Shashi Deshpande wishes this question will never be posed to a female author.

This year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement AutHer Award for Indian English-language literature was the renowned Indian author and feminist Shashi Deshpande. Deshpande also disclosed the one question she hoped would never be posed to a female writer in her acceptance address.

“A lifetime achievement award is very precious because it is your whole life’s work which is being celebrated here. The letter that informed me of the award wrote of the odds and inhibitions that women writers have to endure… I was also most often asked the question by journalists and academics, ‘Why do you write about women?’. Novel after novel I hoped I would be considered a serious writer, not as a woman writer writing about women. But it never seems to happen. However, today when I look at the winners of this evening and the three writers who received this award before me – Nayantara Sahgal, Romila Thapar, and Anita Desai-all of them women of courage and women I admire. When I think of Annie Ernaux, the Nobel Prize for Literature 2022 winner, she wrote only about women’s experiences and Geetanjali Shree– who wrote about women’s lives– won the International Booker Prize 2022, I dare to hope that such questions would never be asked of any writer who happens to be a woman,” Deshpande said on winning the award.

Deshpande continued by describing how reading has improved her life. “Reading and writing, and how they merged together, have lifted my life above the ordinary– this has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I will speak of the friends I have made as a writer, giving me the companionship which I could never have had when I was– as they say– only a house wife.”
She further spoke about the writers who inspired her, as she said, “One of the greatest boons of literature is that you don’t have to go out in search of a guru. They come to you between the covers of books. I have learnt much from these guru like Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf. I have learnt the elegance of simplicity in language, the power of words when used in the right place and the right context, the great value of the writing of women and so on…”

Deshpande also discussed the challenges that authors experience, particularly in today’s world. She stated:

“I do not know how many of my fellow writers will agree that these are difficult times for writers, but we do need to agree that we have two enemies today: Commercialisation of literature and intolerance. Commercialisation of literature is when a book is considered a product like any other and it has to be sold in hte same way– the product which makes the most money, becomes the king.

“Intolerance is much worse! It has lead to horrors like the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas, vandalising of great paintings, protests against any book, film, drama or any form of art which goes against the majority view. And, of course, the pressure of social meda which people never had to endure before. This vicicous develpment is called ‘cancel culture’– an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon. Writers need to have the courage to write what they want to.”

The renowned American author Ursula K. Le Guin was cited by the speaker after saying that literature was the only right to the life of the nation we were visiting. We must ascertain whether we truly possess this fortitude. We must trust that book publishers will have the good sense to release a variety of books. Books that count and books that sell. Any form of art is wonderful because it provides for a variety of viewpoints. No opinion is sacred. That is how things ought to be.

The Times of India and JK Paper collaborated to create the AutHer Awards, which honors Indian women authors who have contributed to the literary world with their ingenuity and value.

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