Dr. Shweta Mishra ‘Shawryaa’ works as an Assistant Professor of English at M.B.P. Government Post Graduate College, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. She has done her doctoral work on African American women writers and her thesis has been published as Image of Girlhood in the Fiction of African-American Women Writers by Prestige Books International, New Delhi in 2011. What is a Woman: This is Trash. Leave It. (2016) was her maiden venture into creative writing.
Sapna Dogra: How would you classify What is a Woman: This is Trash. Leave it?
Shweta Mishra: What is a Woman is a literary work and has the flavour of all classifications. I would rather leave it to the readers to classify it. As for me, I was not able to satisfactorily restrict myself to one genre when I tried to articulate. So I floated with the inner urge and with each line of verse or prose, dialogue or letter, I came closer to self.
SD: Your book is a collage of various forms. Did you plan to write this book in this way?
Shweta Mishra: No, I did not plan to write it in any particular form, not even the present form in which it is. I wrote in bits and pieces whatever I wished to say. There were thoughts that crossed my mind, there were questions that I wanted to ask as to why things are the way they are, who planned them that way, and if no one owes the responsibility, or have the guts to say that they initiated discriminations and politics of all sorts, then that means that they too find the system crooked, unfair and hegemonic but would never articulate as they are least bothered, or that it does not concern them, or that they fear to lose their power position. So I simply wrote to ask the God in the sky and to ask the God on earth (for they are not one and the same. They are two different Gods).
SD: What kind of research did you do before writing this book?
Shweta Mishra: Newspapers and magazines are filled with news of rape cases, human trafficking, and the most insensitive comments of nation builders who talk of girls raped, give interviews sitting in their drawing rooms. I do not understand whether those who move around with the most crude mindsets and barbarous attitudes, with umbrellas on their heads have the authority to speak about the pains and sufferings of others when they are not able to spare a minute for any cause except for maintaining their power positions and ‘chair’ worries. Furthermore, a slave need not research while narrating the slave stories, a dalit need not research while expressing the pain of subjugation, and a soldier need not research when writing an account of warfront. Experience and observation suffice.
SD: Tell us about your writing routine. What’s a typical writing day for you?
Shweta Mishra: Writing is not a part of my routine. I never write during fixed or set hours in a day. Even if I want to do it that way, I will not succeed due to lots of other responsibilities and priorities. But writing is one passion that runs with me all along. It is a parallel obsession that sprints and even though I may not write for many days, the sheer thought that I will write to say what I have to, fills me with amazing zeal and happiness. This is an inner keenness that keeps me happy.
A typical writing day is one when I succeed in stealing time to pursue my passion and write for a couple of hours. To be able to enjoy the luxury of writing, free from other obligations, is rare. After several days I collect the rough pages and put the pieces together to see what occurred to me at different times that had moved me or was significant to me. It amazes me to find the diversity of thoughts that had over swayed me.
SD: What inspires you to write?
Shweta Mishra: The magic of life and words, the magic of words and immortal soul, the magic of articulating unrestricted, the magic of being able to make a difference, even though ever so little, the mystery of life and death, the reason for our being in this world, the question of ‘I’ inspires me to write.
SD: Can you cite some of your experiences while writing this book?
Shweta Mishra: I remember when I wrote the poem about a thirteen year old girl who is raped, it was like vomiting out the poison through poetry. I could feel that my facial expressions were changing and an inexplicable bitterness, anger and pain filled my being. When I finished writing it, I stood up to realize that I had still not restored my balance and couldn’t talk to people around for next few hours. That is the impact that writing has if you become one with it. There were times when I turned my laptop on only to turn it off after several hours, doing nothing with my work. And if I got stubborn to do it anyhow I found that I failed to proceed. Creativity suffered enormously. Those were my ‘two paise thoughts’, unnecessary questions that I was raising, whenever I discussed indirectly the subject of my intent, I was being too base, vulgar and shameless. My habit of scribbling on loose sheets had become the hot topic of discussion at my workplace, with my colleagues gossiping and contemplating about the ‘ridiculous’ habit.
There were several moments when I thought of burning all those ‘loose’ pages that overflowed with ‘loose’ ideas.
SD: What are you writing these days? What are your upcoming titles?
Shweta Mishra: I have a collection of poems titled “I Define My Orbit”. This collection has poems that deal with life and death, human existence, pain and suffering, happiness and passionate desires, fears of self and the power of self, Nature harmony and disharmony. There are a variety of subjects that I sing about and sing in an unharnessed way.
SD: Have you read anything that changed the way you look at gender politics?
Shweta Mishra: The fact that one is being exploited and the fact that there is politics around in houses and in neighbourhood, in states and in nations or in the world – is never understood unless you ‘realize’. If I happen to look at gender politics through books may be I would learn about it as something that happens and may be it would stay with me for some time as knowledge learned but not experienced. But if I start to look at hegemonies, discriminations, subjugation, corruption and prejudices through my own eyes, ears, heart and mind then that lends a perception and sensitivity of a higher order. It is an understanding that has not been borrowed or a reality that you were not deliberately shown with a flame in hand but you could learn about it even in the darkest of darkness. Gender politics is around. It exists. You would definitely learn about it through books but you would be angry about it through your realization.
The books that made an impact on me are Mayada: Daughter of Iraq by Jean Sasson, Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody with William Hoffer, Tehmina Durrani’s My Feudal Lord, and, of course, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, which I consider as the Bible on feminist issues.
SD: What was the reaction of your family and colleagues after reading your book.
Shweta Mishra: Some found it bold and courageous, some as boisterously loud and were shocked at the frankness with which I have discussed a woman’s body. Family members were supportive but doubtful whether the issues of rape or prostitution needed to be related at all. It’s like – everything is around and so commonplace – that do we actually need to talk about them. My teachers appreciated my work.
But I was intimidated as I experienced that wrongs have stopped to move us. And if you are trying to bring out the disease to the public, especially as a woman, you should be prepared to feel that you are belittling your honour and are being base, unrefined and severely lacking in sophisticated ways and etiquettes. As a general belief the so-called virtues are equated with mannerisms and these frame the definitions of our personalities, though I tend to differ and maintain that anger and revolt are worthier and higher personality traits.
SD: What makes you so angry at our society?
Shweta Mishra: “Society” encompasses people from diverse backgrounds, and individuals who have their own trajectory, whatever they have achieved in life, what sacrifices they made, what struggles they underwent and what costs they paid to survive. Life is a strange existence where all the time we are fighting so many odds – nature, unforeseen mishaps, health disorders, and so on. Here resides the cause of my anger. Why do people exploit, torture, kill, rape, molest, when we are already at fight with this absurdity and are trying to stay and live with some order in the face of chaos. There are those who commit the most violent acts of brutality, but there are those also who appear to be clean but are actually like that urea that nourishes the hypocrisy, that sustains hegemony and fuels and supports crimes of all sorts – simply by the way they think and their attitudes.
SD: Do you think men are hypocrites?
Shweta Mishra: I do not know that. Men would know better.
SD: What are you reading right now? What are your favourite books? Which one influenced you the most—and why?
Shweta Mishra: I am reading Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged are my favourite books. The African American women writers Maya Angelou and Alice Walker have influenced me a lot. Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a remarkable book. I love her prowess as a writer to be able to laugh at herself even in the face of odds.
SD: What has been the worst criticism given to you as a writer? How do you feel about it?
Shweta Mishra: The worst criticism that I came across as a writer was that there are too many issues that I have talked about and that I have not sufficiently developed any one particular idea. But then I realized that that’s true. I had so much to say that I was not appropriately containing myself. Also, as I have told already, I was not systematically ordering the flow of ideas in the pages in which I wrote. I simply stuck all the pictures of different shapes, sizes and colours, so that the end product is a disorganized collage of ideas thought at random.
SD: What has been the best criticism given to you as a writer? How did you feel about it?
Shweta Mishra: I was told that my book is a new statement in Indian Feminism and that it is a brave attempt. Obviously, I felt good. If one is appreciated for the efforts it definitely acts as a boost, and encouragement that comes from your family and mentors makes you feel that the effort has been successful.
SD: Who do you write for?
Shweta Mishra: I write for myself. This book was for those raped, those who are bought and sold daily, those who live in cloistered selves, but I don’t know whether they would ever hear what I said. Thoughts make an individual unique, different from others, but quite paradoxically, how different can be the thoughts of highest order. To think of ways that make our life easier and more comfortable, would mean an inclination towards materialism, where there is and always will be scope for improvisation and innovation. But when we talk of truth, beauty, faith, devotion, and love – these exist as ideal concepts and our journey is about arriving at them through whichever route we may choose. But never ever is this ingrained as a target in our minds. So my thoughts are very much mine. The world may or may not agree with me and that is absolutely okay. Exploring the layers of pain and sufferings, unifying one’s self with the self of the other, and to be able to cry for others are not an ordinary feat. It’s natural to be selfish, greedy and wrong. It’s difficult to be selfless, temperate and right. I don’t want to be labelled as right, good and moralist. I am better off as angry, dissatisfied and hungry. This hunger makes me write. Hungry to say what’s there in my mind, in my being; if something upsets me and makes me angry, I am hungry to make my point.
SD: Name some of your favourite writers/poets?
Shweta Mishra: I love Sylvia Plath’s poetry and the plays of George Bernard Shaw. I have a liking for the Absurdist philosophy of Albert Camus. I regard and admire both Wordsworth and Eliot despite their contrasting theories on the concept of poetry. Toru Dutt and Shashi Deshpande are also my favourites. Among the classics I have loved to read Thomas Hardy and George Eliot.
SD: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Shweta Mishra: I eat, drink and sleep writing. If not preoccupied with the madness of routine and usual chores, I write, or I type or else I read a good book. I enjoy listening to music, but that I do while driving my car or moving around in the house. I spend a lot of time with my children, their assignments and schedules take up a major part of my day, and I love to do that.
SD: What has inspired you lately?
Shweta Mishra: The sky above and the air around inspire me. And the sun in the sky. I do not know how to explain but these I associate with life. Sun, air and sky mean life. When I close my eyes and feel them in me I am rejuvenated. These three elements never let me feel that evil can win and that sufferings will thrive and that we the beings would be defeated. We are here to fight and win and victorious we will be.
SD: Do you have any advice for yet-to-be published writers?
Shweta Mishra: (Laughs) I am no authority to advice anybody. But still if I were to advice I would simply say that any form of art is a huge gift of God and if you have been gifted with that try to pursue that art with full honesty, and do it more for yourself, then you won’t be disappointed.
SD: Thank you and good luck.
(Dr. Sapna Dogra completed her B.A and M.A. in English Literature from University of Delhi. She holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research interests include Folklore Studies, Translation Studies, Indian English Writing, Hindi Literature and Popular Literature. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)