Of strong people and their stories

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 1 June 2018

Pune writer Sucharita Dutta-Asane talks about her new book Cast Out and Other Stories, and how her characters discover themselves

The book jacket of Cast Out and Other Stories reads — A menstruating woman is cast out of a village and its temple. How does she react? Does her act make the idol impure? Another blurb says, Raater moton kaalo (dark as the night) Complexion and the woman. How does she choose to respond?
These two pieces are enough to label the writer Sucharita Dutta-Asane as ‘feminist’ or ‘women’s writer’. When asked about it, Asane says, “You know, we keep hearing of such labels like literary writer, commercial fiction writer, women’s writer. I think a writer is a writer, first of all. But, yes, I would like to point out that women tell stories differently. In that sense, I am a woman writer. Our issues, we understand a little differently, from the way men would understand. So in that sense, yes, I am a women’s writer. But if you want to put a tag that would sell, then no, I am a little uncomfortable with that.” 

The 16 stories in Cast Out... published by Dhauli Books, are a blend of old and new, and include tales of both women and men, and how they react to a particular situation. 
“I have written some of these stories over quite a long period of time, while others were written overnight. I wrote the first draft of Fire in 2007 around the Nandigram episode (in West Bengal). I wrote its final version in 2013. Some stories were published in various magazines and a couple of them won awards too. And, there are some new ones also,” says Asane, who is the editor of Kitaab, a Singapore-based literary magazine. 

The conversation then moves to strong women as her characters and how their stories are received by members of their tribe. Often women are wary of the rebellious members of their tribe. Says Asane, “Most of my stories have very strong women. By strong, I mean that they know themselves and also how they deal with a situation/s. I hope the female readers are inspired by the stories of my characters. Someone might feel that ‘this could be my story’. There’s this tale about a dark-complexioned woman, who is constantly ostracised by her family. I had written the story in second person — you — so that the reader is this woman. But the woman doesn’t see the skin tone as a tragedy in her life. In the end, when she walks away from a relationship, the narrative turns to ‘I’. All of us go through these situations, but how we respond is a very individual thing. In showing an individual taking a stand, perhaps other women readers might think ‘this is so much about me and this is what I can do too’. It need not necessarily be something destructive.” 

Strong female characters also don’t go down well with men. Many might dismiss women’s stories as just that — stories. So what reaction did the author get for Cast Out...?
“When a woman is raped because a land sharks want her land, it doesn’t mean that she has to give in or give up. She can fight back. That’s what I show. My husband is very open to what I have written; he understands where this is coming from. I have very good friends among men, who are writers, some are avid readers, and they have responded well to these stories. They understand the compulsions that drive these characters. They know that these stories are possible. Whereas other men might think that it is just a story,” she responds.  

So how has she put together the stories? Do all of them have characters that fight back?
“There are some who fight back, some are on the brink of discovering themselves or who have discovered that they have a chance to fight back. They come to a point where they realise that their lives hitherto were like a ‘fairy tale’, and now they have to look into the mirror and face themselves. I call my characters strong because they are able to look into the mirror unblinkingly,” says Asane, adding, “The stories are not linked in terms of plot taking shape, but ideas. The first story is called Half A Story and the last one is called Cusp. Between these two, are all the other stories. This was conscious structuring of the content’.” 

ST READER SERVICE
Author-editor Sucharita Dutta Asane and book designer Gargi Sharma will be in discussion today with writer Anil Menon about Cast Out..., at Pagdandi Bookstore-Cafe, Baner-Pashan Link Road, between 11 am and 12.30 pm

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