Author of the very popular novels I’m Big. So What!? and Done With Men, Shuchi Singh Kalra’s views on social injustices and body image find their way to her columns and books. Born in Lucknow, Shuchi spent most of her childhood in Libya. Later, she moved with her parents to India, and studied optometry followed by a Master’s in English literature.
“I come from a family of ‘science people’ and both my parents are doctors,” says Shuchi, who tried writing her first book – a work of science fiction written in a school notebook – at the age of 10. “There is no literary gene in the family, so to speak. I am most likely an aberration or a genetic mutation.”
Her latest novel, A Cage of Desires, has just been released by Penguin. We talk to Shuchi about her life and writing.
What is a lasting memory from childhood that left a great impact on you as a writer and as a woman?
The first memory that comes to my mind upon reading this question is not a very pleasant one, but I guess it is the traumatic experiences in our lives that teach us the most, and lend depth to our understanding of the world. While there are memories I wish I could let go of, they have definitely helped my expression as a writer, and I often find myself drawing from those experiences even while writing fiction.
Who inspires you?
I draw most of my inspiration from regular everyday people. Their quirks and idiosyncrasies provide me with enough fodder to weave characters and stories.
How did marriage and motherhood change your writing journey?
I started writing my first published book after my daughter was born, so marriage and motherhood have never been a hindrance. In fact, motherhood has not only been inspiring, it has also made me more focused, disciplined and driven.
Your books dwell on different subjects that women would relate to – relationships, body image. What do you feel are the key issues modern young Indian women deal with every day?
Oh, there is no end to the issues we as women face every day! Right from safety, sexism, social pressure, career limitations, family dynamics, gender prejudices, abuse – there are so many issues that need to be talked about. One might say that some of these are relevant to men too, but women’s voices have been stifled for far too long. And as a woman writer, I feel I owe this to my tribe.
You once wrote about going through infertility treatment, and how badly women are treated if they can’t have kids. How can we – as women and as a society – fix this prejudice?
Infertility is not a curse – it’s just another medical condition. There is no need to wrap so much trauma and taboo around it. Despite the prejudices and social pressure, women are still upfront about any infertility issues they may be facing but what about the men? Can you imagine any man being matter-of-fact about it in public?
The only way to fight this prejudice is to talk candidly about these issues and encourage other people to share their experiences till they begin to be perceived as normal. Conversations also help build support groups which are of immense help to infertile couples who are fighting their battles alone.
Your columns take on gender biases in society, especially in the way girls are raised. What has your experience taught you in this regard?
We women live in the same world, but at the same time our realities are very different. I was lucky to be brought up by very progressive parents who never discouraged me from voicing my opinions. I was a wild, rebellious teen. My father taught me to hit back at bullies, and not take nonsense from anyone. Gender biases existed all around me but they were not a part of my immediate environment.
It took me a while to realize that the way I was brought up was not the norm. My relationships with men opened me up to a lot of grim realities.
A large number of women in India continue to struggle with gender biases on so many fronts every day – it is insane. I want to be a voice for all these women and write about big and small issues that affect our everyday lives.
First published in the June 2018 issue of eShe magazine