Author Shobhaa De is back with her latest work of fiction, Sethji, which comes after a span of 15 years, and is a satire on the political scenario. The timing is perfect considering the political turmoil that seems to have swept India. Sethji will be launched at the Tata Literature Live! Fest on November 2 and on November 3, the author will be part of a panel discussion on satire in sub-continental fiction. Excerpts from an interview with Shobhaa De:
What inspired you to write about the political system of the country?
As a national columnist writing Politically Incorrect for over 15 years, I have been commenting on politics for quite a while. Writing a political thriller like Sethji was the next logical step to take. As a writer, one cannot remain detached. It is essential to chronicle what one sees, lives through. The pathetic political situation in India right now cannot be ignored. Each one of us is obliged to speak up. For the past decade, my energies were focused on non-fiction. I wrote 10 books in this period. Returning to fiction has been a big high.
What are your views on the current political scenario in the country?
I have been expressing my concerns very emphatically through all the platforms available to me — on television, Twitter, my personal blog and, of course, through my columns. It is a pretty grim situation right now. 2014 will be a turning point for India (election time). But the direction we choose to take, the important turn, will determine our course for the next 50 years. We must not remain disengaged. India cannot afford the indifference of the silent majority.
Did real politicians inspire the characters in Sethji? If so, were you worried about a backlash?
As a writer in a functioning democracy, there is no space for fear. We are entitled and empowered to express ourselves freely. Sethji is a strong comment on the rot we see around us. But it is fiction. I am a storyteller. I am not targeting any specific politician.
At Literature Live!, will you be talking about satire in sub-continental fiction?
Satire is a very potent tool when used well. Writers through the ages have employed satire to make a strong point about aspects of society. Sethji is not strictly satirical. It is a dark and brutal look at our politicians. Sethji is my way of making a statement through the characters about the depths of depravity to which we have sunk in India.
Is there a message you are trying to convey through your novel?
I am not a ‘message’ writer in the strictest sense. But I am sure every writer sets out to make a point through his or her work. I am a storyteller. I hope Sethji’s story will make readers think. But more than that I hope readers find the book engrossing enough not to put it down once they start reading it.
Was it challenging to return to fiction after more than a decade?
Challenging, yes. But also most exhilarating. Writing stories provides an unbeatable thrill. Writing fiction is like taking a joy ride for me — enjoyable!
On November 2 and 3, 3 pm to 4 pm
At Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.