‘This is a great time to be an Indian in India’

BEST-SELLING author, style diva, honest critic and full-time mother, Shobhaa De is the original woman of substance. The high priestess of steamy sagas reveals why her crush on a superstar called India remains an eternal love affair, warts and all...

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Published: Sat 26 Apr 2008, 11:55 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:45 PM

Why did you choose to write Superstar India?

India is always on my mind. I started speaking about this book while discussing another idea with David Davidar.

I felt very strongly about the subject and decided to chronicle two lives — mine and India’s. I am as old as my country, give or take a few months. And, on many levels, I feel not only that I have seen a dramatic change taking place in 60 years, but that in some sweet, strange and simple way, I am the change. I am India.

Plus, a country is as good or as bad as its people. Indians, with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies, are amongst the most lovable people on earth. There are a billion-plus of us to love!

India is like a cerebral courtesan...The title says: From incredible to unstoppable. It could have well been: From incorrigible to unbearable. There are many Indias. I want Brand India to get the positioning it deserves. While some parts of the book are jaunty and upbeat, others are deliberate and thought-provoking. This is a great time to be an Indian in India. The country is changing rapidly and in this book, I’m capturing that change.

Your columns have always mapped social change. Isn’t there a sense of deja vu about this book?

I think a writer can only write the book that is within him or her at that point. Once you start writing, the book takes on a life of its own.

Even this time, I had a loose idea of what I wanted to put down and then the book just wrote itself.

I’m not a writer who has every last word planned in her head before actually writing. My ideas are focused and distilled on the job. I write for my readers.

And I have refused to follow the formulaic India Book format the West so loves — caste and class. In the end, all the marketing gurus in the world cannot predict how well or badly a work will do. Every book comes with its own taqdeer.

Do you feel like a superstar at 60?

I have seen many a superstar flash across the sky and fade away equally fast. I’m very optimistic about where India is headed, yet view these changes with a healthy sense of scepticism.

About myself, I feel great. Women must free themselves from this cage of age. Sixty is the new 40 and I’m neither defensive nor apologetic about my age.

This is the most productive period of my life — definitely not the age to be marginalised. Sixty is a great time to take stock. There are wonderful years still ahead, with much to anticipate and look forward to.

And there are six crowded decades to look back on. I grew up with India. I made my mistakes with India. I wanted this book to be a personal journey — as much into myself as into India.

What do you think young Indians need to do for the country to achieve superstar status?

Generation Now is living on borrowed time, money and ideas. But we’re a hardy people with a robust amount of common sense.

It’s great to think, feel and act global but what makes us different from everybody else in the world is the feeling of family that Bollywood and television soaps cash in on, time and again. The day we devalue our sense of family, we will weaken as a nation.

But I don’t want this book to be preachy. This is just my way of telling the one-billion-plus SuperIndians what has happened over the last 60 years. I still have a ‘gee whiz!’ attitude towards most things that my children shrug off with casual nonchalance.

Sometimes I feel this generation takes too much for granted. I’d want young India to believe in, love and be proud of their country. Just stay invested.

When are you getting back to writing fiction?

Non-fiction takes time and effort but the art of storytelling comes naturally to me. Writing fiction is like an indulgence. My next book will be a novel and I promise you it will be steamier than anything I’ve written so far.

‘What do Indians really want?’

*Sigmund Freud spent a lifetime wondering what women want, and came up with a blank. Most sociologists feel ditto when it comes to providing an answer to another zillion-dollar question: What do Indians really want? The obvious answers are ‘Freedom’, ‘Democracy’, ‘Money’, ‘Education’. All these sound boring as hell, plus, I wonder if those are really what today’s Indian wants. ‘Money’ is by far the unchallenged numero uno requirement, but the other three have little meaning, since they’re a given.

An old friend raising a twenty-year-old daughter came to see me the other day. He mentioned how our generation were told we’d have to wait patiently for rewards...whatever those would turn out to be. Work hard for the exams. Slog away, swot, swot, swot. Compete like crazy. Await results. Phew! First class in hand, work some more. Swot some more. Apply for a ‘decent’ job. Keep your fingers crossed. Land the job. Continue slaving. Wait for promotion. Keep slogging. Spend fifteen years or more in the same job. Get bored. Get restless. Marry sometime in between. Produce children. Hang in there. Grow middle-aged. Grow a paunch. Lose hair. Lose patience. Lose temper. Give up! End of story. End of life.

But that’s not how it works today. Kids want it all. And they want it now. And they don’t all want to work that hard, either. It’s about having ‘chill time’, ‘personal time’, a ‘life plan’ that includes frequent holidays. Kids want to ‘hang’. And they want to ‘connect’. Mainly over the Net. No personal contact — or very little. No emotional investment. Or very little. Just lots of stimulation and virtual relationships that include virtual gifts on Facebook. Thrilling, or wot?

· Mangta hai, kya...yeh bolo...I dared to ask this potentially explosive question of a twenty-one-year-old. She didn’t miss a beat before answering, ‘Money’. Was I surprised, disappointed, shocked? Not at all. I’d met an honest person. A global thinker! Isn’t that what the young really, really want, no matter where they come from?

· Everything but everything in India can be traced back to that tiny two-letter word ‘Ma’! The great mother figure is the one single constant that has not been thrown out in the current cultural revolution. Nearly everything else has. The matriarch possesses such a terrifying hold over us that to deny her rightful position is to invite the wrath of the gods. Will the next generation be equally attached? Equally sensitive? Doubtful. From the ‘Ma’ generation to the ‘Me’ generation - one tiny letter of the alphabet, but what a sea change has taken place in under twenty years.

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