Writer and feminist, Meghna Pant spoke about her journey at ‘Maven Haven’ at Goa Chitra, Benaulim. NT BUZZ speaks to her about the concept of feminism
SACHI NAIK | NT BUZZ
Indian writer Meghna Pant has books like ‘One & a Half Wife’, ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘The Trouble With Women’ to her credit. ‘Happy Birthday’ – a collection of short stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Award in 2014, and the novel ‘One & A Half Wife’ was awarded the national Muse India Young Writer Award in 2013 and was nominated for several other awards. She won the FON South Asia Short Story Award in 2016 and was felicitated with the Bharat Nirman Award in 2017 for her contribution to the field of literature.
Her upcoming books are ‘Feminist Rani’, ‘How To Get Published’ and ‘Holy 100’, the last is in 100-sentence version of the epics Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagwat Gita.
Excerpts from an interview:
- Tell us something about the Goa Chitra’s ‘Maven Haven’ event?
I spoke about my journey as a writer, being completely self-taught and never having taken any training. With an economics background, I pursued MBA in Finance, after working in a corporate for a few years, I moved back to India in 2005 realising that I didn’t want to work in a corporate anymore. By sheer coincidence, I was selected as a business news anchor with a leading television news channel and I then began reporting from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) during the 2008 financial crisis. I moved to Dubai and worked as a feature editor for a Gulf Business and launched a business magazine, which failed. I was simultaneously writing stories. With my full-time job and writing, and managing the family time for five years I didn’t watch a single movie, hardly socialised with people and it took a toll on me. I abandoned my thought of managing everything and realised it’s time I quit my job.
- What made you quit your job and not your writing?
I am not very practical but am very passionate as a person. A friend’s passing away with a cardiac arrest made me realise that life is very short. And we have set goals where we have to earn ‘x’ amount of money at this age, drive this car, live in a three bedroom apartment, and these are not really the goals that work for me. When I was working in New York and Dubai, I was making a lot of money but that didn’t satisfy me. I’ve grown up in the circles of incredibly wealthy people, and I do not equate happiness with money. I was tsturck by the thought that why are we doing this dress rehearsal in our life? At 40 I’ll do this, after I retire I’ll do that, how do we even know how long we are going to live? It’s time we believe that the spotlight is on us right now, and we have to act. This is our real life and we have to live it now.
- You’ve said you do not equate happiness with money, why?
My parents were in the income tax department, I and my brother grew up in Malabar Hills, Mumbai, one of the most luxurious areas of our country. I belonged to a middle class family but went to a school that had children who were wealthy. They came to school in chauffeur driven cars, while I would take a school bus. But if I had to change my life for either one of my richest friends, I would not do so, because their money holds them back from experiencing life. Money comes with a heavy weight, if you inherit it you are born with that identity. Your entire life is centred on it and you don’t become anything else. There is no self-actualisation in that life.
- What does it feel to have your passionate as a career now?
I won’t sugar-coat what a writing career is like. Money is awful, there is no fame. But the feeling when you write that exact story in your mind, that exact sentence, is so satisfying. In fact most of the authors and artists are here only because of this satisfaction factor.
- You portray the duality of life in your stories. How do you do this?
Describing it, when a woman is pregnant, her body transforms completely because she is giving birth to another human. The entire post-partum of breastfeeding, sleepless nights, and weakness is such a horror, but when the child smiles, every pain flies away, so then there is the beauty. Beauty has the power to summon that horror.
To give you my example, I was in a physically abusive relationship and I don’t know why I stayed in it for seven years. It took so much out of me physically, emotionally, psychologically, but because of that my life transformed. Writing began as a distraction from my reality. Now I can deal with issues in my life very differently and nothing can shake me.
- What inspires you to write on women?
One cannot imagine that despite being independent, modern, living abroad, good education, I stayed in a relationship and was unable to fight for myself. This is the problem with many Indian women; we are taught to remain silent and not to fight. The onus is never on the perpetrator but on the victim. Unless we speak, we will be continuously ill-treated. My concept of feminism is not men v/s women but men and women v/s the patriarchal system. The dowry system has of course victimised women in various ways, but are there no men who are falsely trapped by women for money or revenge? Such a system is unjust to all.
- Who is an empowered woman then?
An empowered woman is someone who is not afraid to speak for herself, these include small things in life, like a man can serve the food on the table or pick up the dishes. One area where women in India are lacking is financial independence. There are victims of dowry, domestic violence who are capable but afraid to speak only because of their financial dependence on the man of the house. Rather than saving for a girl’s marriage, parents should save for her financial independence. With regards to my daughter who is just one now, I will make sure to make her speak for the truth and right, and know the difference between right and wrong. Once a parent asks her daughter to compromise when she is bullied or abused, it becomes a narrative that she follows the rest of her life.
- Is there still a lot to write on women? Is there any topic that you have not touched upon so far and will do in near future?
For me, despite my urban lifestyle, troubles of women all over India are the same. A lot of people are surprised of how I can write about rural women. Our lifestyles maybe different, but our feelings, fears, victories, emotions are same. My writing style is usually that I love to observe people. When I write about women from rural areas, most of it is my imagination as I put myself in their shoes. One thing that I’ve not written so far and I want to write is about domestic violence, which, to me is so deeply personal.