixie Dust Writing Studio. When I can spare some time, I write books. I write to take a take a break from writing, although each experience is vastly different from the other.

Q: How did the book “I am Big, So what!” take shape?
A: I have always felt that plus-sized girls have been severely underrepresented in Indian mainstream fiction. There are so many books from western authors that have plus-sized heroines but that space is severely lacking in India. It’s high time the plump girl breaks out of the stereotypical role of a friend, sister or comic relief, and takes over as the main lead – with a strong personality of her own and dreams to boot. Through Roli, I also wanted to explore and bring forth the social and emotional challenges that a person of that size might typically go through, and how it would impact their confidence and self-worth. 

Q: Is it auto biographical or were you trying to address any incident that happened in or around you?
A: Well, I think every book an author writes is autobiographical to an extent.  Roli’s story isn’t my own and I wasn’t really trying to address a cause or a theme while writing the book – that got woven in on its own. Many scenes in the book are inspired from real-life incidents and some are imaginary too.  Like I said, I have tried to get into the head of the protagonist and convey her anger, insecurity, hurt and pain that comes from being someone who doesn’t fit into the society’s ideal of beauty and is constantly under pressure to change herself in order to fit in. Roli’s journey is about finding herself, and blossoming from an awkward teen to a confident, self-assured woman. Of course she has her moments of self-doubt but she also has the inner strength to tide over it and hold her own despite all odds.

Q: Are you a Feminist?
A: Okay, I’m going to rant a little bit here. It is unfortunate that the word ‘feminism’ has come to have such negative connotations these days. Feminism to me means freedom and equality for everyone and I will always stand for that. However, at the same time, when you seek equality, you have to be ready to let go of the privileges too – that means no reservation, quotas or special seats.

Blaming patriarchy is fine but if you look closely, women are the worst perpetrators of patriarchal concepts, and you can see that in almost every traditional household. I also have a serious problem with women who limit the idea of feminism to the freedom to smoke, drink, wear skimpy clothes, have free sex and fling about used sanitary pads to prove a point. On the other hand, there are many women making a mark in different fields who are leading by example. Scientists, politicians, sportspersons, actors, entrepreneurs, authors – there are women who have fought their way through the same system and lived up to their aspirations. These are the ones who truly embody strength and empowerment, and these are the ones we need to emulate.

Q: What is your stand on “Women being celebrated for their looks”?
A: It is natural to celebrate and appreciate beauty but it shouldn’t be the only measure of a person’s worth. I find the whole obsession around physical appearances rather disturbing because people are so much more than their looks. We live in a society that is so hung up on slimness, fairness, height and other physical attributes that we sometimes fall short of appreciating other qualities in a person, such as talent, humor, kindness, intelligence and a lot more. I also think that it is unfair to confine the idea of beauty into such narrow definitions – every man or woman deserves to feel good about themselves, just the way they are.

Q: What to you is an ideal world for a woman?
A: I don’t think there can ever be an ideal world – for anyone. A world can only be as ideal as the people living in it. That said, we still have a miles to cover with respect to gender equality, women’s rights and more importantly, women’s safety. The only way to make the world more women-friendly is to bring up our children better - both boys and girls. Women too, need to stop playing the victim – it doesn’t serve any purpose and only makes us weaker. Stand up for yourself and display your strength where necessary, be it physical, emotional or intellectual. I call it “doing the Durga”.

Q: What is your opinion on the lead female characters in our movies, TV and books? Do you think writing can change anything? How?
A: I don’t follow television much, but the profile of the lead female character has indeed come a long way in books and movies. Writers are not shy to create strong, independent female characters who are not apologetic about their identities, ambitions and desires.  I believe that stories do leave a lasting impact on the collective psyche of the society. By being willing to write honestly and fearlessly about taboos and unconventional themes, writers can help change the mainstream narrative about a certain issue. The change might be small or slow, but it happens nevertheless. 

Q: How do you get past writers block?
A: I usually work on multiple projects at any given time, so if I get stuck on one, I quickly move on to the other. That helps reboot the mind and brings in fresh ideas and perspectives.

Q: What is your experience like of being a published writer in the current Indian scenario? What is good and bad?
A: I love every bit about being a published writer. Yes, the competition is very tough, with everyone and their distant cousins coming out with a book these days, but good books always find their readers. I wish authors didn’t have to put in so much time and energy into marketing their books, both online and offline but I guess it is a necessary process. I do enjoy marketing to an extent but it takes away the time and focus, which could have been used towards writing.

Q: If you could change one thing about your life or yourself what would that be?
A: I am grateful for all that I have and I wouldn’t want to change anything about my life as such. At an individual level, I could do with some improvement, such as learning to tame my mind and be less of a slacker.

Q: Advise for budding writers….
A: Read a lot and write a lot. Don’t jump the gun – write sincerely and get that manuscript in order first. Pitching, editing, publishing and marketing all come later. Getting a book published is an agonizingly slow process, so don’t lose patience and hope. Just keep going at it and keep writing.

Q: A few lines for The Readers Cosmos...
A: I have been following TRC for a long time now and I want to congratulate you for publishing such exhaustive reviews and interesting features. Everything that a book lover would want  - you have it all under one roof. I would also like to thank you for encouraging new authors and providing them with a credible platform to talk about their work. Wish you more success (and traffic) in the future! 

We thank Shuchi for time and honest answers and wish her good luck in her writing career.

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