"In India, ‘Feminism’ has come down to male bashing"

Destiny had dropped all the good things in her kitty - a perfect job, a coveted degree and a blissful life. But the call of conscience made her take a new course in life for societal change. Meet Sagarika Chakraborty, who has hit the bull’s eye with her first book, ‘A Calendar Too Crowded’, which deals with social issues. Resham Sengar of Zeenews.com spoke to this budding author who revealed all about her bestselling book.

You have studied management from one of India’s premier B-Schools (ISB, Hyderabad). Precisely, what pushed you to change your course and write your first book, ‘A Calendar Too Crowded’?
When I began my research for ‘A Calendar Too Crowded’, I did not know that I would be doing my MBA. The entire course of journey of writing ‘A Calendar Too Crowded’ is spread over two years, more specifically, from January 2010 till January 2012, when it was launched. I was a full-fledged corporate lawyer working in Mumbai, very happy with my work. But slowly, as the book developed, I realised that I was getting into a comfort zone and I wanted to explore the other side of this beginning. With regards to my first book, I had been policy making for quite some time. I have written a lot of papers on gender studies, etc. The research material that I had with me- I never thought that I would be using it to write fiction. But then, like my grandmother used to say, when you tell a story to a child, the way it lingers in the child’s mind is the way it shapes his feelings.

Your novel delves deep into societal issues that women have been facing since time immemorial. Does that categorise your novel as feminist work? If not, then what is your take on Feminism?
My novel is more of a humanist kind because I wanted to look at every gender in a neutral way. Feminism is all about expressing feminine rights and issues. Unfortunately, today in India, the term ‘Feminism’ has come down to male bashing. This is very sad and I do not relate to that. But yes, I am all for liberation and development of women, but without any gender being tortured. For me, this is the crux of Feminism.

How much of your book is real and how much of it is fiction? Are the stories put in the book taken from real-life incidents?
Yes, a part of it is fiction. But every story has a part, which in my mind, I can relate to a real person. There is a story in the month of February about a young war widow who is trying to escape a life of drudgery. Her family is planning to send her to Kashi to live the life of a widow. That (story) comes from a young 19 year old widow I met way back in Rajasthan who did not even know what had befallen her. So the emotions that I have expressed in the story are all from real people. I even knew that this (book) won’t be a bestseller in terms of numbers. But yes, the appreciation that this book has got is more for its content rather than for pleasing people.

There are many other books in the market that talk about the plight of women. So what makes your book different from others?
Each writer’s work is like a baby. So, just the way you don’t compare children because every child is different, I won’t compare my book. But yes, I would like to say that the kind of research that I and my publisher have done is extensive. No other book in the market has such a unique layout. All the stories are marked according to the particular day (of the month), the chapters are in the form of a calendar, and all the characters in the stories are nameless. I want the readers to name them, and connect with whichever character he or she has come across in real life.

Crime against women is mainly prevalent in homes that are not accustomed to reading books. How do you think you can reach out to that section of the masses and bring upon a change in their mindset?
When I went to B-School, I was taught a particular theory called ‘Separation Theory’. It says that one person is actually connected to six other people. So with every person in the world, you have a 6th relation. I was very surprised to learn that because when I was growing up, my mother and my grandmother taught me something similar-that if you teach one person, then that person will go and influence n number of people. In Law School, I used to go for Legal AIDS Camp and even in Mumbai, I went for a tour of Dharavi. I approach people, talk to them and try to understand their mindsets and try to know if they are aware of common issues. I believe that talking is the first way of doing things. These are small attempts. I have made a start, and that’s how I want to continue with it.

What message do you want to convey to your readers through your first book?
I feel that enough has been done through chit-chats, but it is high time that we take action. And you are never too alone to start something on your own. We shy away from voting thinking that one vote won’t make a difference. This is highly untrue and we are facing its effects now. Similarly, it is also true when it comes to doing things for the society. A small child can also start a cleanliness campaign. So just think about the society you live in and try and make a difference.

Would you like to share any cherished experience that you had while writing your book and getting it published?
I remember this particular incident when I was doing a small bit of research on AIDS when I was working in Law School. I came across this woman who had AIDS because her husband was infected from a sex worker and he did not tell his wife about it. Grit and determination of the woman to stand up and say that “it is ok” and that she could deal with the mishap was inspiring. She did not have money and resources and yet she had so much courage – it made me salute her. In fact, I have included her in my book.

Do you intend to take up writing as a full-time career?
Well, I am planning my next book. It is going to be a little bit of a satire and fun book, but it will be connected to social issues. I will write about things that I’m concerned about. I don’t want to give in to the genres of romance or thriller because I don’t really connect to those themes.


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