Imagining (an)other – Men Writing Women

A conversation with writers Amitabha Bagchi, Chandrahas Choudhury, Deepak Unnikrishnan , Mahesh Rao anchored by Karthika Nair was initiated with the fundamental question – “How do men write women characters? Is gender the greatest distance you have to traverse while writing your characters?”

 

Chandrahas who is the author of ‘Clouds: A Novel’, said that he actually did not think that gender was a large gap to bridge. He felt comfortable writing about women characters but found the character of a tribal boy in his book hard to crack. He said that this was because he had not lived that life or had any first-hand experience of it, so even though it was a male character he found it hard to get into his mind and write about him.

 

Mahesh who is the author of the award-winning book ‘The Smoke is Rising’, said that for him, gender was the least distance to cover. He said that he writes from observed experience. He watched and learnt from the different women in his life and it came quite naturally to him. He further added that he never thought that it was odd for a man to write from a woman’s point of view. He believed that a writer needed to inherit his characters complexity, irrespective of gender.

 

Amitabha, author of ‘Half the Nights Gone’ then pitched in to say that men become men by answering questions raised by women. He said that essentially if a man can understand the place of origin of the questions and make an honest attempt to answer them he can quite easily assess a woman’s perspective, get into her mind and form female characters for his stories.

 

Deepak who is the author of ‘Temporary People’ shared a personal anecdote with us. He said that as a young boy growing up in Abu Dhabi, he went to school in the afternoon when the girls would leave and when he and his friends stood at the gates watching the girls walk out of the gates, they would cook up stories about them. He stressed about how they knew nothing about these girls but were able to perceive what kind of life they probably led. He further reflected how finding a voice for his characters was important to him and how he reached into his memory to find the voice of his grandmother and his great grandmother which he later used in his characters.

 

Wrapping up the session, Karthika then brought up a very important question to all the writers on the panel, asking whether post the “Me Too” movement they would think about how they wrote their female characters. Almost unanimously the panel said that yes they do think about these things and police themselves to make sure they are not creating stereotypes or writing poorly about women. They felt that this should have happened earlier itself and it probably did in pockets, but now that it has all come out in the open, it was important for all writers to think about how female characters lend themselves to the story.

 

 

About the Author: Pashmi Dutta is a reader, writer, political enthusiast. Trying to talk with ease about things that make us uneasy, she has her blog at PashmiBlog and currently writes for TheSeer.

Big Little Stories

Novels containing stories larger than life or stories so real that they are hard to believe attract us immediately. But short stories encapsulate a world of their own leaving the reader with memorable charm. The session ‘Big Little Stories’ was all about it – the stories of people around us and their eccentricity. The panel had Deepak Unnikrishnan, Shubha Mudgal, Julia Prendergast moderated by Premanka Goswami. 

 

Deepak a writer from Abu Dhabi is the inaugural winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for his book Temporary People. When asked about why does he have so much violence in his stories, he was quick to pitch in his very humorous way his perspective about violence. He quotes an example of a man flying out of the country. He says the man standing in the line of immigration is anxious, vulnerable, and scared. He finds this act of scrutiny as violent. He shares his own experience of how his father behaves so differently in such times. Further he adds that violence offers an opportunity to introspect, so it’s not as bad as we think.

 

Shubha, an acclaimed Hindustani classical singer talks about her debut novel Looking for Miss Sargam , a collection of stories of music and misadventure. Though the stories come from the music world, Shubha claims that they are a pure work of fiction and at the same time, contain some of the amusing anecdotes she came across, one of them being that musicians gift each other some of the finest compositions on marriage which they might not even give to the best of their disciples. Knowing such facts, she has built up her stories adding her own imagination from the contemporary world.

 

Julia, a lecturer in Writing and Literature in Australia is a prolific writer and was the 2019 Director of the Australian Short Story Festival, held for the first time in Melbourne. She takes us through the stories of love and loss. Her characters are sometimes drawn from her own experiences which make the stories more relatable and touching.

 

At the end, all of them read an excerpt from their stories. Deepak and Shubha impersonated the accent of the native of their characters belonging to various regions of India which brought a lot of laughter and cheers from the audience. Premanka did not forget to quickly request a song from Shubha to which she politely agrees. Shubha sings her personal favourite penned by great lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi – “Ao koi khwaab bune kal ke vaaste”, yet again mesmerising the audience with her unique voice and style.

 

 

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, I have always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She currently writes for TheSeer.