Fact or fiction is indeed an eternal debate. To draw a line between the factual and the fictional is to separate thoughts from reality. A fiction embodies a world that oscillates between the reality and the make-believe. Rarely does any fiction stand independent of the reality. But does fiction have a less social role to play than the non-fiction books?  Women Writers Fest in Pune brought together some fantastic writers who reflect society in their works in different ways.  The writers were Kiran Manral, the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople has written ten books; Manjiri Prabhu is an independent film-maker for Television, a Writer/Novelist in English and also the Founder/ Director of a Literary Festival. Sudha Menon is the author of five non-fiction books, a motivational speaker and founder of writing workshop series Get Writing and Writing With Women. They spoke about how reality is reflected in fiction and what is the social role of a writer of fiction or non-fiction. The panel was moderated by Lalitha Suhasini, an art and culture writer and editor for nearly two decades.

Sudha Menon On Women and Ageing

Ageing has been a strong part of your work. How easy was it to talk about it?

Writing about ageing was my way of saying that no I am not ready yet to disappear under the carpet and be retired, though it was difficult. This is what is expected from women who have reached their 50s. They are not given the centre stage anymore, expected to disappear into the corner, as if not relevant anymore. But I am feeling empowered now, I am beginning my life now and it is my decision. Through a humorous book, I have reflected upon the stereotypes that women face about ageing and I love writing about that. And it has influenced many women who identified with what I write.

For a writer it is very important to keep reading, knowing what has been written in the world. It is important for them to be observant when you meet different people who sometimes take hold of your imagination and come out as characters. It is important to meet, to socialise and talk about your book. Promoting your book is very important.

How have women used the book and come out of their shells?

I think many women have been inspired by my book. My message to them is basically that if you follow your heart, stand for yourself, things will fall in line automatically. If you think you are old, you are 50 and crossed the prime time of your life, no one can help you. There is ageism all around us, we need to stand up and say no.

Kiran Manral on Ageing and Sexuality

What made you tackle the sensitive subject of ageism in fiction?

We don’t write enough about older women especially around 60. Usually, an older woman is not allowed to talk about their sexuality. Once you are nearing menopause, you are supposed to be in a shell and have no sex-life. So I think we need to talk more about women of a certain age, their sexuality and how fascinating they become with the growing age. The people who can write about is us. We are out there calling out loud that we are there, we are alive and we are doing just fine.

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Skills and Process of Writing

The three writers talked about their distinctive ways, inspiration and ideas about writing. According to Manjiri Prabhu, travelling, reading and having an active social life is important for a writer. She said, “Travelling is very important for my writing, it is liberating, and takes you away from daily life. For a writer it is very important to keep reading, knowing what has been written in the world. It is important for them to be observant when you meet different people who sometimes take hold of your imagination and come out as characters. It is important to meet, to socialise and talk about your book. Promoting your book is very important. To be a good writer it is very important to have an active social life.”

While focussing on the practice of writing, Kiran Manral said, “For me, the skill and process of writing is to read voraciously and across genres. Writing for me is riyaaz. Not everything is written to be published. You write a lot as practice and develop your writing muscles. Keep tinkering with your work every day. Once you leave it, you will lose the connection. Revise all your first drafts one million times before you send it to the publisher.”

Reflecting on her own process of writing, Sudha Menon mentioned, “I write when I really want to pour out something. And with time a habit has evolved that I don’t feel the need to revise what I have written. I meet a lot of women, listen to their stories and reflect them in my books which are always centred around women. Just follow your heart in what you want to write.

The social role of a writer

Turning the discussion towards the latest concern of India, Lalitha Suhasini asked “The protests that are happening against CAA and NRC has consumed most of us. What do you think is the role of writers in this scenario?”

“Very few people nowadays read newspapers. They are inclined towards reading blogs and e-books. So we as writers have the responsibility to bring out such realities trough writing, talking about it in gatherings or among families.”

Kiran Manral rightly said, “The only thing writers can do is hold up a mirror to society, and reflect how the society had been, how it is and how it should be. We have seen many dystopian books reflect a reality. Dystopia as a genre is compelling as it forces us to confront what we are. I love writing dystopian fiction but India does not have a market for dystopian fiction. What we write should be compelling enough to make readers think about it, whether it is about CAA or women’s issue.” Adding to this, Manjiri Prabhu talked about her own dystopian fiction and said, “We do put a lot of reality in our fiction, whether it is through thriller, dystopia. It is our duty to talk about society in different ways and incorporate social messages in it.”

Sudha Menon further talked about how a writer can make protests and struggles a story of eternity and motivation. She said, “If you have a pen, you have the power to write and change the way people look at the world. If we write about people in protests, it will remain forever and people will know the power of human determination and imagination. Very few people nowadays read newspapers. They are inclined towards reading blogs and e-books. So we as writers have the responsibility to bring out such realities trough writing, talking about it in gatherings or among families.”

Also Read: Know The Women Writers Behind India’s First Feminist Fantasy Anthology

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.

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