Shobhaa De has been acclaimed for her charisma, poise, style and most of all for her writing as a journalist, scriptwriter and novelist. This year, she took another leap in her career and turned to publishing her own line of books.
Who is your role model?
There are several wonderful people and none of them are ‘celebrities’. To give you an example, there are two extraordinary women I know. One of them, Saroj, buys and sells old textiles and fabrics. She supports a huge family and works exceedingly hard, travelling across India to collect exquisite wares and locate buyers. Her smile never leaves her face no matter how daunting the circumstances — ill health, calamities, loans taken by her no-good sons.
The other woman is Shakuntala. She’s from Himachal Pradesh and sells beads of various kinds — lapis, jade and coral. She lugs heavy bags across states, is impeccably groomed at all times and displays so much grit and determination. She is making sure her two daughters receive the best education even though she herself is illiterate.
I find their lives most inspiring and consider them my friends and members of my extended family.
Your favourite book from your own work?
Superstar India - From Incredible to Unstoppable. It is a passionate account of our country besides being a parallel story about my own life.
How did you get involved with Penguin for your new project?
I have been a Penguin author from the time they set up operations in India 21 years ago. For the past few years I have been a consulting editor with them, scrutinising manuscripts and recommending writerstitles. When John Makinson, Penguin’s chairman made me the offer to start my own imprint, I was flattered and excited!
How has your experience been with Penguin?
Well, I have had the privilege of being a top-selling author at Penguin. There is an enormous comfort level right there. There is also a great amount of trust, which is key in any association. Penguin has retained its top market position despite the entry of new international players. As a writer and now as a publisher myself, I am looking forward to some breakthrough publishing with them.
Tell us about your new project?
I have several new projects lined up — my own new novel and of course the hand-holding I will be doing with aspiring writers in the new avatar of a publisher.
Ever since the announcement, I have been receiving five or six top-class manuscripts a week, some of them from established writers but most from first timers. I am looking beyond fiction at this point — unless the manuscript really astonishes me. I am not interested in merely publishing a competent novel — those are cheaper by the dozen. I want an eye-popping story that delights or shocks me with its originality and power.
It’s too premature to throw names around at this stage. I am not a name dropper in an case.
What has been the key to your success?
You have to be a risk taker! Go where few have gone before. Test yourself constantly. Don’t take success for granted. Enjoy what you are doing. I also believe that to be successful you have to unconditionally love what you do. I don’t take writing for granted even after four decades. I approach each column with the same excitement as I did when I began.
Your message to students/aspiring writers...
The more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Write every single day of your life; treat it like a daily riyaaz. Remember that deadlines are sacred. Never miss them. Find your own, individual voice as a writer and don’t write like anyone else. Do your homework and be honest at all times.