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Published : Saturday, 18 March, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 252
Shobhaa De



In her memoir, Insatiable - My Hunger for Life, written to mark her 75th birthday, novelist Shobhaa De discusses food, friendships and Anuradha, her alter-ego�

It is afternoon and novelist-journalist Shobhaa De has just finished a light lunch of beetroot slices and tomato soup. "I didn't want to be late for the interview," says Shobhaa, known among writing circles as a stickler for deadlines. She is also nursing a nasty cold but her husky voice comes through the airwaves of the video call, authentic and relaxed.

Shobhaa is at her favourite writing spot - the circular dining table at her house in Mumbai - from where she has, for over four decades, ruled the domestic goings-on at home while churning out columns and novels on Bombay's glitz. "I've worked 40 years from this spot. I can see everything that's happening at home from here, and it gives me the feeling of being in control, even if I'm writing in the midst of laundry lists and other chores. Men have the privilege of mountain-top writing retreats but for women writers with families, no such concessions are made," she says. "Either way, a writer has to have discipline� penning at least a thousand words a day just as a singer performs daily riyaaz to keep the voice muscular."

It was during the course of this routine that Shobhaa birthed her latest book  "Insatiable" - My Hunger for Life (published by Harper Collins), to mark her 75th birthday. "It is an irreverent memoir," she says, "and writing it in this particular structure fascinated me. It's 12 months, 365 days, and 75 years packed into 283 pages, written in real-time. Writing it with immediacy, as catharsis and as stream-of-consciousness came to me in as eureka moment," says Shobhaa of the year of events, slotted month-wise in the book.

It begins with the author sailing through the third wave of COVID-19 and launching a search for Anuradha Rajadhyaksha, the name and the persona she was born into, to the middle-class family of a Saraswat Brahmin bureaucrat. Shobhaa then traverses through the Wodehouse Gymkhana in Mumbai where there is a somewhat subdued 74th birthday celebration, hosting a Nobel laureate at home for dinner and listening to Kutle Khan belt out 'Dama Dum Mast Kalandar' on the bleached white sands at the Soneva Fushi JLF in the Maldives.

There is also Pune, which is where Anuradha surfaces, where she goes "when she is in Discovery channel mode. She takes me back to my modelling days when I was terribly young and could have been so easily swayed. Anuradha helped me stay who I was, a girl with a basic Maharashtrian horse sense that has kept me grounded�whose mantra was be adventurous by all means, but not delusional".

It is the girl you see on the book jacket, beautiful, doe-eyed, sipping tea with a look that says 'you are being watched'. Something that Shobhaa has done with aplomb as a people-watcher over the years. It is a quality that has never failed to find its way into her writing metabolism or a place in her novels, columns, tweets, and now the book.

Despite a life crowded with achievement and experience, why did she choose "Insatiable" as the title? "It sums up my mantra for living," says Shobhaa. "I hope that it never leaves me, this curiosity for life's myriad and infinite possibilities, its gifts and surprises and, maybe, a few shocks even. The minute you say you are satiated; it's the end of the road. Food is a metaphor in the book. It sums up what I feel about the taste of life itself. It could be a voice on the phone, a stranger who visits your house, Rihanna's new song� That wonder should never leave you. It's something I learnt from my father who, even at 98, looked forward to something new every day."

Which is why she is "off to Brazil and Argentina for a holiday. I love the tango and I've signed up for classes - if I can't learn it, I'd at least get to watch it".

Looking back
Over the years, Shobhaa has not stepped away from examining the manifesto of human imperfection, of how society has treated and portrayed its women. In "Insatiable", she writes lovingly of her daughters, her masseuse, girl friends, and even of Anuradha with the depth she wrote about the heroines who peopled her early books. "The quest to find Anuradha has just begun, she was kept under wraps and it is only now that I'm discovering her and enjoying what I see of her - reflective, restrained, and inward-looking - qualities I possess even as Shobhaa. But the public construct has been so different," she says, adding, "People who still label me are caught in a time warp, magazines I worked with such as  Stardust have turned 50, they were ahead of their time.

Nothing shocks anymore, nothing should. I wrote at a time when women were not given the privilege to write about female pleasure. It created a pathway for other young women writers who did not have to face the flak I did. Now women are pushing the envelope everywhere, even with OTT content."

Insatiable, which journeys through the past, present and future, is sprinkled with English prose and poetic Hindi phrases and is defined by emotional integrity and a generosity of perspective. "During the pandemic, a lot of us sublimated our anxieties into food. Friendships came into sharp focus. So did family. I remember my earliest food memory - a pink pastry my parents bought me from Keventers, Delhi, to mark my fourth birthday. I can still taste the sweetness of that. I am open about friendships but selective about whom I respond to emotionally. Had I not been a career journalist, I may have never met some wonderful people. You can't just wing it and get to places."

"I've been a gypsy at heart," says Shobhaa, adding that she prefers the company of young people. "I have neither flaunted my age nor denied it. It is an acceptance of a biological fact of life and it will continue to be that. I prefer the minds of young people because they are comfortable in their own skin and indulge in less double-speak than my contemporaries. Honestly, I don't want to know about diapers and medical histories."

The one concession she makes to her age? Listening to a song that pretty much defines her - Elvis Presley's 'My Way'.

Courtesy: THE HINDU

Reviewed by Deepa Alexander

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