Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Planting New Seeds

DIPIKA RAI touches on the plight of rural Indian women bound by tradition in her first novel, Someone Else’s Garden

INDIAN-BORN author Dipika Rai feels strongly about the injustices meted out to the rural women in her country who are shackled in traditions that curtail their freedom. It is these very thoughts and feelings that she has poured into the pages of her début novel, Someone Else’s Garden.

“I had something to say and I created a story to say it. I think that’s what inspires most writers. I wanted to examine the disconnect between the dharmic (spiritual) India and the karmic (empirical) India,” said Dipika in an email interview arranged by MPH Publishing.

“I wanted to explore why in such a spiritual place like India, there’s so much social injustice sanctioned by tradition—what I call the cultural burden of ancient civilisations—and the ways in which that burden can be lifted. In this case, the story for my thoughts happened to be a story about rural women.”

Born and raised in New Delhi, Dipika worked in the banking sector before switching to journalism, writing for publications such as Vogue India and Marie Claire for 15 years. When her husband got a job in Bali, she moved there with him and their two children. There, she contributed articles on Indonesian arts and culture to 13 publications around the world.

Four years ago, Dipika started work on Someone Else’s Garden. It tells the story of Mamta, who is born to a low-caste family. Her father believes that bringing her up is akin to “tending someone else’s garden”. At a young age, she is married off to a man who promptly sells off one of her kidneys for money! Unable to bear the terrible situation she is in, Mamta takes off to the big city in search of her two brothers who are there in pursuit of a better life.

While in the city, Mamta wakes up to the possibilities that the world has to offer her. One interesting character in the book is one of Mamta’s brothers, Prem, who has strong views on what is right and wrong. “My characters appeared organically. There are so many village boys out there who are desperate to get an education but are thwarted from doing so by circumstances. These are the boys who are the inspiration behind the character of Prem.”

Another intriguing character in the book is Daku Manmohan, a local folk hero and dacoit, who turns himself in to ailing landowner Singh Sahib and opts to live in servitude to make up for his past misdeeds. “I wanted to add Daku’s character because he is a symbol of changing times just like his captor, Singh Sahib. I liked the tension created by the ironic twist of fate that allies these two enemies in a common context.”

Mamta’s mother, Lata Bai, accepts her wretched life and feels that her daughters should do so as well without questioning it. However, when her husband dies, she opts to send his body adrift in the river rather than give him a funeral. “It’s almost as though her husband’s death freed her. It’s her moment of catharsis, but it’s a brief flash as many women don’t consider themselves complete unless they are married. Lata Bai knows she has a dreadful marriage and yet she cannot see a life outside it because she considers it ‘normal’.

“Yes, her marriage did shackle her, but it did so with her consent. That’s why she is incensed when her daughter rejects the dictates of traditions and chooses a different life path.”

Dipika said through Lata Bai’s character, she attempts to explain why it is the mother who sometimes perpetrates the worst injustices against her daughters by forcing them to follow the same traditions that she herself hated. When asked who she was writing the book for, Dipika said: “First, I wrote Someone Else’s Garden for my children, because I wanted them to experience my India, warts and all.

“To be honest, I set out to write a story that people might want to read and didn’t consciously aim it at anyone. But many people, especially women, see a message in it, and that’s a true gift.”

Dipika admitted it was hard to get her book published initially. “First, one has to find the right agent and then the agent has to find the right publisher and that’s a huge challenge. It took me a year and half to get my novel published. One has to be willing to take criticism and rejection, and have a very thick skin to be a writer!”

Dipika is now working on her second book, which is written in a completely different vein from Someone Else’s Garden.

Reproduced from The Sun of April 6, 2011


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