Bookaholicanonymous is proud to present this heart-to-heart talk with Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, a bestselling author who in her first non-fiction book ‘Status Single’ gives voice to nearly 73 million single Indian women. The book which I say is a ‘game-changer’ has been written by her after talking to nearly 3,000 women; it is actually a social commentary on women in India.
Long post alert: Bookaholicanonymous could not shorten the interview further…Sreemoyee spoke from the heart…its worth your time and attention…!
A big thank you to my colleague and friend Mugdha Singh for putting this long transcribed interview in to proper perspective
About Sreemoyee Piu Kundu: Bestselling author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is an ex lifestyle journalist and is now a leading columnist on gender and sexuality. ‘Status Single’ is her first work of non- fiction. Sreemoyee divides her time between Kolkata and New Delhi. Her other fiction novels are ‘Faraway Music’, ‘Sita's Curse’ and ‘You've Got the Wrong Girl!’ She is the recipient of NDTV L'oreal Women of worth Award in the 'Literature' category.
So, what is the book about….well… ‘Status Single’ is a story of many single Indian women, told like never before. What happens to single women after their 30th birthday? After the last candle is blown, and before the next one is added…hear the voice of women who form 21% of the country's population.
What made you write 'Status Single'?
I have always been writing on women’s issues, I am known as a commentator on gender issues, sexuality and popular culture. My second book, called ‘Sita’s Curse’, was a path-breaking novel on female desires. I am extremely interested in my own sex. I hear a lot of people say, “I relate to feminism but I am not a feminist”, but I love being called a feminist writer you know. Because for me being a feminist writer makes me a humanist writer, I react in the same way to a woman, a child, a transgender or even a man. I am very passionate about women, their causes, their inequality, sexual ownership (exercising their right over pleasure), these are the topics I have been writing on now for the last couple of years. This coupled with the fact that I am single made me write this book. It would be wrong on my part to say that it was not the bigger reason for me writing ‘Status Single’.
I am a single woman myself and I have been through the whole roller-coaster ride of being single in this country. I do not have a boyfriend nor am I on Shaadi.com. Somebody asked me, “how can you be a feminist and still be on Tinder”, I said why not? If I want a sexual hook-up, it has nothing to do with me wanting equal rights for my gender. This book was largely born out of my columns; I write for Daily O website on being single. And those columns used to go viral. Plus, I write a lot about my life on Facebook, so FB acts as my personal blog, I don’t have a blog because I am very lazy and technologically challenged. I would get a huge out-pouring of responses from women saying that they would love to share their story with me. So that’s how it really happened.
You spoke to almost 3,000 women for this book. What was the most startling or amazing fact that you uncovered?
My biggest realisation was that I wasn’t alone in all my ‘single’ trials and tribulations. When I used to write those columns or blogs on my own single life, I used to think maybe I am the only one going through those things, Ghar nahin mil raha hai, or my gynecologist is insulting me or I am being pulled up at the passport office because of my single status. When I contacted and hooked up with so many women I realised that all over India, women who are single are going through the same thing. There is a lot of stigma attached to being single, especially a woman, single by choice. For example I have five guys who are trying to hook up with me on Tinder but I am not interested. I am not interested in hook-ups or casual sex. I am not interested in married men. So I am choosing the experiences that I wish to have.
Similarly, being a single woman and even though I love children, I don't know if I want to have a child of my own, to put my body through the trauma of childbirth at 40. What I have realised is that in urban India we eat at fancy restaurants, wear branded clothes, are very Facebook and Instagram savvy, but basically the same stigma, the same patriarchy the same misogyny haunts all of us. I have realised that women are scared, even single women. On the other hand, if I were doing a book on single men, would I consider them scared, too? I don’t think so, married men maybe yes.
Single woman whom I contacted for the book later called me to say “Don’t use my real name”. They were backing out; they didn’t want to be a part of the book. What is this fear? See today I am very outspoken about my personal life because I am firm in my belief that I haven’t done anything wrong. If a guy hit me, it was my fault that I chose the wrong person or tolerated the violence because I loved him. But if today I speak of the beatings, and someone in a similar situation gets the strength to speak out and thinks of getting out of the situation, it is worth all the hard work.
By single women you mean unmarried, divorced, single by choice, abandoned, widows right? Has this group always been there? What made you take notice now?
So my agent Kanishka Gupta forced me to do this book. He was after my life, and said “I want to do a book with you”. I said “what kind of book do you want me to do?” He said I should write non-fiction. I told him, in very clear terms, that I am not a non-fiction writer. But he was convinced that I could do it. So I asked him what would be a good topic? He said write on single women. I told him I might as well write a memoir then, “No,” he said, “write on single women”. But I said, “I know only 5-6 single women, maximum 10, and that won’t be enough for a book.” But now looking back everything is worth it, this book is a game-changer I know.
So we started sending the book idea to publishers. And the Indian publishers just didn't get it. Mainstream big Indian publishers, by big I mean Harper Collins, Penguin, and Bloomsbury. They couldn’t wrap their heads around a book without a celebrity. They didn’t think that the story of ordinary Raipur single women would sell. That is the problem in this country.
Today if I were an American research scholar or a documentary filmmaker, who had written on single women in India, I would be sitting at the Jaipur Literature Festival and the book would have been brought out by one of the mainstream big known publishers. But I am not that.
I would also like to point out that when LA Times did a story on my book, I got a few calls from Indian newspapers. But when I had reached out to them and told them this is not a book, it’s a social commentary, they said, “send us the book, we’ll see.”
I owe this book to my friend and agent Kanishka Gupta and the 3,000 women whom I connected with. If they had not picked up my call or answered my emails, stood beside me then this book would not be out. Because of my spiritual bent of mind I believe that one is chosen to write a book, whether it’s a fiction or a nonfiction book. I was chosen to write this book.
From your social media post one gets a feeling that this section was waiting for a voice and you have provided the outlet? Your take
That’s true, I know that. I am very grateful for I feel this book chose me. For my fiction I have stories in my head, but this book chose me. Now that I have provided an outlet I am wondering how to take it forward. I don't know, maybe I can do a chat show on TV. Imagine the women, who have been featured in the book and have not changed their names, just imagine their bravery. There are some women who did not want to be named, and then there are those who said balls, I will tell my story. Why wasn’t anyone listening to their stories? That is what I am asking.
Today, the best interviews of mine are by regional media, they have actually read the book, they know what they are talking about. The rest are asking me stupid questions like tell us your story - I am like read the book, the story is there.
So I am a voice, yes.
The other day one of my friends who lives abroad asked me for the Amazon link. So I went to Amazon and I found the book listed under Amazon Bestseller List, and the book was not even released technically. The point that I am trying to make is that there surely is something that is pushing me towards this role, to become a sutradhaar or medium.
For me, it is also a deep spiritual journey, because in the process of writing, I also confronted my inner demons, my abusive past, remaining single, the men. I may be an outspoken human being and writer, but personally I am very shy, very timid, and I am also not very social media savvy. I do not like to talk about myself on Facebook or Instagram. But something is changing. There is an inner revolution that is happening- this is how it is happening.
Till the time a woman doesn’t accept that she is going to be single maybe for the rest of her life, she is vulnerable, don’t you think? But once she accepts she becomes fearless, confident, a go-getter? Your take
I'll tell you one thing. Vulnerability according to me is the most beautiful human emotion. I disagree with you on this point.
As a human being, as a woman, I am emotional, I am very feminine, I am very sensuous, I am passionate, I dress-up in a feminine way, and I like reading poems, making food. At the same time I am aware of my rights, too. I will not compromise with any Tom, Dick and Harry, even though I am 40 years old and unmarried.
Vulnerability is not weakness, please make that physical difference. This is the whole problem with modern day feminism. I can be a feminist writer and also dress up delicately for an event. I even write erotica passionately. I am a feminist, I am a humanist. I will fight equally for men as well as for children. And I will raise my voice against domestic violence also.
I’d like to relate an incident here, I used to take Geru (my household help’s daughter for whom I am like a sister) to the swimming pool. I saw this timid girl with glasses and her pushy mother. This girl was literally thrown into the water. I asked the girl's mother if she had got the girl’s fear of water analysed by a counsellor. She said no. I said the girl may be having a serious condition called hydrophobia which is extreme fear for water. I called the admin of the swimming pool. And warned them that if I see this again, I will complain to the police and will shoot a video of the same and make this viral on Facebook, I have 25,000 followers.
So, I am no child activist, but I am a feminist and a humanist as well and I will stand up for atrocities. The point I am trying to make here is that I have interviewed so many women, everyone tried to get married. Nobody said “shaadi nahi karni”. But in-spite of that if you remain single, because you had a bad marriage, because you are disabled, or you are LGBTQ, and you cannot marry your partner as it is a criminal offence in India. This is my point - but we still have to fight for our dignity, our empowerment, to get equal status, equal pay and job. You cannot become a victim of abuse and harassment at work. You have the right to abortion, you are a citizen of this country. That critical distinction needs to be made here.
For me, tomorrow I might still get into a bad relationship but that does not mean I am less of a feminist. If I have a boss who's every exploitative, who always comes onto me. It is not my fault. I am not vulnerable. We have to learn to look at ourselves as human beings and be seen that way.
Parents have a big role to play in a single woman's life, don't you think?
Parents are important for any woman because they are our first models for virtues. I have seen my mother live her life, she's a very strong women. She was also harassed as a young widow, many men were after her. She heard taunts from her family and yet went ahead and raised me single handedly. She has given me the right values, she's a very liberated person. I have seen my mother's love affair. She fell in love with a man almost 12 years younger to her, from another community and got married. She's a gutsy woman. See children will always have their own journey, but parents’ guidance is necessary.
Geru, even though we are bringing her up in a loving environment, will also make her own mistakes, she will go on her own journey. Parents are very important; they have to tell their daughters that there is much more to life than finding a guy and getting married. They also have to support their daughters when marriages fail, and such cases should not be thought of as failure.
What message do you want to give out through this book?
I never write a book with the idea of giving a message. I think that's for the readers to take back. As a writer it is my job to write a book that I believe in. It’s amazing and it’s a beautiful feeling when so many people relate to the book. It is very gratifying. Again, it proves to me that we are not alone in the fight and maybe a book like this is much needed in today’s time.
At the end of the day the message for the readers is to observe. And for people like you who are a part of mainstream media to observe.
I am sure there are many misogynists who will not like the book. I am definitely sure that there will be women who will not like the book, also. I believe women are woman’s worst enemy in this country, a girl who is being physically and mentally abused in her marital home is asked not to come back, the fight is already lost.
(Here is a heart-wrenching letter Sreemoyee received from a father of a daughter…
I am a regular reader of
your columns, especially the ones in Daily O. I am Om, a resident of Nasik, a
65-year-old father whose eldest daughter was the victim of a bad marriage. I
use the word victim because my daughter was being abused sexually and harassed
for dowry, since ours is a conservative business community where daughters are
always given a lot of material wealth. My daughter wanted to do her post
graduation and was a good student always getting good marks and good in sports
too, but I forced her into marriage as the boy's family was keen on an early
marriage. Immediately after the ceremonies, there was pressure to get more
money. I kept supplying this not questioning anything. Her mother, my wife
however also guided my daughter to compromise saying that with the birth of
child things would sort out and that living in a joint family meant compromise
with elders. My own mother had given her a hard time.
My daughter was suffering, but could not reach out to us, maybe since she thought she will bring shame to the biradari, and her younger sister whose marriage was yet to be fixed. Also, we never talked to our daughters frankly - there was a great distance. She was also pretty dark, another constant source of taunts since her childhood, a reason why her marriage being fixed had cost us a lot.
One day, she just disappeared. There was no trace of her, till five days later her body was found in a river in her in-law's town. She had drowned. She had bruises all over her hands and chest and thighs. My daughter was 28.
I am a father who is guilty. I am a father whose second daughter does not speak or live with us after we lost our oldest. I am an Indian parent who failed. Who was more concerned about prestige and family pride and never told my daughter to come home and file a case of harassment or ever made her feel she was not alone or a failure. I am doing that now, police, Courts... etc... but I know what is gone is gone. And I am equally if not more guilty.
I have ordered your book Status Single for my daughter who is dead. I want all parents, fathers, and mothers and families to know that a daughter's dignity is more than her marriage and that she needs our acceptance and love and not guilt and shame. I will come and see you when you are in Nasik. It is very close to Pune.
I pray Almighty give you every success.')
Now lets turn to your other books:
Tell us something about 'Sita's Curse'?
'Sita's Curse' is a cult book. The book is a feminist erotica. It is the story of a woman called Mishi. She is taken to a godman for some marital issues, and she has a kid from that godman. My mom keeps telling me, “Nothing can change you. You write such scary stories.” Meaning when you hear such stories, you somewhere get affected by them. It is affecting me in the sense that I begin to think what I can do. When people call me, the first question I ask myself is, “Can I write about it.” See I am not a celebrity, my father is not a big gun, the only thing I can do is I can write.
'You've Got the Wrong Girl' tells the story from the point of view of a man, isn't it?
I used to be madly in love with this guy in Delhi. Who used to look like Dushyant, the hero of the book. He was a fool for he never understood how much I loved him. And I was too proud and never told him. My male readers after 'Sita's Curse' very sweetly started telling me to write a love story where the man is a fool. I said wow! This will be my revenge, for all the men who are idiots.
It's a very delightful book. Its place is not with heavy or books which deal with serious subjects. But I am very fond of this book. I laughed while writing this book. It is a rom-com, lad lit. It has moments, sometimes funny sometimes mushy. It is like a film, actually, it can make a good film. I can see like a Ranveer or somebody be the hero. It is that kind of book where you feel really nice; it's a feel-good book.
I also wanted to explore a relationship from the guy’s point of view. We have always seen stories and films from a woman’s point of view. Dushyant is one of my favourite male characters. I would like to write a sequel to that book, and call it Idiot Romeo if I can get the time.
One of my readers, a young good looking guy, told me he is afraid of approaching girls these days because of all the feminist talks. So there are Indian men like him also and guys on Tinder who ask for nude photos also.
Now this guy says he will approach the girl he loves slowly, which is so sweet. We don’t get to hear these types of stories. So basically I want to do a book telling Indian men that, “this is how we like it”.
What about 'Faraway Music'?
It’s my first book, it was a poetic, lyrical, beautiful sort of a book. The story is about a writer who comes back to India after many years and confronts her past and her life. It is a beautiful book. It will always have a special place in my life.
What is very very special to me is that my next fiction novel is a play titled ‘Cut’. Nobody writes plays in mainstream publishing so I have fought a lot for this book.
Bookaholicanonymous congratulates Sreemoyee and asks her to continue doing what she does best, ie…being the voice of 50% of the country’s population- Indian women!
If you want to buy the book ‘Status Single’ here’s the link: https://www.amazon.in/Status-Single-Truth-About-Being/dp/9381506906
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