October 16, 2015

India: " . . . writers returning awards is best way to protest" - Anuja Chouhan interview in The Times of India

The Times of India

We’re in highly dramatic times – writers returning awards is best way to protest: Anuja Chouhan
October 16, 2015, 12:03 am IST TOI Q&A in The Interviews Blog | Edit Page, India, Q&A | TOI

Anuja Chouhan is a best-selling novelist. Speaking with Srijana Mitra Das, Chouhan discussed the current flurry of writers returning awards to protest polarisation, political slants versus tipping points, beef versus human meat – and chick-lit versus fundamentalists:

What is your position on writers returning Sahitya Akademi awards?

Well, we’ve moved beyond logical argument – everything has become symbolic. Everyone does something attention-grabbing. Someone throws ink on someone, there’s a man with a completely blackened face talking on TV – and everyone watches because that catches your eye.

Everything’s become theatre – writers returning their awards is similarly dramatic.

It seems to be the only way anyone listens to you anymore.

You wouldn’t get this attention with writers speaking here or there or writing letters to the prime minister. Nowadays, you have to catch peoples’ attention – this has become a symbol.

Why now and not with earlier communal crimes or malgovernance?

An idea has its time. Maybe nobody thought of this earlier.

Doesn’t that reflect a political slant?

Why are we so eager to see slants in everything? Sometimes, things become a tipping point – why did so many people march for Jessica Lal, not earlier? Sometimes, the desire to protest just comes from within.

And writers returning awards is a time-honoured way of protesting. Rabindranath Tagore returned his award. Several young writers support this today.

Will such protests be consistent and go beyond this political regime?

But writers always protest! It’s their job. Many of these writers opposed atrocities like Emergency earlier.

They may have done so with books and plays. Today, the form’s changed since discourse itself has changed to dramatic symbols.

Some artists feel fundamental rights face attack – is that really accurate?

Well, everyone with an opinion faces attack! You’re safe only if you have no opinion. It’s crucial that people have opinions and express these – otherwise, the dialogue is completely taken over by the lunatic fringe.

Unless more rational voices speak up, that’s all we’ll be left with.

India’s experienced social tensions earlier. Why do you think this is a crisis?

This is being fomented. Earlier, you said stuff with a lowered voice because we were a secular democracy – maybe today, we are not and so, it’s considered ok to voice such thoughts loudly.

You took a public stand on the beef controversy.

Look, you eat bhindi, you eat beef, it’s completely upto you – i don’t see how it’s anybody’s problem what i’m keeping in my fridge as long as it’s not human meat!

Do you find it frustrating to be called a chick-lit writer?

I used to. But i’ve realised everybody is angry with their classification as a literary writer or campus romance novelist, a mythological writer or someone who writes depressing novels. We’re all struggling with our own particular box.

The chick-lit box is irritating because it’s like you’re told, just put on lipstick and talk about girls shopping for shoes. That’s frustrating.

But, on the other hand, maybe it’s good because you fly under the radar of all sorts of fundamentalists.