Author Interview | Saroj Sudan | The Literature TodayNovember 19, 2020
Literature Today: What do you think about this modern society? Is it being partial to with the male gender? As everywhere the buzzword feminism is being highlighted?
Saroj Sudan: The buzzword feminism may be highlighted to any extent but the reality is poles apart. Even today in so called modern society, deep-rooted inequalities persist in the psyches, cultures and traditions. It is still men’s world. The struggle of a girl child starts from her birth and illegal sex-selective abortions. It is difficult to find a considerate, friendly, respectful-mature man for the daughter. Women find difficulty in expressing their ambition and passion. They have to evolve their identity for the happiness of their husband and families. Feminists and their feminism so far couldn’t stop killing the girl child in mother’s womb, could not stop the dowry-deaths, rape cases, constant oppression, suppression, domestic violence, silencing their voice, treating them like dumb-driven-cattle by the fake arrogance of man. For making her position strong in a patriarchal society, she has to be educated and financially-independent though it is not a guarantee of her happy-life. The most educated and financially strong women are also seen suffering in the hands of their men. He may have turned her world upside down in giving mental and physical torture; still she is advised to save marriage as divorce is looked down upon by society. There is glaring gender discrimination between the male and female. Seeing the face of a widow in the morning is taken as a bad omen but not of a widower. Society is undoubtedly partial to male gender in general with a few exceptions here and there.
Literature today: Which period of English and Hindi literature can be related equivalently to ‘Unlock Shackles’?
Saroj Sudan: The problem touched in the book is universal and for all times. ‘Unlock Shackles’ can be related to all the periods of literature in English and Hindi. Maithli Sharan Gupt wrote in Prabandh Kavya ‘Yashodhara’ in 1933,
“अबला जीवन हाय तुम्हारी
यही कहानी , आँचल में है दूध और आँखों में पानी”.
Premchand’s story ‘Kafan’ written in 1935 is about a father and son duo – Ghisu and Madho. Madho’s wife used to feed these two shameless creatures by grinding flour and cutting grass to earn money. But when she was dying during childbirth; they were busy eating burning hot potatoes and didn’t bother to go and see her in the hut because they were worried that the other one might eat the enormous part of potatoes. Ghisu remembered at that critical and sensitive moment about the wedding feast he had attended 20 years back. In the morning, they found her dead and they didn’t have money even for shroud (Kafan) and wood for her cremation. Finding him in such a situation, the land lord and other villagers helped him and gave money. But the two purchased a bottle of liquor, spicy and fried fish, two sets of puris, chutney, pickle, liver, meat and leaf plates. They sang, jumped and enjoyed eating it and eventually collapsed there. It is the height of degradation and condemnation of the socio-economic system. This is the story of the contemporary rural India and also of the fallen state of mankind.
Jai Nimbar, Anita Desai, Sudha Murthy also delineated the gender inequality and domestic disharmony in traditional Indian families and the suffering of women in a patriarchal world. In all the critical situations it is the ‘woman’ who has to suffer badly. The suffering is deep-rooted in various types of inequalities found between men and women in our society.
Literature today: As ‘Unlock Shackles’ is basically centralized on motherhood period of a women’s life. What would you suggest to the parents regarding their orthodox demeanour in this downfall era?
Saroj Sudan: Yes! The novel is centralized on motherhood period of Sarla. During that period, she was seen tensed for the safety and education of her daughter and utterly worried about her son’s mental health who had been suffering from trauma and insomnia. Her husband being against women-education; didn’t want his daughter to study and decided to marry her to an old-man just because she was accepted by his family without dowry. However, Pallavi didn’t want to get married before getting proper education and being financially independent. Sarla became so protective, strong and supportive that she shifted to Delhi with her sister Sudha. Her support provided them fearless, loving and violence-free environment to grow and pursue their cherished dreams. Pallavi studied hard, got scholarship and became an IAS officer and her brother Deepak became a doctor.
During this down fall era, it is suggested to the parents not to be violent, bossy or impose decisions on their kids. Their imposed tastes, preferences and clothing styles etc. might diminish their individuality and could lead to protest, increased depression and social-alienation. Parents must try to find out their needs, wishes and passions to support them at best. They should quit ‘yelling’ and creating terror for their kids. A child who is yelled at, is more likely to exhibit problem behaviour and hence starts doing the complete opposite. They need to stop themselves while speaking to someone about their child as the child needs to speak for himself. Avoid helping too much as children need to do as much as possible by themselves. It would also give them confidence. Parents need to be their child’s friend so that they would confide in them. Parents must spend quality time with children and be an active listener. Parents must not ever use name calling such as, “You are a duffer” or “You are good for nothing.” They might internalize these and start believing in it too. On the other hand, don’t be overly permissive too and don’t let them do whatever they want. This too could be detrimental. Children should know their clear boundaries. Keeping a check on what they are doing and with whom do they spend time is a must. Avoid fault-finding and find reasons to appreciate and encourage them.
Literature today: As the character Virendra in your novel is out of expectations and the role of a father, what kind of man do you expect for a family?
Saroj Sudan: The character of Virendra as a father in the novel is undoubtedly out of expectations. He hates girl child and is against women-education. For him spending money on women is a wastage of money. He has no respect for women especially his wife. Humiliating her in front of others, destroying things that she loves, hitting, punching, slapping, kicking and even threatening to use weapon for the family frequently is his normal way of life. Being alcoholic, he never contributes to the family’s expenditure and isolates his wife and children from the family, friends and the outside world and their support. He fixes his daughter’s marriage to an illiterate, ugly-looking 45 years old man; just because his family has accepted her without dowry and they are ready to spend on marriage from his side as well. The family hates to lead such a torturous life. Hence, with the support of Sarla’s sister who is an advocate in Delhi, they finally leave him to lead a peaceful and normal life to grow, excel and achieve.
The kind of father Virendra Singh has been portrayed as, in the novel, is not at all like most fathers are and he definitely doesn’t fit the expected role of a father. As a father, he should have been the provider, the protector and the disciplinarian to make his kids feel safe, secured and protected. He should have been encouraging and supportive towards their ambitions and should’ve helped them in achieving their cherished dreams. He should have been transparent, loving, caring, reliable and dependable. He should also have been intelligent, wise, knowledgeable, and flexible with leadership qualities and a sense of humour to lighten up their lives. Like any other considerate father, he should have been sympathetic and strong enough to stand by his children by supporting them in their good and bad times.
Literature today: Which author of English/Hindi literature has inspired you utmost?
Saroj Sudan: Literature and creative work of the authors are incomplete without the people who influence and inspire their lives directly or indirectly. So, instead of getting inspired by a particular literature or author, the true and the real life of the tortured women seen, observed and heard especially in rural areas, touched my heart and became the soul of this heart-wrenching story of Pallavi.
To connect with the people and their sensibilities, efforts were made to use my ability as a writer to spread the message of women empowerment through my writing as it is the best form of art to express the minutest feelings in order to bring changes in the mind-set of people. Though it is difficult to do, but efforts must go on. The novel contains the thought-provoking story of an abandoned, maltreated woman Sarla, who suffered ignominy at the hands of her husband. It depicts gender discrimination and perverted mind-set about girl child in certain sections of society. Sarla overcame all odds not only to bring up her children but also to make them achieve higher positions in life.
So, I drive my inspiration from all those girls and women who are not even taught the meaning of ‘dreams’ but they do dare to dream really big and achieve far and beyond…. never looking at their roots as a disadvantage to live life their way.
Literature today: Undoubtedly, the condition of females has been changed as compared to the previous society (on which your book is based) Do you find this a healthy change or you see some pros and cons at this point?
Saroj Sudan: To analyse the condition, position and space that Indian women occupy today; we can say, it is definitely far better than what it was in the previous society. Looking at her status, we find it’s one side promising and the other one bleak. On one side, the largest population of working women and the largest number of professionally qualified women are from India. The total number of doctors, surgeons, scientists and professors is comparatively more in the country as compared to the most developed countries like the United States of America. There is no arena which remains unconquered whether it is sports, politics, entertainment, literature or technology. She has excelled in every field. She is deft and self-sufficient in handling many fronts single-handedly and has proved her worth not only on their home-front; but also, in their respective professions.
Though she is climbing the ladder of success yet suffering mutely the violence afflicted by her own family. Percentage of literacy may have increased but the poor health condition and lack of education in most of the rural areas is still persisting. Despite being achiever she is expected to do her role as a wife and mother prioritising home against anything else. The practice of dowry is as common as ever in spite of Dowry Prohibition Act passed in 1961. Killing the girl child before or after birth still continues. It is almost unthinkable for her to have a choice or a say in matters of marriage, career or life. She still needs to stand against the world; that sees her as merely vassals of producing children. Very slow and steady awareness is seen against treating her as an object of possession. Now she has started breaking barriers to earn a respectable position and questioning to the male–dominated patriarchal society. This is a healthy change in her attitude but male – dominated society is not ready to accept it. As a result, it is causing disharmony in their family as she is still considered second class citizen. A lot has changed for the women since the dark days of 1950s but rapes, sexual harassment at public office or public places and molestation still exist.
Literature today: Is there any motivational story around you which you would like to share to all the strugglers who have lost their faith in their life?
Saroj Sudan: Sindhutai Sapkal’s life is the most motivational story for all of us. She got married at the age of 10 to a 30 years old man. Her abusive husband beat her up and threw her out of the house when she was only 20 and nine months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl in a cow-shelter and walked a few kilo metres in that condition to her mother’s place who refused to let her in. She thought of committing suicide but gave up that thought and started begging at platforms for food to look after her daughter. As she spent more time begging, she realised that there were many other orphans who had been abandoned by their parents. She could feel their pain and hence decided to adopt every child who came across as orphan and over the period of time she emerged to be the mother of 1400 orphans. She helped them with education, got them married and supported them to settle in life. Some of them are now Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers. To eliminate the feeling of partiality she gave her biological daughter to Shrimati Dagdu Sheth Halwai, Pune. She has received about 500 awards and has used it to construct homes for her adopted children. She is looking for more help across the globe to give shape to their dreams.
This unusual life of Sindhutai is an inspiration for us. Even after facing so many hardships, she stood tall and made her way into everybody’s heart. She proved if you are dedicated, nothing can stop you.
Literature today: Well in this era full of love and current situational based novels, what affirmative role can your novel play?
Saroj Sudan: There are books and books in this era on love, romance and marriage. This novel conveys that marriage for the sake of marriage is not a correct thought. It should happen with a man who believes in a lifelong commitment to grow together, to share together and to create together. It is only by being together that we can build, thrive and walk on to achieve new heights of progress. Marriage is meant to love, to honour, to respect, to support and to appreciate the other person. Hence, one should take good time to decide before such commitment.
Literature today: What kept you energized till your book publishing?
Saroj Sudan: The thought that kept me energized till the book got published was my urge to do something creative with a deep desire to motivate the countless dejected women who might have been at loss of hope due to their current situation. Through the moving story of Pallavi and her brave mother Sarla, I wanted them all to draw inspiration and enhance their quality of lives to the best of their capabilities.
It gives me something to look back with a sense of accomplishment and a remarkable feeling – “I achieved it!”. Writing for women helped me in fulfilling my dream of taking this story to the numerous readers across the globe with the hope of influencing the mind-set of people towards the girl-child. Literature today: You are one of our senior citizens; please state some changes in human behaviour which you have seen throughout your life?
Saroj Sudan: People tend to become less extrovert and less open to new ideas and experiences as they age. As a result of which, they end up feeling lonely, bored, unwanted, unloved, uncared for and worthless. This brings them to the brink of mental and physical break down resulting in losing hope and awaiting the end of life.
However, throughout my life, my age has never made me feel any different. At all the ages and stages of life, I have always felt that “Life has just begun and there is a lot more to accomplish”. Hence, most people feel younger or older than they really are and this ‘subjective age’ has a big effect on their physical and mental health.