“Boys Make Balls And Girls Make Chapati”: Deboshree, Author Of The Month, December 2017

Posted: December 31, 2017

Deboshree delights in telling stories that subvert the norms and make one think afresh. She beautifully blends the personal with a larger canvas to create memorable stories. 

Every month, we identify three among our community of 2000+ contributors, as the featured authors of the month. For Dec 2017, Deboshree who began her ‘career’ as a child writing a diary, is one of our featured authors at Women’s Web. You can read her writing here at Women’s Web and at her own blog, Of Paneer, Pulao and Pune here.

Authors are often asked this question, but everyone has their own reasons, very personal to them. So, why do you write?

When I was a child, I had a rather unnerving experience with memory. I had gone to a school picnic to an amusement park. When I got home, I could hardly cross the street from the bus stop to my home. Mom had to half-carry me; I was that tired. My granddad tells me I fell asleep the moment I stepped into the house and woke up only the following night. I supposedly slept for one and a half days!

“But I remember you were watching that TV show and I asked you to get me those chocolate cornflakes.”

“No darling, that happened last week. You are just confused because you were really tired.”

I spent many a puzzled moments, trying to piece together that day I apparently spent sleeping, and wished and wished I had somehow recorded minutes of that picnic. Well, I hadn’t, but the incident gave me an idea. Since that day, I started writing detailed accounts of any trips or holidays we went for – yes, I even included details of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mom was delighted with my latest obsession. She started collating all my writing and sorting them into colourful folders with magical titles like ‘Winter Trip to The Puri Beach’. I think that was where my love for writing started – I had recognised the wonderful power of writing to protect memories from being tampered by time or biased narration.

Over time, writing has become my best friend. It allows me to be completely myself, tell the stories in my head, be as goofy or paranoid or cynical as I am feeling, and not be restricted by anything bigger than running out of ink or battery.

I am fortunate to have got the opportunity to take up writing professionally, so it is now an intrinsic part of my life. I work as an Editor with FirstCry.com, so I deal very closely with issues close to the heart of a woman in general and a mother in particular. Telling the stories of women around us is empowering – from the happy, defining moments of an equal marriage, to shattering experiences of postpartum depression, to the perpetual struggle for an identity not limited by gender stereotypes. The process of scouting for stories and translating them into writing is my personal form of giving voice to all that I feel would otherwise have gone unsaid.

What do you enjoy reading? Does any of it help your writing?

My mom was a voracious reader who finished up entire novels and magazines in an afternoon, often choosing to read while others napped or watched and discussed television shows. A love for reading was thus one of the first gifts she passed on to me, and boy, am I glad. Some of the earliest stories I remember reading are HC Andersen’s fairy tales. The story of little Thumbelina, whom some found beautiful while others found ugly gave me a headstart in looking beyond conventional definitions of beauty. The tale of ‘The Fir Tree’ who never appreciated his blessings of sunshine and birdsong and traded them, unwittingly, for one evening of Christmas glamour followed by a lifetime in a dank storeroom. I am lucky to have learnt early that most things in life have hidden meanings and possibilities if only you look deeper – even fairy tales or chick lit so often disregarded as fluff.

Today, I read a variety of genres and make a conscious effort to expose myself to various formats and styles of writing. So, there is the thrill of “Sharp Objects” (Gillian Flynn) on a dark, wintry evening, as also the poignancy of “The Sense of an Ending” (Julian Barnes) as I go about my day, unknowingly making new memories and forgetting some old ones. I am a huge fangirl of Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson) too, and I credit them for some of my more mature learnings about writing. (Case in point – Calvin: You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. Hobbes: What mood is that? Calvin: Last-minute panic.)

I find that the more I read, the more I can think, and the more I can spot techniques to improve my own work. We live in a dynamic ecosystem, and there are lessons to be learnt from everyone and everything, and opportunities to carve your own style that draws from learnings but doesn’t imitate.

When it comes to writing on/for/about women, what questions and issues drive you the most?

When I was in school, I sported two oily pigtails with green ribbons. I also wore big glasses (still do). I was the certified nerd who was popular, yes, but also kind of ignorant about fashion, boys and all that cool stuff. I think my interest in writing developed during that phase of my life – the literary, academic, but also a bit ‘uncool’ life – especially pooh-poohed for girls who should, in an ideal world, learn about grace and beauty early.

I spent almost all my free time reading, and played badminton with my mom during the time that remained. I threw my heart into writing assignments and actually read and critiqued books during Library periods (we didn’t have Google or Goodreads synopses back then, and most of the kids simply bunked Library period to evade submissions). I found myself agitated with the girls (also a bit uncool like me) who wanted to sport a new hairstyle and wear a shorter skirt to impress the class stud. One of my earliest visits to the beauty parlour was in college, and I was furious with the attendant who scorned my ‘unkempt eyebrows’ and ‘messy hair’.

As life goes on and new experiences move me, I continue to find solace in writing. It is my outlet to express angst about the stereotypes of a ‘good wife and mother’, the one who manages all house-duties like a superwoman, still looks like a million bucks, and is a natural child-magnet at parties. I also enjoy writing about working women and the ‘sins’ they commit every day in daring to prioritise their work or art above anything else.

Could you narrate an issue or incident in your life which you think was gender related, and you handled it in a way that has made you proud.

Every time I wake up to a sunny morning and see happy people – men and women – hustling and bustling about, I tell myself all is well with the world. But who am I kidding, it is not. Gender stereotypes are ingrained in our very social fabric, and they start really early in life. I think I got my first taste of gender-based discrimination during my nursery admissions. (Yes, I can still recall this incident excellently, thanks to the numerous times my family has recounted it).

All of us kids were in a big play-area, and there stood a teacher, ready to instruct us on the admission test. Here is what she said:

“So all the boys here will make balls with the clay. Cricket, football, ping-pong. And all the girls will make rotis. Chapattis, in good round form. Start!”

The instruction infuriated me, partly because I started making a ping-pong ball as soon as she had completed her first sentence, and partly because I thought it was grossly unfair that the boys got to make fun, colourful balls while the girls had to make inedible rotis even when no one was hungry. Eventually, I submitted a ping-pong ball and gave the teacher my reasons. And yes, I did get selected, though mom and dad apparently had many nervous discussions until the results came out. I wrote about this roti vs. ping-pong ball incident here, and, though I say it myself, it has become a bit of a family-dinner-classic.

Name 3 other writers or bloggers on Women’s Web whose writing you enjoy reading.

Priyanka Kotoky – I love the combination of simplicity and power in her writing. She reinstates the need to love oneself first – love oneself as one is, even if that means being a ‘strange’ woman who dislikes cooking or doesn’t want to compromise on what she wants. Powerhouse!

Ekta Shah – She writes beautifully about issues close to the heart of many women – marriage, parenting, and the multi-layered challenges in a woman’s life that often go unsung simply because “women have to deal with all this.” I find her writing honest and without reserve.

Swetha Viswanathan – I absolutely loved her article on how feminism and femininity can co-exist. Such amazing inspiration to do your own thing, the way you want it, never mind what stereotypes the society holds dear.

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