Shobhaa De doesn't mince words and isn't afraid to speak her mind. As she comes out with her latest book - Shobhaa at Sixty, she talks about women, erotica and also reveals the biggest scoop of her career in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times.
What is your latest book - Shobhaa at Sixty about? Does your book challenge pre-conceived notions about age?
When I turned sixty, I felt very strongly that in a very ageist society, not just in Asia but all over the world, women who turn sixty are expected to disappear completely, become invisible. Society tends to be cruel, particularly to woman at this age. This book is my very strong message - break the mould, break the stereotype, be yourself. Sixty isn't the end of the world at all; it can be in fact a very productive age and an exciting decade depending on how you look at age.
When I look around me I see lots of sixty-year-old women who are exceptional in every sense of the word.Â - whether it's Sonia Gandhi or Hema Malini - they look gorgeous and they make the best use of their time. Sixty for me is celebrating the age and telling the society to rethink about woman and pre-conceived notions about age. There was a time when woman mortality rate was 40-50, today's generation is far more vibrant mentally, emotionally, and sexually and the book celebrates that. I have lived life on my own terms, but it hasn't been a static life, this book in a way documents six decades of a rich life.
After writing about erotica, marriage, betrayal, you have shifted focus to a relatively tamer theme - age. Is it a deliberate attempt?
No I wouldn't say it's deliberate attempt to do anything other than what I want to do at this point in my life. Erotica had its relevance in my writings and I will continue to touch upon it someway or the other. On the whole, I have been pretty experimental in my writings, I have done a memoir, written for children, written an anthology and more. For a writer, at least for me, it's important to challenge myself. I don't like to stick to the safe. I like the idea of challenge and adventure both.
You have often been credited with bringing about a sexual revolution in Indian writings? If yes, do you agree with that?
That title I would think belongs to a pioneering and very successful woman Kamala Das - she really brought women's sexuality out of the closet at a time when India wasn't ready to accept women's voices at all whether about about sex or anything else. For me it wasn't planned, it's just what I wanted to say at the time and I have no regret that I did because as a society we are hypocritical, women are expected to write in a particular slot and stick to that slot, it was time to breakthrough that barrier, and let readers know about a woman's mind, body, soul and in a way to assume responsibility for all levels including your sexual self.
What gives you more creative satisfaction - penning an autobiography or a fiction?
Both are completely different. I see myself as a professional wordsmith, as a writer shouldn't be afraid, to go into any kind of territory. When I wrote my memoir, when I turned fifty, it gave me satisfaction and writing fiction has its own kind of freedom, liberating, limitless feeling, exploring characters, inhabiting different skins. I hate the idea of compartmentalising writing; it's what I do for vocation.Â Every book for me has it's own special magic.
You don't mince your words whether it is critiquing I Hate Luv Storys or Salman Khan. How do you tackle the criticisms meted out to you on Twitter?
On democratic platforms like Twitter or blogs you can't assume that only you have the privilege of speaking your mind. You can't afford to have hypersensitive attitude to criticism. When you put anything out there in public domain - book, opinion, painting, you must be able to handle it or do something very safe like become a dentist or a chartered accountant. When you say something controversial, expect a controversial response to it. I just believe in being truthful, as a social commentator it's my job to express my opinion. If people out there want to challenge it, then it's their prerogative.
How has been the response to the book so far?
The response has been phenomenal considering we haven't even kick-started with the publicity. In fact we haven't even had an official book launch. People's response from all over the world has been astonishing.
Who came with the idea of the book cover?
The cover was my idea. This picture was shot for Vogue India's age issue - fabulous at any age, I had posed with four other women representing four decades and the response was quite positive. I'm glad we went ahead with that image after I ran it through my husband and my family - my resident censor board. This image was appropriate as it broke through the mould and was positive to woman of a certain age.
Are you working on any other project?
I'm working on a work of fiction after 10 long years. I'm also busy with my publishing print, I'm commissioning books, looking at new authors, new titles and new perspectives.
As a columnist/editor what do you think has been your biggest scoop?
My biggest scoop in recent times would be interviewing Raj Thackery. I was the first journalist writing in English to whom he decided to speak to extensively and it was also theÂ first time that people in urban India got to understand his point of view which till then was restricted to his speeches and writing in Marathi. India was very curious to know what his agenda was, what he stood for , what his party stood for and what exactly he meant when he talked about the outsiders and the Marathi Manas. It was an exclusive that made a difference in understanding a controversial man.