By Sonya Rehman
Shobhaa Dé stands as one of India’s most widely read authors and cultural icons. From modeling to writing, being a wife and a mother of six – she’s done it all. Sharp, bold and witty – Dé is the complete package of raw beauty and brains. An inspirational woman who isn’t afraid of writing and talking about topics many would consider taboo. Her passion for life, endless energy and fiery persona make her a force to reckon with.
In an exclusive interview with Women’s Own, Dé tells it like it is:
What made you switch your career from modeling to writing?
There is a sell-by date for models anywhere in the world. The career span is limited to 5 years, max. I had my share of the top assignments. I was ready to move on. Modeling is a brain dead profession. I was bored out of my skull.
What made you choose the topics that you did for your novels?
The topics chose me! Seriously speaking, most writers pick the terrain they know best. As founder- editor of two mass-circulated magazines, ‘Stardust’ and ‘Society’, I knew Bollywood inside out, and I was a part of high society and only too aware of its foibles. The early novels explored both worlds – they were the first books to do so.
Initially, how did people react?
People didn’t know how to react. There was a great deal of shock (at what?) but also a great deal of fascination. The books spoke a bold, new, urban language that was unfamiliar to readers at the time. All my books to date (14 titles) have been best sellers.
What inspires you to write?
I am an avid people-watcher. Human beings amaze me. Unpredictability attracts me. Just when you think you “know” someone, you are struck by the unexpected. One lifetime isn’t enough to decode anybody’s life…not even your own. A writer’s inspiration is hard to track. I would put mine down to an insatiable appetite for life, with all its complexities.
For you, what was more satisfying – working for a publication (Stardust, Society) or writing your own novels?
It was never an either/or situation. The two worlds have always co-existed for me. I loved editing those magazines, because they were pioneering efforts that changed the tone and the content of journalism itself. They made ‘Hinglish’ hip and cool. Hinglish went main stream because of ‘Stardust’.
How do you discipline yourself with regard to writing? Do you follow any particular routine?
I am an incorrigible workaholic. I even write in my sleep! Writing involves a lot of slog, with daily deadlines that have to be met. I lead a very disciplined and structured life, with an inflexible work-schedule. No comprises, no excuses. Ever.
Are you working on any current projects?
At any given time, I have at least 10 exciting projects jumping out of my head. Of course, I’m working on several new projects at present, a new book, a new TV serial, and a chain of lifestyle stores stocking everything from fashion, jewellery to art. Busy times ahead!
In your opinion, what is the definition of a ‘good writer’?
A ‘good’ writer is one who knows his/her craft. Who understands his/her constituency. Who is an original. Who does not insult readers’ intelligence. Who is readable and provocative at all times.
How have you juggled your career and family?
I am a born juggler/acrobat!! Most women are excellent time-managers, who know their priorities. I love my family. And I love my career. Fortunately, I have never had to choose one over the other. It’s a tough balancing act. But so far, all the balls are still in the air!
With regard to your book ‘Surviving Men’ – do you think men really are capable of loving completely?
Are women capable of loving completely? Why single out men – poor things are simple creatures. Human beings are essentially selfish. They only love themselves.
As a writer, how do you deal with criticism?
Criticism goes with the turf. A writer cannot afford to have a thin skin. Sure, it hurts. But what the hell – life would be so dull without a few darts and barbs now and then.
Is Bollywood as pseudo and smutty as it’s made out to be?
Bollywood is far worse!! That’s what makes Bollywood so tantalizing. Who wants it to be clean and sanitized? Not me!
Have you ever visited Pakistan? If yes, what was your opinion? And if you haven’t will you like to in the future?
Yes, I was in Lahore for the World Cup Finals at the invitation of the dashing Salman Taseer. My husband and I were bowled over by the beauty of the women, and the hospitality of our hosts. Inshallah, we shall come back soon. I’d love to visit Karachi and other cities.
What advice would you like to give aspiring young writers?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Free your mind.
Any words for your fans and readers here in Pakistan?
I feel honoured that my books and TV serials have so many admirers in Pakistan. Creative people don’t let artificial barriers stop them. All of us need to speak a common language—-the language of love, peace and friendship. Let us start building that bridge together…right here, right now!