The tone is set by the fabulous “Devi” locket worn by Ms Shobhaa De; Nandana Deb Sen brings a heady spark of vibrant energy to the stage and Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey moderates a session titled The Venus Factor. The talk bounces between writing and the deconstruction of the process of writing. Ms De mentions that she cannot remember ever not writing: it is her calling. A book has to “explode out of one’s head”, giving a “migraine”: this intensity is required for writing. There are no explanations required, no self-consciousness needed, no analysis wanted: one should just write. She jokingly mentions how a dentist is never asked, “When did you first want to become a dentist?” or “How do you manage to extract teeth every single day?”
On being asked if fiction is more appealing to her than non-fiction, Nandana Deb Sen replies on behalf of her mother, Nabanita Deb Sen, the original panelist expected at the session: she says it depends on the inspiration, There are events, such as the recent terror attack in Peshawar, that cannot be ignored. The talk turns to V S Naipaul’s comments about recognizing tone of women writers; Ms De points out that while it is interesting to hear that women have such a distinct voice, it is certainly preferable to see a writer as a writer rather than a particular gender. The challenges women face, as readers (the existence of the genre “chick lit” comes up) and as writers, having to constantly explain their work, especially with reference to expression of sexuality, are highlighted. Ms De mentions how she is aware, from her own experience, that a woman who expresses sexuality in her writing, especially at a time when hardly anyone else did, is labeled, rather than understood. The discussion meanders to a “bullshit meter” and how, as an artist, a politically charged atmosphere must not bully creators into being afraid. The current attacks on freedom of expression in India is rued by Nandana. It is important to take advantage of our freedoms, as Ms De reminds us. Throughout the session, she stresses on multiplicity in Indian literature: that of gender as well as of all the different cultures of India.
A fulfilling session that ended with me speaking to both Ms De and Ms Sen for a little while. Honoured and privileged!
PS: At the risk of promoting gender stereotypes, I do think Ms Sen and Ms De are both very, very beautiful. ^.^