Interview Of Kirtida Gautam
SipNRead is honoured to welcome once again Mrs. Kirtida Gautam. She was interviewed by us along with FWBA on Friday, Septrmber 18th. Though a debutante, she has already created waves with her much-talked about book #IAm16ICanRape, the first book of her Yin Yang series. The book is steeped in psychology and speaks of the sensitive issue of juvenile rapists. Kirtida is also a scriptwriter. She works primarily with Balaji Telefilms. The teleserial Jodhaa Akbar is one of her works. Here are some important highlights from the interview.
Q: What inspired you to take on such a difficult topic, Kirtida?
Kirtida: One morning I was having tea with my husband. He asked me, have you heard about this Rape case in Delhi?
I admit my lack of sensitivity at that point, but I thought, okay, rape happens in India. When he told me the nature of the crime and the extent this criminal went in inflicting pain on this innocent person. I felt unparalleled anger at this misogyny. I thought I might forget about it as days will pass, but the anger stayed with me. That is when I decided to write a book that questions the sensibility of Juvenile Justice System of India.
Q: How did it strike to you, the idea of changing the narrator in each segment? Was it a risky one?
Kirtida: That was an intuitive decision. At first, I thought of writing the book from point of view of Rudransh. But at some point, the voice of Aarush became separate and distinct. I thought; let me use two point of views - one of ‘protagonist’ and one of ‘antagonist’. But as more characters started coming to life, and I started writing their part in first person, I thought, why I can’t use more than two points of views. Then, I wrote the character sketches of all major characters and gave them the plot part. It was a long process. It took me 6 months. It took me almost one and a half years of research before I put a word on paper. I read books and literature on Rape as a crime.
‘Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape’ (1975) by Susan Brownmiller and ‘Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender’ by A. Nicholas Groth are the books, I will recommend to anyone who is interested in understanding the gravity and deep seated hatred our society breeds against women.
Q: How did Aarush Kashyap come into being?
Kirtida: Aarush Kashyap is one character who kind of wrote his whole story quite by himself. My first step out line is so drastically different from the final draft. I won't lie, but this character became so alive for me at one point, I felt I am either possessed or I am writing something. I even used to take my mobile voice recorder with me on my walks because I used to feel he whispers to me. 75% of the point of views of Aarush is also written at wee hours in the morning. I would sleep thinking about this character and at 3 or 4 in the morning, I would get up, record the scene in my recorder and go back to sleep. Next morning, I used to wake up and hear the scene again. Sometimes, I typed the scene exactly the way I recorded it.
Q: Rape is not easy to write about, even in a fictionalized account. Was it hard for you personally?
Kirtida: I was scared to write the actual rape scene, in the first draft it was quite different. One day I sat at my writing desk at night and was listening to the most unusual song,’ Lukha Chupi’ from Rang De Basanti. I felt a strong urge to go and record the scene. I still have that recording with me in which the scene is recorded as Subhangi's account. After I was done, I was shivering like a leaf. My mother thought that I have received bad news in relation to my father and that is the reason why I was crying loudly holding my mobile at 1:30 at night. Once I was done recording the scene, I came in my room, hugged my husband and cried non-stop for 10 minutes.
Q: What are your views on Nirbhaya's case? How much is book related to the case?
Kirtida: I think that what happened with Nirbhaya could have happened to any woman. She was not different. She was me, she was you, and she was the women we care about in our lives. These guys didn't rape her for sexual pleasure. These guys raped her because they HATED women. The guy, who got the almost negligible punishment because he was a juvenile, didn't commit this crime at spur of the moment. NO ONE CAN COMMIT RAPE AT SPUR OF THE MOMENT. It's a crime which has very deep roots in the mind of a person.
When I wrote the character of Subhangi, I used to open my laptop and see a picture I had picked from internet that is said to be Nirbhaya's picture. I used to look at this image and start writing. In my opinion, this woman woke up a nation from its slumber by honestly telling us the nightmare she experienced. She didn't shy away. WHY SHOULD SHE? She was a brave soul. May she rest in peace. That woman was courageous beyond words.
Q: We often find that the victim of a rape is branded as being promiscuous or being dressed inappropriately. The excuse given is that 'She asked for it'. Did you find this explanation offered a lot when you researched the book? How do you react to that?
Maybe there were even people who asked you, 'Why this topic? Can't you write about something pleasant instead?'
Kirtida: I had to answer this question in the book. That is the reason why Subhangi goes out with Aarush completely on her free will and they party together till 2:30 at night. My sister ‘Payal Desai’ who is also my beta reader asked me, why he couldn’t rape her forcefully in the apartment. You might make people perceive her in wrong light if she goes out willingly. I said, THAT IS THE POINT. Only because a girl makes a decision, doesn't give anyone a right to rape her. She can choose to roam around freely in middle of the night and still it is RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STATE to make sure that she is safe.
Q: Rape has nothing to do with sex. It is to do with control, with misogyny. I'm glad you wrote this book. May it get the audience it deserves.
Kirtida: I can't agree more. A huge misconception that the society has INCLUDING the people who commit rape is that rape is related to sexual desires. NO. Rape is a sexual manifestation with the drives which are NOT sexual in nature.
Q: You seem very passionate about the topic, which is the best way to be to write a book. I have to ask, how did you decide on the non-linear narration style?
Kirtida: Can I tell the truth? I had done research on the topic for two years. I had vague idea of the step out line but I didn't have a story. I wrote my pitch on a paper and I kept reading it hoping against the hopes that the story will emerge. One day I sat staring at my laptop when the scene 9.1 came in my head. After Aarush was done talking, I was like- you are a hell of a manipulator kid! Who are you? I love the idea of hero's journey and I knew that my antihero is using his feminine to mislead the system. So, I started with that scene. Then the whole process was very complicated, I had to make sure that every successive scene puts Aarush in darker and darker shade. It was almost like mathematics. Sometimes the characters are so impossibly dark that I do think in my private moments- what is wrong with me?
Q: Does your general reader accept that victim blaming is not acceptable?
Kirtida: Every single one of them! I think a high time of tolerance has come for women living in India. No women are ready to accept that sexual violence takes place because they wore something inappropriate or where at a wrong place. If the state can't provide the assurance of safety in spite of the personal choice that women make, why do they take tax from women?
Q: How was the reaction of those in your close circle when they knew what you were writing about? I am not talking about immediate family, but the next ring of friends, beta-readers etc.
Kirtida: My friends used to find it weird that there would be books like Natural History of Rape, Men Who Rape, Against Our Will, Lucky by Alice Sebold, Central Park Jogger on my study table. They used to raise eye brows at the collection of my books. But they have also been very supportive, once I told them what i was doing; my friends and extended family encouraged my efforts.
Q: What is your experience on self publishing?
Kirtida: Self publishing is insane amount of work. Good part, I am sure that the book would not have been allowed to be this long and detailed if it would have gone through traditional publishing route. In my opinion, the size of the book is correct for the topic it discuss and the length at which it discusses the topic. So for me the biggest pro of self publishing was that I could express myself through this book.
Q: You have put a lot of emphasis on the state and its inability in your book. Why did you not question parenting? I think parents are hugely failing in educating their sons to respect women. Why had you not emphasized this point?
Kirtida: I can't agree more. It is the sad truth of our society that the first unit of society- the family fails the boys to teach how to respect women- how to respect feminine. We are raising a society which is putting more and more emphasis on masculine traits both in men and women. Someone we perceive that feminine is weak- IT IS NOT WEAK. That is the reason why Rudransh goes through the whole journey in which he first at macro level starts to understand and respect the strength of feminine.
Q: Can you elaborate on the Mahabharata themes in the book? That aspect of #IAm16ICanRape has always fascinated me.
Kirtida: It is my opinion which I state as the theme of the book, till the fathers will stay blind to the shadow of their sons Draupadi will be disrobed. it is the role of parent- the Father to first acknowledge the dark side of the human nature in their sons and then to train them to become respectful to the feminine around them. When the father fails in this critical role, it gives birth to a society in which women are not respected.
Mahabharata is also a text that inspires me a lot, so I have used some archetypes from that book to create characters of this book. As you rightly pointed out, Rudransh is very much inspired by Bheesma from Mahabharata, which is also the reason why he takes the oath of taking the backpack around. I won't say the character from Mahabharata that has inspired Aarush, not in this book.
Q: I would like to know how you conceived the cover design. And, being your first book, what gave you the confidence to publish a book that is not of a novel size and again, to price it more than a normal novel's cost. Given that it is your first book, this surprised me.
Kirtida: When I was writing the novel, I had no idea what size is the norm. I write till I thought I have said the story I wanted to say. Then I looked at the number of words and spoke with Ritesh Kala, I am sure he thought that I am crazy. Ritesh gave me the suggestion that I should first release the kindle version and see the reaction of the audience.
Q: I must say you have a very deep insight into the human psyche. Being a psychology student has really enhanced the quality of your book. Will you be touching on other psychology aspects in your future books too? Also, tell us a bit about the Yin Yang concept in general (since I know you don't like to talk about your future work!).
Kirtida: Yin- Feminine and Yang- Masculine are two parallel forces or energies that operate in nature- EVERYWHERE. They are not superior or inferior to each other. They both are equally strong. But in different species the strength varies. Homo sapiens derive their strength from Yin. In other words, in human world feminine (not woman) is the stronger one. That doesn't mean that masculine doesn't have a role to play or feminine can survive without the help and support of masculine. NO. They both still have to work in harmony for the society to operate at the optimum. But in an evolved society there will be realization that feminine- or mind- or yin is the superior trait in humans. Humans rule this planet because they knew that there is MIND OVER MATTER. Unfortunately, they are forgetting this with passing time. At present, our society breeds masculine at the expense of feminine.
Q: Did you expect the phenomenal reaction you got?
Kirtida: To be honest, my husband Mrityunjay Gautam was the first person who read the book. I requested him for some days to give it a read, finally one day he said, okay, give me the first chapter. After he read the first chapter- 9.1, he said, "I think I can read some more chapters". When I started getting feedback from my female readers, I felt choked. Some of the readers felt so strongly about the book. I have connected with the people I don't even know in real world as if we have always known each other. That was the time when I felt that I think I have tapped on an emotion which is COLLECTIVE in nature. We all are angry. We all wanted to react. It's one person's voice, but everyone's opinion.
Q: I understand exactly what you mean Kirtida. The book resonated with me. I found myself cheering for Shubhangi. I must say though, I didn't trust Aarush from the get go. He felt far too perfect to be true. I had a feeling that persona was a mere mask for a darker persona. What I didn't know was how dark.
Kirtida: I might sound pretentious when I say this, but for me this is the truth, same thing happened with me while I wrote his character. I didn't know what he will do next. In the first draft, he never slept with Pihu. This character kept me on the edge of my seat, TO ME! To the writer!
This is my first encounter with a character that never yields to the step out line. He writes his own story. The good part, he writes good story.
Q: Don't you think some women are taking disadvantage of law privileges provided to them?
Kirtida: There is always a potential of abuse of certain laws, the question we need to ask as a society is if the potential of abuse is higher or lower than the benefit the society gets because of certain laws.
I believe laws always change at a much slower pace than society does. This means people have to suffer the adverse effects of outdated laws for lot longer.
Q: What are plans for next book?
Kirtida: My next book is also about gender discrimination and power struggle and how our society conditions feminine to believe that it is the inferior trait in humans, whereas SHE is the stronger one.
Hope you enjoyed it!!
About the blogger
Love to read books and explore the world of reading. Also like to meet new people.