Delhi and Kolkata-based author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu wrote three successful works of fiction before her non-fiction Status Single came about. Written over one year of intensive research, the former journalist and senior PR professional interviewed 3,000 single women – divorced, widowed, LGBT, single mothers included.
“I was sure I didn’t want to write a namby-pamby self-help book but more of a hard-hitting non-fiction based on real-life gritty stories,” says the 40-year-old Jadavpur University alumna. She shares her findings with us.
As your book says, single women face a lot of social prejudice in India. How does this affect them in their professionally and psychologically?
Being single is a huge professional problem – in larger organizations, single women are assumed to have “slept their way to the top”. They are also afraid of attracting the attentions of horny old men or male bosses asking for sexual favours in return for salary increments. If they’re divorced, there’s gossip. So these women often keep their single status a secret or pretend to be married or in a relationship.
They live in fear – of parents, society, bosses, relatives. No one wants to be single. Whenever any woman informs a new acquaintance that she’s single, she’s told, “For now”. Marriage is the normative in India, and being single means something is “wrong” with you somehow.
Were your interviewees comfortable about being named – considering the subject is almost taboo in a country like ours?
Last year, 35 women backed out from the book after giving me interviews. They were worried about the impact on their careers or their current relationships. Many others agreed to give their stories but changed their names. It was very disturbing. Many didn’t turn up for the launch, and even when they did, they requested to remain anonymous and not be introduced. Such social double standards are nauseating.
How did this book change you?
A lot was written about this book even when it was still in process. It became like some sort of an underground movement. Strangers started writing to me. A lot of transgender and disabled women reached out to me with their stories. I didn’t know any of these people; it was a huge revelation for me as a writer. We need a movement to empower single people. One can have companionship that is not necessarily a heterosexual romantic one.
You’re one of few Indian writers to write about sex and erotica in the media and in your books. Have you ever had to face any ostracism due to this?
Bigots and trolls always attack women who are outspoken on social media. I constantly get dick pics from men. And rape threats. It’s as if women who speak up deserve punishment, and sexual intimidation is how they must be kept in line. There’s a huge pressure to conform as a writer too and I’d say publishers are to blame. No one publishes brave new books. Only commercial clichés make their way through. Our best authors are published by international publishing houses. It’s a vicious cycle.
What’s next for you?
I’ve written a 10-act play that’s coming out later this year. I’ve also started a Facebook page for single people. With every book I write, I feel like I have been chosen for it – writers are a medium. If we can remember that, we will stay humble. I want to influence thought and bring about change. I don’t want to be famous. I want to be remembered.
First published in the April 2018 issue of eShe magazine