Jaipur Literature Festival 2013: Shobhaa De lashes out at “lunatic fringe groups” stifling freedom of speech

Resham Sengar

Jaipur: Literature’s tryst with glamour continued as ex-model, newspaper columnist and novelist Shobhaa De came down to the Pink city to spread her irresistible charm and to launch books, one of them being Kareena Kapoor’s ‘The Style Diary of a Bollywood Diva’ under her imprint ‘Shobhaa De Books’ in collaboration with Penguin India at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2013.

The festival hosted a session titled ‘Celebrating Shobhaa’ on its last day and illustrator-cum-writer Ashok Ferrey introduced Shobhaa to the crowd raring to hear her speak in her typical fun and fearless way.

Ashok began the conversation by reiterating how Shobhaa is called one of the most powerful women in India. Shobhaa, on her part, showed her gratitude to the audience that turned up in numbers beyond her expectations.

She said, “It is a huge challenge to be able to communicate effectively with people week after week and I have been doing it for 40 years without either the reader getting bored or me getting bored. But before moving on to talk more I want to thank all of you for being here this afternoon. I was so panic stricken thinking that it is the last day and a hot afternoon. And I was hoping that at least 5 people attend my session. So thank you Jaipur very much.”

About the Jaipur Literature Festival, she said, “It is the single best platform for writers to air their opinions that are free and fearless.”

Moving on to talk about her stint with journalism as an editor of Stardust magazine in her heydays, Shobhaa said that things were different then and now journalism stories are all PR-driven. “Stardust broke the mould when magazines were just PR vehicles. At that time stories about movies stars and films never got beyond news like Asha Parekh has got three new poodles. But now the movie industry is back to PR journalism with a vengeance. The managers of stars are busy planting stories and space is being bought in a newspaper to promote a new movie.”

Expressing her disappointment over the state of affairs in the field of journalism, she said, “I am very disappointed because in the twenty first century we have got such a vibrant press and thank God we have got all the digital platforms that still allow airing uncensored opinions. PR journalism has come to define political journalism whether you are doing a political event or a corporate one.”

Shobhaa said that in a career span of 40 years, she has been lucky that her publishers allowed her to express her opinions freely and with due respect. However, there was only one article written by her that was dropped by her publishers because it was a critical, truthful, honest, brutal and fearing criticism of Sonia Gandhi. So she went on to publish the article on her blog page. “It did not cause an earthquake in India or elsewhere,” she stated.

Moving on to express grief on the horrible Delhi gang rape case and the rising crime against women, Shobhaa disagreed to accept Delhi as the most unsafe city and cited that no city is safe for women. “

Yes there were 600 rapes in Delhi last year but to be constantly referring to Delhi as a rape capital is wrong. Which woman in India is safe today? That single case (Nirbhaya’s) has galvanised public opinion and has given the women of India a voice because those protests were engineered and there were spontaneous protests. Those protests were not led by any political group. Instead they were all men and women who had had it all up to their neck. This was the wake-up call for which we were waiting. But the point is that the country woke up, women of the country woke up. It was brutality against humanity and not just one person. They have to show concern indeed and not just lip service. Had the media not covered the incident on such a big scale, Nirbhaya would have been only a statistic. We need to bring some morality back to our society which is just shaking at the moment.”

During the session, Shobhaa also shared some facts on which her new book ‘Sethji’ is based. “Sethji is symbolic of all that is wrong in the world. He is all that we see and feel disdainful about. Every second person you see within the ruling class is similar to the protagonist of this book,” said the author who also added that the character of Sethji had stayed in her mind for 13 long years.

She described her love for writing by calling it as an “obsessive compulsive syndrome” and said that she spends almost every waking moment writing. “I am lusting after my laptop (to write) rather than anything else. I forget to eat and to sleep because writing consumes me. I write at a very torrential pace. There are no speed breakers when I am writing. It is a passion beyond any other passion,” said the author who writes four newspaper columns on a weekly basis.

Being an amazing writer who has authored more than 12 novels in her life time, Shobhaa shared her expert tips with budding writers out there. Here’s what she said: “It (writing) is not something that is remote or inaccessible. Every single person has a story to tell. There is a book in everybody. Everybody’s story has a moment in it which is worth chronicling. It is that kind of love you have to bring to writing. You have to love it immensely. Human beings are gifted with the quality to express themselves.”

Last but not the least, the fearless Shobhaa De had a word for those reckless groups who are looking for ways to attack the right of speech of authors and people who are coming to the Jaipur Literature Festival to indulge in intelligent and harmless discussions. “We can’t have lunatic fringe groups disrupting people coming up here to express their views. They (authors) are here to support imagination and differing views of people of all kinds. This is the reason we all are here and this festival has become a one-of-its-kind. It is a global festival because it supports free thought. As long as people will continue free thought India will shine again but for that we have to first strive for it,” said Shobhaa.