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These 8 Indian women authors have a bold message for you

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Eight Indian women authors open up on about empowering women readers through their books

These 8 Indian women authors have a bold message for you
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Much is written about women writing for women. So we cut to the chase and ask eight Indian women authors to answer four short questions. In bite-sized interviews, authors Kiran Manral, Meghna Pant, Madhuri Banerjee, Tejaswini Apte-Rahm, Anuja Chandramouli, Parul A Mittal, Freny Manecksha and Sukanya Venkatraghavan talk to Vivek Tejuja about what inspires them as women writing for women in India’s vibrant modern literary scene.


Kiran Manral – ‘Put yourself first, do what you want’

Indian Women Authors - Kiran Manral

Kiran Manral published her first book, The Reluctant Detective, in 2011. Since then, she has published seven books across genres. Her books encompass romance and chick-lit with Once Upon A Crush (2014) and All Aboard (2015); horror with The Face at the Window (2016) and nonfiction with Karmic Kids (2015), A Boy’s Guide to Growing Up (2016) and True Love Stories (2017). Her short stories have been published on Juggernaut, in magazines like Verve and Cosmopolitan, and have been part of anthologies like Chicken Soup for the Soul, Have a Safe Journey (2017) and Boo (2017). Her articles and columns have appeared in the Times of India, Tehelka, DNA, Yowoto, Shethepeople, TheDailyO, Scroll, Buzzfeed, New Woman, Femina, Verve, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Conde Nast Traveller, DB Post, The Telegraph, the Asian Age, iDiva, People, Sakal Times, and more. She was shortlisted for the Femina Women Awards 2017 for Literary Contribution. She is a TEDx speaker and a mentor with Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk 2017.

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

I think women are the crux of my books, as protagonists, as supporting characters, as friends, as aunts, as mothers, they all bring to the narrative the varying perspectives of age, and mind-sets. In The Reluctant Detective I spoke of the thirty-something homemaker who had put her career on hold to raise her child and the lack of purpose she felt. In Once Upon A Crush, I spoke about the rather insidious pressure women feel when they cross 28 to get married and ‘settle down.’ One would imagine women are tea leaves. In All Aboard, I spoke about, through the character of the aunt of my protagonist, the need to accept that older women and men are entitled to fall in love and get married if they choose to, in The Face At The Window, Mrs McNally, my protagonist was one who had lived a life on her own terms, and in my latest Saving Maya I speak about a woman who is divorced and decides that there is always a second shot at love and it doesn’t really have to lead to the altar. My protagonists are all women you see around you, with real flaws and self-doubt, and agonies. I want them to tell their stories and these stories might at times seem to fit into conventional tropes, but you just need to peel a layer or two away to realize they’re actually rather subversive.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? Do you think that has helped or deterred the cause?

It definitely has its advantages. The amplification to a single message is enormous. We couldn’t even conceive of a movement like #MeToo without Twitter to amplify these voices which hitherto never had a platform to be heard. There is also the backlash, which is inevitable, but it is all to a good cause, that of making people aware of what is or is not acceptable any more.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps, to ensure people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

Short term, definitely calling out sexism when one sees it, standing up to harassment for both oneself and when one sees it happening with other women. Long term, would begin with re-looking at the macho culture and the romance trope that we populate through our popular culture and movies, teaching our boys better and making our girls empowered enough to not be nice. I think where most women end up finding themselves at the receiving end of sexism and harassment is the conditioning over the years to be non-confrontational and ‘well behaved.’

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world?

To my 18-year-old self — You are gorgeous. You are strong. You are talented. Go out and grab the world by its collar and have your wicked way with it.

To all other 18 year olds. Put yourself first. Do what you want. And blinker out all the naysayers of the world. The world is your oyster. And don’t ever let a man (or a woman depending upon your preferences of course) box you in.

Browse Kiran Manral’s books on Flipkart


Meghna Pant — ‘Don’t be an armchair feminist’

7 women authors - Meghna Pant

Meghna Pant is the award-winning author of The Trouble With Women (Juggernaut, 2016), Happy Birthday (Random House, 2013) and One And A Half Wife (Westland, 2012). She is a feminist who speaks out against gender inequality through conferences, TEDx talks, articles and on social media. She has worked as a journalist with Times Now, NDTV and Bloomberg-UTV. You can follow her on Twitter @MeghnaPant

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

As writers, we need to show women that fight back, or we will perpetuate the myth that Manu prescribes of the female experience being ancillary to the male experience. So, I write about women who are no longer willing to be victims; women who are crusaders of justice. Instead of teaching women fairytales, I want women to learn the importance of developing dreams and being financially independent. Therefore, my female protagonists are rewriting their life stories to leave behind a legacy that our daughters, and granddaughters, and generations of women after us, will be proud of.

So, in One & A Half Wife, my protagonist Amara Malhotra learns that divorce can be liberating because it helps women to become unafraid of disappointing people and to get out of the way of their own happiness. In Happy Birthday, my women don’t have the privilege of circumstances, but they have the privilege of thought. That’s an important lesson for women. The Trouble With Women, my latest book, addresses sensitive dilemmas faced by women from around India, with themes such as molestation, abortion, sexual harassment, lesbianism, domestic violence and senicide.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given technology has entered every living room in the country? Do you think that has helped or deterred the cause?

Technology has given more mobility and access to women, but it’s also a space of conflict, embodied in the creep, or the in the replication of the same traditions offline and online, as we exercise both freedom and tradition, from accessing dick pics to using e-kundalis. It’s bringing us together, as we saw with the #MeToo campaign — and awareness and sensitization are important tools that cannot be undermined — but it’s also leading to a whole lot of noise with little on-the-ground action. Online anger has to translate to offline change. It has taken centuries to perpetuate stereotypes that tell us that one gender is better than the other, so we have to give time to debunk these notions.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps, to ensure that people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

I tell this to everyone at every talk I go to: don’t be an armchair feminist. Feminism is not about burning bras, being hostile, running an NGO, or tweeting about gender equality all day. Feminism is about being the first woman in your family to get a job, it is about letting your father and brother and husband and son pick up their own plate after dinner, it is about enabling your bai to leave her abusive husband. Feminism is in the small things because it is only when one mindset changes, then families change, then society changes, and then a nation changes. That is how our India will change. It will begin with you.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you believe that both genders are equal, that feminism is about removing gender prescriptions from both women and men, then you are a feminist. Own it.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world?

Be An Odd Nari
Be A Bold Nari
Be A Sanskari Nari
Be A Slu**Y Nari
But – Please! – Don’t Be An Abla Nari

#Fightback

File That FIR
Don’t Be Lachaar
Because When You Stay Silent, That Guy Gets More Violent

You Have A Voice, Make That Choice

Do More, Be More
We need you. We need me. We need each other.
For it is time. Enough is enough.


Madhuri Banerjee — ‘Your dignity is your strength’

Indian women authors - Madhuri Banerjee

Madhuri Banerjee is an Indian author and writer. She is a blogger at CNN-IBN, a columnist with The Asian Age, an ad film director, a screenplay writer for Bollywood films, and a mother. Madhuri has won a National Award for her poignant and realistic documentary on the issues that women face, Between Dualities. She is the bestselling author of five books including Advantage Love and Scandalous Housewives.

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

All my books except My Clingy Girlfriend are women-centric. My protagonists play a powerful role in identifying their weaknesses and ultimately finding their strength to fight against a patriarchal system be it as a single or a married woman. I empower my heroines by placing them in current identifiable situations that the society gives us and then allowing them to push boundaries through conversations, thought processes, and finding their sexual identity.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? You think that has helped or deterred the cause?

I’m proud of how the feminist movement has grown over the years and several people know more about it. With technology entering our living rooms, women are more empowered to demand equality and justice, and watching the feminist movement on social media across the globe also motivates several women. Recently, I read about a couple in a village where the husband cuts vegetables every evening after his work because his wife asked him to. That’s progress in small ways.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps to ensure people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

As I’m a storyteller, I would suggest speaking about feminism in small ways to children and people around me by asking what our female ancestors could or could not do – vote, work, wear what they liked, etc. And then discuss what could be different in today’s world, how can we make it better and equal. Through discussion, open-mindedness, writing, and supporting the feminist movement, we can have long-term solutions.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world?

I would advise my 18-year-old self to be able to say no to many situations and people in life instead of giving in so they would like me and not feel offended! Ultimately, it’s a waste of time and none of those people will matter. You’ll only deplete your energy.

I would advise an 18-year-old today to learn to love themselves over anything else and never compromise on their ideals. If people, money, relationships, jobs, and situations make you insecure, unhappy, or uncomfortable, you must learn to walk away with no regrets. Your dignity is your strength. Don’t give your power away.

Discover more of Madhuri Banerjee’s books on Flipkart


Tejaswini Apte-Rahm — ‘Don’t let social media take over your life’

Indian women authors -- Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

Tejaswini Apte-Rahm is a writer from Mumbai who has lived in Serbia, Israel, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh. She studied in Singapore and the UK and worked as an environmental researcher for ten years. Tejaswini was a journalist in Mumbai and has written for Screen, Hindustan Times, the Times of India and Asian Age. She currently lives in London and is a full-time writer. She is the author of These Circuses That Sweep Through The Landscape (Aleph, 2016).

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

The women in my short stories march to the beat of their own drum. They are all distinctive personalities, confronted by a unique dilemma and set of constraints, which they try to solve in their own way. Some of them find a solution, some of them don’t. But they evolve as individuals during the story.

I don’t think women have to “fight to be seen” — rather, they have to fight the way they are seen, or popular perceptions of them. The struggle is for society to move away from the perception that being a mother, daughter or wife is the primary indicator of a woman’s identity or worth. A large part of empowerment would be for women to have the confidence to see themselves as unique individuals with legitimate desires and aspirations of their own. Education and strong female role-models are among the best ways to achieve this.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? Do you think that has helped or deterred the cause?

Technology isn’t a magic bullet by itself. We have seen that dozens of television channels have often showcased a disturbingly regressive role of women in TV serials. Social media has created the ugly phenomenon of trolling and threatening strong women who speak out. But, on the plus side, social media allows for an alternative narrative to mainstream perceptions — it creates easy access to information and like-minded networks of men and women across the country, and indeed across the world. Knowing that there are millions of people who are willing to speak and act in favor of women’s rights, and knowing that this is a struggle that cuts across countries and cultures, creates a unique kind of confidence and faith in progressive forces.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if they are baby steps, to ensure that people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

Literacy is, of course, the most powerful tool for women’s empowerment. But in addition, given that so much of our information now comes from the electronic media, it is vital for young people to have the tools to decode the images and perspectives that we are exposed to. This is not something that can come through a system of rote learning. It needs an environment of discussion and discovery, to be able to ask questions like — why does this advertisement show its female model in this way? What implications does it have for how we see women in our society? Why are the most prominent female role-models from the entertainment industry, rather than from the scientific community? What was the path taken by successful female politicians, sportswomen and businesswomen to achieve their goals?

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world?

I would tell my 18 year-old self to think outside the box, and question the social assumptions of what role women can play in the world; I would tell myself that it is natural to make mistakes, and to take setbacks in my stride without letting it crush my confidence.

I think the same advice is relevant to an 18 year-old today – and I would also add that she should not let social media take over her life; that real relationships and experiences are far more important than the image you portray online.


Anuja Chandramouli — ‘Correct the mistaken belief that feminism equals man-hating’

Indian women authors - Anuja Chandramouli

Mythology aficionados may be familiar with Anuja Chandramouli’s books. She is the bestselling author of Arjuna: Saga of a Pandava Warrior-Prince, Kamadeva: The God of Desire, Shakti: The Divine Feminine, Yama’s Lieutenant, and Kartikeya – The Destroyer’s Son. She has also authored two books based on history — Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen and Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts. She tweets at @anujamouli

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

Having grown up on charming fairy tales that ultimately proved to be misleading since most of the female protagonists are little more than Helpless Hannahs and Damsels in distress who remain their bland, insipid, long suffering selves while waiting for Fairy Godmothers and Prince Charmings to bail them out, I feel it is most important to change the narrative so that generations of little girls aspire to grow up and become smart, independent and more than capable of dealing with whatever life throws their way. My female characters are written keeping this in mind. They are all amazing but as far removed from perfection as it is possible to be. Some of them are inspirational and legendary while some are pure evil or cautionary tales and most are a seamless blend of all things good and bad but none of them are hopeless, helpless or beyond redemption.

Surprisingly, enough I find that it is not really necessary to empower them in any way because irrespective of the world they occupy be it mythological, historical, fantastical or fictional, they are equal to the task of making their voices heard, being agents of change in their own lives as well as those of others and leaving their imprint firmly behind in the shifting sands of time. In fact, all the women in my books have taught me so much and urge me to always strive to be the best possible version of myself.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? Do you think that has helped or deterred the cause?

Now more than ever, the feminist movement has gained an awesome impetus thanks to the changing dynamics of a brave new world, but the ultimate task of creating a level playing field where neither gender is favored over the other and where all are encouraged to develop and achieve their full potential remains a daunting one. Social media has served to help as well as hinder this cause. On the one hand, more people are becoming aware of the need to implement women’s rights but, at the same time, there is more anger, hate and resentment than ever before with too many being unwilling to listen to the views of others and refusing to accept anything that is even minutely different from their principles or prejudices. Unfortunately, in this heated climate, it becomes difficult to make a tangible difference and frame policies that could make the world a nicer and safer place for both men and women.

At this point, it is more important than ever to remember that we are standing on the shoulders of giants and every right women enjoy today is thanks to the vision and wisdom of the brave ladies and gentlemen who came before us and fought for change armed with grace, dignity and courage. We would do well to emulate the greats of the past and continue to fight for the things we believe in, without stooping to mudslinging, hate-mongering and trials by social media. Ultimately, the aim is to balance the scales of justice, not tilt it in favor of either gender. To make this happen, men and women need to work as a team, join hands against the evils that are rape, sexual harassment, assault, molestation, stalking and unequal opportunities in all spheres of live and resolve to always do the honorable thing by each other.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps, to ensure people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

The most important thing is to correct the mistaken belief that feminism equals man-hating. No feminist worthy of the name would ever stand for that sort of thing and assert that all men are rapists or dogs and the like. As the argument for gender equality fueled by a thousand hurts and wrongs gathers momentum, we must be careful not to sacrifice rationality or a balanced perspective as we set out to right wrongs. Women are not paragons of virtue and men are not receptacles of vice. We would do well to keep that in mind before going rabid on social media especially when confronted with anonymous allegations and arbitrarily calls for the castration of all who are accused of crimes against women, proof be damned.

At a more basic level, education and awareness are key factors. Boys and girls need to be taught boundaries, appropriate behavior, and their right to make choices that work for them, without feeling pressured by traditional gender roles. They also need to be encouraged to simply enjoy each other’s company without being segregated because the moral police and too many self appointed guardians of ‘Indian Culture’ mistakenly believe that the only relationship possible between the sexes (irrespective of age or inclination) is an inappropriate, romantic or sexual one.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-olds in this brave new world?

I would tell the past me and everybody out there to fasten the seat belts because the road ahead is going to be a bumpy one, fraught with terror and way too much crap. But I would also encourage myself and urge all who are reading this to enjoy every single moment, even when things seem to be completely out of control and more awful than can be withstood, because in the end, challenges and sorrow notwithstanding, life is also full of unbridled joy and simple pleasures. And I would not have it any other way.

Browse more of Anuja Chandramouli’s books on Flipkart


Parul A Mittal – ‘Question your biases and beliefs’

Indian women authors - Parul Mittal

Parul A Mittal is the author of the national bestseller Heartbreaks and Dreams! The Girls @ IIT. Her second book, Arranged Love, captured the hearts of Indian youth. Born and brought up in Delhi, Parul has worked for various corporates for over thirteen years. She also co-founded an online parenting website called RivoKids.

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

Women are the main protagonists of all my novels. My journey as an author began because I wanted to give a voice to the girls who study at IIT. I wanted the world to know we exist. I wanted to support other women studying in engineering colleges as they navigated a male dominated world.

My characters are real women from different generations and backgrounds so that the reader can get diverse perspectives on the issues being discussed in my books.

My latest book Let’s Have Coffee gives voice to an optimistic wedding planner, a feminist designer, a figure-conscious model, an engineer looking to get back to work, and a modern mobile-savvy mom looking for a son-in-law.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? You think that has helped or deterred the cause?

New-age technology, smartphones and social media have helped the feminist movement by increasing awareness and enabling women across the world to connect and relate to each other. It has allowed women to see the world without having to cross the physical and cultural boundaries that they are so often entrapped in. It has also given women power to hear and to be heard, to have a voice and expression from the confines of their homes. I truly believe that the technology advancement has been very liberating.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps, to ensure people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

I believe the foremost thing is for people to be able to question their biases and beliefs. If they learn to question, they stop taking whatever is being fed by society and media for granted. They develop their own perspective and become their own beings. I would also like to see more women stories being highlighted and more women role models being showcased. Lastly, I would like media to start focusing on more positive news so that our actions are not driven out of fear and survival instinct alone.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world?

The 18-year-old of the current generation are way more aware and mature than my 18-year-old self. I would encourage them to stay true to who they are and not get swayed by the picture perfect stories of people on social media. They will likely go through five different careers in their lifetime, some which do not even exist today. Hence their best bet is in being adaptable and open to change. I would also like to encourage them both to be curious but question the source of their information, seek collaboration but make their own choices. and shape their own life story.


Freny Manecksha — ‘Don’t be scared to soar’

7 Indian Women Authors - Freny Manecksha

Freny Manecksha is an independent journalist, published in Himal South Asian and The Times of India: Crest Edition, among other publications, who has reported extensively from Kashmir, covering human rights and development issues. She has also worked with The Times of India and The Indian Express. She is the author of Behold, I Shine – Narratives of Kashmir’s Women and Children.

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

My book is about women’s narratives. They are telling their own stories and thereby demonstrating full control. They are not really hapless victims despite the huge suffering. They are displaying resilience, fortitude and an amazing ability to resist. I don’t really see my role as empowering them. As a writer, all I am doing is giving space to their voices and giving them the platform.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? Do you think that has helped or deterred the cause?

There can be no doubt that despite many challenges and setbacks the feminist movement forges ahead, I think social media has played a huge role in enabling more and more women to speak out. Whether it is a tweet, a blog, a Facebook post or whatever, women are now able to express what they feel and to get some support and solidarity. Look at how the #MeToo campaign simply grew and grew.

There is a downside. Women are also being subjected to shameful abuse and trolled viciously, sometimes simply because they are women with opinions. But I think on the whole social media has been very empowering.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps, to ensure that people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

More and more gender awareness is needed. I think we can never be too old to learn and so attempts should be made to change attitudes that are sexist and regressive even with older generations.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world.

My advice would be: You are far stronger, far more spirited than you have been led to believe. Don’t be scared to soar. You will find your wings.


Sukanya Venkatraghavan — ‘Empower men to feel secure in the presence of women’

Indian women authors - Sukanya Venkatraghavan

Mumbai-based author Sukanya Venkatraghavan has acquired a fan following for her fantasy fiction novel, Dark Things. Her first brush with fantasy was as a film journalist in Mumbai, covering the glamorous yet daunting world of Bollywood with publications like Filmfare and Marie-Claire. Having grown up listening to tales of Indian mythology and folklore narrated by her grandfather, as well as reading western classics from the library in the attic of her childhood home in Kerala, it was but natural that her progression to life as a writer would revolve around gods, apsaras, rakshasas and the like.

What role do women play in your books? How do you empower them in a world where they have to fight to be seen?

Firstly, I hope I live to see the day when this question need not be asked because no one asks about the role men play in books. Now, to be precise, I write my women like I would write any other characters of any gender (or identifying), where I make them flesh and blood people (or monsters) with agency, emotion and vulnerability. The core of my books will always be a woman’s story.

How do you think the feminist movement has grown over the years, given that technology has entered every living room in the country? Do you think that has helped or deterred the cause?

The feminist movement is taking shape, growing roots and wings and finding a more united voice than it ever did before. Technology has only helped this moment because with a click of a button you can raise hell, empower and spread awareness.

What short and long-term solutions would you propose, even if baby steps to ensure people at the grassroots level understand the importance of feminism and its application?

Raise your kids (and adults) to listen, to have empathy, to read and read more because books teach us in a way no other thing in the world can. Call people out on their sexist, racist, classist jokes and comments. Empower men to feel secure in the presence of women.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self and to the 18-year-old in this brave new world?

To my 18-year-old self I would say – hang in there. Continue to be who you are, with the willingness to grow and soon you will find your tribe. It will take a while but you will. Also stop worrying about being so skinny because you will fill out later. In all the odd places.

To the 18-year-old out in this brave new world – Listen, learn and always be kind. Pay it forward. Entitlement will get you nowhere. Get off the internet and go take a walk. Trees are nice.


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About the Author

Vivek Tejuja
Vivek Tejuja

Vivek Tejuja is Flipkart's resident bibliophile. He breathes, eats and talks books and also works with books at Flipkart