‘I am moved to tears reading about the plight of women’

‘I am moved to tears reading about the plight of women’

By ANIRUDH VOHRA | | 17 September, 2016
Bindu Dalmia.
Columnist and author Bindu Dalmia, whose latest novel, The Diary of a Lutyens’ Princess, topped the bestselling charts in India, speaks to Anirudh Vohra about writing female-centric books.
What made you choose Indian patriarchy as your subject?

A. I am not a paranoid male-bashing feminist, just because it has a huge readership market. I don’t want to play to the gallery just to sound populist. Gender parity the world over sure is a problem. But it’s unfair for a writer to only inhabit a woman’s soul and speak from there. I love men... Fortunately most of the ones I have known in real life are anything but misogynists. May not be a bad idea if the hell that’s visited upon them sometimes by the scheming side of women also finds a voice, as it’s unfair how narratives are loaded
against men.

But as to why I wrote a woman-centric story, that could be out of any patriarchal land, say even in the Arab world, is because I am moved to tears when I read and know about the financial and emotional plight of women in India or the eastern world. It might surprise you to know that women’s contribution to the GDP in India has languished at 17%, as they comprise only 24% of the workforce, compared to the global average of 40%. That makes her a puppet on a string, a katputhli to the karta, who happens to be the male head of the family. She must wisen up to asserting herself and knowing the basics of finance, title deeds etc. My nani had just passed Class VII when she moved from Lahore to Delhi post-Partition. But she made herself financially literate by reading financial newspapers and taking major decesions on where to deploy my grandfathers earnings.  She went on to acquire properties and create unreal wealth that was bequeathed to all of us, because she had learned the vocabulary of finance. In the India of 2016, it’s imperative for women to know the science of money and the vocabulary of finance. In a global world, we cannot have 50% of our population committed to domesticity and unaware of civil, legal and financial skills, the basics of which must be included at the school sylabi level.

Q. How did you research this book and how long was the overall process of researching it?

A. A lot of political and financial knowledge I grew into, learning from my husband, who is a visionary in many ways, very much in favour of parity for women and was always way ahead of his time. I was a financial dunce, as also I knew little about politics when we married. Hearing him talk, I became a learner. I never realised how he had slowly become my mentor. So I learnt a lot through him, plus my regular reading, but used research to double-check facts. Thereafter it was a breeze... In fact,editing my thoughts took me longer than editing my words.

Q. Was there anything in particular that made you want to become a writer?

A. From being a closet writer, I became an accidental writer, as my thoughts and views found it compelling to voice anything I felt deeply about with fearless candour. I didn’t know that the power of thoughts was so potent it could strike a chord so fast and put me on par with Harry Potter, when Rowling released at the same time as me. I am honoured, equally humbled and exhilarated   with the ratings... A never-ever moment of surreal serendipity, to suddenly find my book rubbing shoulders with the world’s best.

Q. You have been a regular columnist for several publications. How did your role as a columnist help you in the writing of this book?

A. Writing a column means research, plus, your interpretation of news flow, sized down to 800 words in edit columns. Writing a book gives one the luxury of space. But to be and feel authentic, closest to your sense of conviction, is a signature trait in my writing. For example, I think Modi is the best thing that ever happened to India in the post-colonial world.  But who knows, the millennials in India are so restive about status-quoism, if by 2019 they don’t get jobs and a better quality of life, they will surely want to look for an alternate messiah of change. So I am prone to changing my world view frequently and not fixated in my writings. Journalistic writing is thought experiments in a dynamic and ever-evolving reaction to events. If journalism is “the first draft of history”, then fiction invariably mirrors real life, doesn’t it? The zeitgeist always gets reflected in art forms, music or literature.

 “I have always had a childlike curiosity to know how the rich live. Do they face the same problems as commoners? Do they also do similar things that we do? What would Melinda Gates’ or Zuckerberg’s wife’s personal dilemmas be like?”

Q. Does Lutyens’ Delhi play an important part in your story?

A. The background of Lutyens’ Delhi, the nerve-centre of power and power-play of the richest and most affluent in the world, was central to my storyboard. “Posh people  angst”, as I choose to frame my genre, is a peek into the lives of privileged men and women who have the same problems in  their day-to-day lives as the rest. It’s just that commoners douse their sorrows in feni, and the rich in single malts. Besides, I have always had a childlike curiosity to know how the rich live. Do they face the same problems as commoners? Do they also do similar things that we do? What would Melinda Gates’ or Zuckerberg’s wife’s personal dilemmas be like?

There is a universality to love, loss, mirth and sorrow. The Lutyens’ world is a world symptomatic of the excesses of capitalism, where the rich sometimes live the life of “ robber barons”. It’s a world far, far removed from the hinterland of Bharat.

Q. The book also showcases your protagonist’s life from being a middle-class daughter to a successful entrepreneur. Could you elaborate on what inspired such a character?

A. The middle class is where the energy is. The middle class is where the aspirations are, to achieve greater heights. It’s what defines ordinary women or men who live extraordinary lives: in politics or business. Look around you today. Post-Liberalisation India saw the rise of the Sunil Mittals, the Bansals of Flipkart or the Kunal Bahls of Snapdeal. Today’s millionaire icons or political icons are not so dynastic. Few are first-generation-rich. Fortune’s top-ten companies today belong more to the new millionaires than the business houses of yore. It’s about meritocracy versus the privlaged; it’s about someone among the 1% who gave the 99% a run by being creatively disruptive in giving us products or services that transformed our lives. This century is about the rise of commoners, a Modi, an Obama, a Zuckerberg...and the fall of the feudal-rich or powerful. Isn’t it? India is the second most unequal nation in the world, after Russia, with Japan being the most equal, as 54% of its wealth is controlled by millionaires with net assets above $1 million. But “New Age” millionaires have emerged through entrepreneural excellence, not handed-down wealth. As India’s capitalist democracy matures, a quantum leap is needed to deliver equal prosperity to all at the bottom of the pyramid.

Q. Do you prefer writing about women and will you continue writing in their voice?

A. It’s a subject that comes easily to me. Ambition is sexier than sex, and it’s utterly feminine to own a creative mind, as much as it’s ever so gratifying to try for a well-sculpted body, or keep at grooming one’s appearance. A beautiful face, one is born with; but a beautiful mind is acquired through reading, writing, and character-building... All of that endeavour translates to a woman in full bloom, who pursues her passion and is able to become a financial asset unto herself, instead of “disguised slavery”, when women restrict their God-given acumen to just domesticity. Each of us have our own responsibility to the family, but a greater one to ourselves, to come into our astitva, a full expression of one’s being. It’s far more fulfilling and gratifying than all the jewelry, totes, or labelled attire a woman can adorn herself with. When the cerebral is in full bloom in a woman, she’s birthing an idea which can impact her own life as also enhance the lives of others. Yes, I want to write a lot of women-centric stuff.

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