Just yesterday, I poured my thoughts out about the whole conversation – or the lack, thereof – surrounding women and age. In the Indian subcontinent, there are, but, a few women who brazenly show off their age, unapologetically so. One such woman has to be the unrepentant Shobhaa De. The woman comes with a fair warning to all who dare intrude – Engage at your own risk.
Described as the Jackie Collins of India by the Los Angeles Times, way back in 1992, De was easily one of the initial few women at the forefront of conversations based around sex and social constructs. And she was quite the scandal at most social dos. In fact, many a feather did she ruffle! The men were intrigued and the ladies, infuriated.
Here’s what I admire about the 70-year-old woman who just wrote a book about the same – turning 70 and, therefore, older…
That she’s unapologetic about her words and cares two hoots about the justifications that society – out of its own sense of entitlement – demands from women like her. She goes about doing her thing – writing, speaking and socialising. And the crowds love to hate her. What must it be like to be in her shoes, we wonder. So, we got to chatting with her about her latest book, ageism in India and the perks of being the woman she is.
“I pay close attention to criticism; but, I don’t let it affect me, or shape my opinions. I stand by what I say in the public domain,” she says, unflinchingly. The author and columnist doesn’t have too many agreements with most people when it comes to her views. And that’s also largely because women like Shobhaa De are – more often than not – an anomaly in a society like India’s. She’s extremely opinionated and she knows it. She’s uncensored and brazen about said opinions. And she doesn’t hold back once she starts talking. Whether or not she is right is a debate for another day. What we can learn to do is respect the fact that the woman is 100 percent committed to her words. As well as the fact that, while women today are beginning to speak up and have minds of their own, women of her age are mostly silent; even and especially if they’re public figures. For all their vanity and might, the likes of Hema Malini, Rekha, Sharmila Tagore and Jaya Bachchan keep astoundingly quiet when it comes to talking about women, society and sex. It could do with the fact that they come from an older school of thought. But, that doesn’t exact the change we’re looking for.
Shobhaa remains optimistic, amidst all of it. “Women have always had voices. Today, they are using them. You cannot afford to ignore more than half a billion citizens. We are the most influential group and hold the key to elections,” she says. She wants more and more women to focus on the commonalities between women; not the differences. “My generation of working women may just be the first generation of grandma careerists in India,” she quips. “This is an important shift. And a positive message to our grandchildren.”
The author’s latest book, ‘Seventy And To Hell With It’ is an ode to a section of women who are older, wiser and more welcoming of the social change. “It is important to reassure women of my generation that 70 is not the end of the world. We can all lead productive, enjoyable lives if we look after ourselves,” she says. The book that took her one and a half years to pen is a one-of-its-kind piece to enter the Indian literary market. Sure, it’s bound to have Shobhaa De’s own brand of humour and sarcasm. But, that’s not a deterrent. Shobhaa comes with age and experience of having dealt with the kind of harsh blows that come to women with a voice. “Which woman has ever been spared?” she asks, rather rhetorically. “I pay zero attention to jibes and taunts that cannot see beyond my age! The loss is certainly not mine!”
The author represents an older – and lesser followed; but more respectable – tribe of women whose minds and words continue to echo in the voices of modern women. The Jane Austens and Virginia Woolfs of the world; or in this case, India. Shobhaa herself associates with literature from such women stalwarts. Her ultimate reading list includes the following titles:
– Indian Instincts by Miniya Chatterji
– Anything at all written by Arundhati Roy in her unique style of writing
– Worlds by Jhumpa Lahiri
– All works by Amy Tan
– And she keeps going back to Jane Austen!
Her own book talks about ageism in a country that continues to harp on younger-looking women to sell an idea. Talking about this mentality, Shobhaa explains, “In traditional societies, women are often seen as financial liabilities once their childbearing years are over.” And it’s this very barrier that she hopes to break.
“Ageism is a global affliction,” Shobhaa cautions. “There is no space left for female careerists, even as early as 40; forget about 60 and above. It’s time to reclaim that space in a realistic way.”
And how do they do that?
According to Shobaa De, it’s by embracing their years with confidence and pride. “Self-worth,” she says, “is the best cosmetic in the world.”
You can buy Seventy… And To Hell With It! by Shobhaa De here
Image Courtesy: JLF 2018 & Penguin Random House India