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Moving on metaphors

Shashi Deshpande's forte lies in telling a story as it is, says DEEPA ALEXANDER



Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

SHASHI DESHPANDE'S writings hold a universal appeal that clearly emanates from her rootedness in everyday India - a society in which we breathe and a culture to which we belong. At the Taj Krishna where her latest novel Moving On was launched, the writer shared her feelings and perceptions with astuteness and creativity. With her uncanny insights into the nature of human relationships and an equally unerring eye for detail, Deshpande in her latest novel, ventures further than she ever has into the terrain of the mind, teasing out the nuances and exploding the structure of familial bonds. "A novel in two voices, Moving On was like an unexpected pregnancy. And like a late child it is filled with surprise."

Though she is the author of six novels including A Matter of Time and That Long Silence, five collections of short stories, four books for children and two short crime novels the theme of most of them remains the human predicament and the portraiture of the lives of ordinary people who we encounter in our own worlds, bringing into sharp focus the meaning of life itself. In her three decades of writing, Deshpande has never felt a dearth in the English language to communicate the Indian expression.

However, she says, "Initially the tradition of Indian Writing in English did not give space for a woman writer, so I had to carve my own. No reader gets all that you meant your writing to convey. The ideal reader is myself."

Deshpande who started writing while living for a while in London says, "I am a writer first and not a feminist. I feel no need to apologise for casting women as my heroes. No one does when the protagonists are men. I write about people and that's the bottom line."

A completely private writer she says only her husband, a pathologist and her publisher go through her novel when it is first written.

"My husband reads it as any ordinary reader and mostly declines to comment. My characters take shape first and then the titles. I start with an unknown landscape that emerges as I write and the material dictates whether it's a novel or a story."

When asked to what extent her works are autobiographical Deshpande says, "Some personal experiences do enter every novel. It is incidental and my thoughts were explored more in my first few novels."

For those who think of writers as bohemians, Deshpande says that disciplining a writing schedule is important. "I set myself to work six days a week and I'm conscientiously at my desk even if I don't write daily." She agrees that it sometimes worries her that she might be influenced by what she reads while she is writing a novel. "I read detective fiction while working on my books. Nothing close to my work as it tends to seep into the sub-conscience."

Deshpande has steadfastly refused to write to suit the global market and in an era of verbal acrobatics and pretty packaging, she is starkly real and refreshing. "Indian writing has a huge amount of talent, even non-fiction is being lapped up. Despite the `perish or publish' syndrome Indian literature is doing well. There is pressure on the younger writers who feel the need to be heard especially abroad. I think I am free of those pressures."

Now that her latest novel has been launched, Deshpande has already put pen to paper and moved on to her next work. "I'm translating my father's memoirs into English as this is his centenary year. I enjoy working on it as much as I did working on Small Remedies which in many ways remains closest to my heart."

Amrita Bhalla, an academic from Delhi when introducing Deshpande earlier in the evening summed up the core of her remarkable work. "Her writing is not Indian, not feminist, not women, not postcolonial. They possess a refreshing lack of self-consciousness and have no qualification and no defences."

Deshpande's novels are specific, modernising women even in their traditional milieu. Critics have said that Moving On will widen women's space.

Which is remarkable for this one time homemaker whose demeanour hardly betrays her strong convictions.

She says she never expected to be heard so well.

And to think it was all a matter of time.

DEEPA ALEXANDER

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