Good Indian Girls Do Not Waste Time Writing Books


An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 24th May 2011.

*FYI: Beti = daughter, Samajdar = sensible, Thik hai = Alright, Jaldi = Hurry

“You want to do whaaat???!!”

Write a novel. Now calm the eff down.

Ever wonder how it would be to take a hiatus from life to follow that one niggling dream that dances on the edge of your consciousness day-in and day-out? I do. All the time. And, being an Indian girl let me tell you, it isn’t easy. An Indian girl is a ticking time bomb.

“Do you want to be the only thirty-something to marry the leftovers? Life isn’t Sex and the City.”

Jeez. Leftovers. That’s what my dad calls the baldies and the divorcees, since that’s who you will get if you decide to get married post-thirty. Why, thank you. That does mean I have a neat little bracket of five years left, right? Right?

Wrong. If you are a brown girl baby, you will know that we have two very neat choices (no, infanticide is not one of them): academics or marriage. Ever since I started my stint at grad school with my Master’s in English, daddy dearest laid off with all the “beti*, don’t you want to get married?” Now that my year is winding down, and I have to decide for either the PhD route, or the working girl route, there it is again. I am reminded of my expiry date, my limited shelf life, my doomed future as a single brown girl. See, Indian parents do not hand you a Kit Kat when you decide to take a break from life. A break from life is a luxury that does not exist in the Indian dictionary.

I don’t ask for much. Just want to be a Mistry or a Roy. Maybe, a Lahiri at least. Just not a contrived cow. “A contrived what?” you ask. A contrived c-o-w. Now what is a contrived cow? The market of fiction is filled with contrived cows. In other words, books that pass for literature but are instead filled with superficial plots driven by clichés and contrived platitudes. Books that are great for mass market sellouts, but won’t be remembered twenty years down the line.

There is nothing wrong with being a mass market writer. To each his own. The books sell. You make millions and then you are forgotten. If you like money and fifteen minutes of fame, you might consider the route of mass market. But some mass market writers know how to write and make money, while some are just contrived cows who end up making money by chance. Jeffery Archer and John Grisham belong to the former category. Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon also belong to the former category but to a lesser degree, while Twilight series writer Stephanie Meyer is a contrived cow who just got lucky.

I don’t want to become a non-contrived-cow mass market writer either. That is taking the easy way out. I want to create literature. Get short listed for a Booker, if not win one. I want people saying my name with a hushed reverence within literary circles. (Small dreams, sigh.) Or, atleast give it a try. See if I can. How on earth can I concentrate on creating history if I have small versions of myself crawling around me, tugging on my t-shirt and competing for my attention? So, here I am. Dreaming of taking off for a few months and writing my first novel. Yes, you read that right. I am still at the dreaming stage. But even that comes with restrictions.

“No, no. You can’t write on that… it’s too controversial!”

Err, dad. Are you a realist fiction expert? No? Didn’t think so. Back down, maybe?

“But, but, BUT! Can’t you write on something else?”

Hmm. Can I? Sure. Do I want to? Nope.

Now if I had said instead, “Daddy dearest, I want to get married. Here are some high resolution photos of me in an Indian and a Western outfit (you know, to show the purrrfect blend of Eastern and Western values. As if it can be discerned from some lousy pictures the high blends that I am made of!) that you can put on Shaadi.com. Jaldi!* I am so ready to give up my freedom and make babies,” I would have been rewarded with the aren’t-I-lucky-to-have-such-a-samajdar-beti* look. Now, who doesn’t want to be one of those samajdar betis? Do I see hands? No? Shy, are we?

Instead, this not-so-samajdar-beti decides to take a year off from academia, fly off to the city of her birth and start working on her first novel. Yes, he says finally. Thik hai, go. I am sure you will meet someone in India.

Indian parents, I tell you. Will never change.

7 Comments

Filed under article, rant, Writing about writing

7 responses to “Good Indian Girls Do Not Waste Time Writing Books

  1. Rishi

    Didn’t know what to say except for I enjoyed this article and read it few times :)

  2. I love this blog post – really resonates with me. Many times, I have been told by parents/relatives that what I write on my blog is controversial and I shouldn’t write about such things because it is a bad idea/dangerous/etc. But you know what, it’s my right to write whatever i want – thankfully, I live in a free country that gives me the right to freedom of speech. And I intend to exercise that. I understand their concerns, though. I also get the concerns re: career because I intend to pursue a career in human rights and social justice (and writing is a passion of mine, too, but not a full-time thing) and they want me to be practical. However, I feel I have an obligation to give back, and they should support rather than disparage someone who wants to contribute to social change.

    • Hey Akhila,

      Thanks for visiting! I completely feel what you are saying. Sometimes, we have to juggle the pulls of desire and duty, but in the end, personal happiness does matter. Do what you are doing; that is change in itself.

      Best,
      S.

  3. I somehow found you through googling and I’m so glad I did! I took off to Bangladesh where my parents are from for three months last year to get started on a novel idea I had. Unfortunately I had to cut my trip short, so I never got to finish what I started. When I told my parents that I’m leaving a conventional job (though working as a magazine editor isn’t exactly the standard dream job to them), to work on my writing, they were not happy. In fact, they did everything they could to stop me!

    I’ve never been to India but I’m sure inspiration would be everywhere! My plans to go back to Bangladesh and attempt my novel again are still in the works as soon as I can figure out how to do it.

    Will keep following your blog!

    - From One Brown Writer to Another

    • Hi there,

      I am glad you did find me too! Sometimes, we women have to fight so hard to just follow our hearts! Well, good luck to you on the novel. And, I will check out your website soon, once I get a chance. Maybe, we can exchange notes while we are at it!

      S.

  4. Toni

    Excellent insight into the psyche of Indian parents! Wish you every luck – go get your dreams!

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