ON THE COUCH ... Deepika SHETTY
A Suitable Reader
Zafar Anjum talks to journalist and literary blogger Deepika Shetty
DEEPIKA SHETTY is a Singapore-based Indian journalist and literary blogger. As literary editor—and as a result of her passion for books and writers—she had had many opportunities to get up close and personal with a galaxy of writers that ordinary people can only dream about: Anita Desai, Kiran Desai, Shashi Tharoor, Paul Theroux, Vikram Seth, Amitav Ghosh, Michael Ondaatje, Romesh Gunesekera, Alexander McCall Smith, Nury Vittachi, Chitra Banerji Divakaruni, Neil Gaiman and Suhayl Saadi, among others.
Those who tread the literary red carpet in this part of the world—Singapore Writers Festival, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Byron Bay Writers Festival and Galle Writers Festival—would most probably have seen her in action, grilling celebrity authors or moderating panels of writers. In the last few years, Shetty has been actively engaged in not only moderating writers’ sessions in these festivals but also organising them.
Until late last year, Shetty was associated with two leading TV programmes in Singapore—Show Prime Time and Off the Shelves, the latter an interactive programme with authors. She now works with The Straits Times in Singapore.
Hailing from Chandigarh in northern India, Shetty has a master’s degree in political science from Punjab University. She started writing book reviews for The Tribune, which paved the path for her to become a full-fledged journalist. In India, she was a journalist with The Times of India and the newsmagazine India Today, before moving to Singapore almost a decade ago to achieve greater heights in her career.
How did her love affair with books and writers start? “By not being forced to read books,” Shetty, who has been writing book reviews since the age of 18, answers matter-of-factly. “My mother surrounded us with books and comics, but never pushed us to read them.”
So, what did she read as a little girl? “My sister and I read a lot of Amar Chitra Katha, Asterix, Champak, Twinkle, a fair bit of Enid Blyton, the Schoolgirl comics, even Archie at a slightly later stage.”
She reminisces about the lovely summers she spent as a child at her grandparents’ house, another place where she could escape into a fantasy world with her favourite books. “We spent every summer at my grandmother’s house and it was filled with books,” she says. “The eclectic collection traced its roots to my grandfather, a war hero who received several coveted army honours in India.”
Shetty dusted those books religiously every year. The dusting effort would earn her a princely sum of two rupees every week that she would save up to buy the Schoolgirl comics at the Capital Book Store in Chandigarh. In addition to all those books, her aunt had studied literature and she knew all the names even before she knew what they were about. “There was Shakespeare, Hemingway, Pearl S. Buck, Anita Desai, R.K. Narayan and a whole lot more,” she says. “But till the age of 15, I hadn’t made any serious effort to read any of their work. After my 10th Board exams, when I was liberated from the pain of having to deal with Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and veered towards Humanities, something happened. I started reading! I’d spend all my spare time in the college library. If it was a holiday and the library was open, you’d find me there. The librarian would always urge me to head back home when it was time to lock up. I think by the time I was done with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I would have read every single book the library had to offer. I’d even made recommendations for new book buys. It was great to be taken seriously.”
Shetty’s journey that started at the age of 15 hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. “There is always a book in my bag,” she admits. “I can read anywhere: in the cab, on the bus, by the pool, before lunch, after lunch—you name it. Even now, when I go back to my grandmother’s house there is a standard joke about my working towards a PhD in reading.”
Her love of reading has remained stronger than ever. “I’ve travelled to so many places and made so many friends thanks to the wonderful world of books,” she says effusively. “Sometimes I feel I’m in Bangladesh, other times in the Sunderbans, or feeling the pain of the war in Biafra; books can do that to you. It’s an intense experience. I love watching movies, too, though the movie experience doesn’t have the magic of books. You can take your book anywhere, it can be a part of your life, you mark the lines that moved you, a couple of years later, you revisit the places marked by the Post-it notes and it feels like it’s time for another adventure again.”
Reproduced from the special 2008 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival issue of Quill magazine
This is a reworked version of an interview which first appeared in India Se, Asia’s first and only magazine for global Indians. To find out more about the magazine go to indiaseonline.com