Author Sreemoyee Kundu On Being Unapologetic About ‘Status Single’ At 40
- IWB Post
- July 23, 2019
It was some four and half years ago when Sreemoyee decided to quit her illustrious career as a journalist to take up novel writing. Within no time her books found a place on top shelves, and they are a testimony to the fact that it was indeed wise for her to call it quits.
“When I think of all the books written by me I feel that it’s not me who chose them rather I was chosen to write them. I feel very Karmic about my writing that way,” says Sreemoyee Piu Kundu. The recipient of NDTV L’Oreal Women of Worth Award 2016, Sreemoyee is like a fresh breath in Indian book scene infested with male written campus novels and pulp fiction. She is 40, single, and unapologetic.
Sreemoyee made her debut in the Indian book market with the critically acclaimed Faraway Music. She expanded her horizons and explored hitherto untouched territories with her second novel Sita’s Curse. Her second book was no short of a revolution and established her as the “Queen of Indian Erotica.”
Her third novel You’ve Got the Wrong Girl! was a book with strong male characters as she posited the question “Why can’t a woman get into a man’s head?”
Sreemoyee calls her fourth and the latest novel Status Single “the voice of 74 million single Indian women.” Strong, shameless, weird, available, slut, asexual, fussy and many more words are often flung on single women in our society without an iota of consideration. Sreemoyee says while these words might be used for “describing us” they would never be “defining us.”
“3000 women. One book. Many voices. One story,” writes the author. In the book, she has interspersed poignant yet powerful narratives of 3000 single women from different walks of life but one common truth.
“Status Single is a personal testament, as much as it has to become an impersonal recording of urban, successful, single women’s voices. Sans the sugar coating. Minus the rose-tinted lenses. Without the double standards. And moral preaching,” says the author about her book.
Here are excerpts from an interaction that I had with Sreemoyee:
How did you conceive the idea of compiling stories of 3000 different women?
I used to write a lot on being single and I realised that there is a lot of resonance. People would reach out to me sharing their stories and I thought why not compile them all together? One day we were discussing my columns and my agent from Delhi said why don’t you take these experiences together and work them into a book? I didn’t want my next book to be a memoir or about just one type of single women as I wanted to assimilate all these myriad experiences from various walks of life.
That sounds like a herculean task! Your book indeed has the narratives of a spectrum of women. How did you reach out to them?
I used the potency of social media to conceive my book. There were people who had already approached me with their stories after reading my columns and books. Each time I would connect to a new person I would request her to direct me to a few more. After some time the exercise generated a buzz and people themselves were reaching out to me.
Is it then safe to say that your status as a writer helped you in the task of reaching out to them?
Oh, it wasn’t exactly a cake walk when I started. Sadly there are no organised communities of single women and I had just 8-10 single friends to reach out to.
Was it easy to get them to open up or did they show some kind of resistance in sharing their stories?
Many of these women had a lot of fear owing to the stigma around their single status. It was not easy to get some of them to talk as they feared social ostracisation and stigma.
In June last year, during the first round of editing of the book, around 35 women backed out. They feared the outcome and refused to be a part of the book at the last moment.
And what about the experience of interacting with the LGBTQ+ women? How did you build up the trust?
Trust me, they are far more trusting than the middle-class women that the society terms as ‘normal’. There is no façade, no hypocrisy, no sham. A lot of them approached me themselves and opened up readily with utmost honesty.
Talking about the stigma, would you share with me the kind of stereotypes and problems that you face every day as a single woman and have been addressed in the book?
Being single is almost like a curse in India. Every day you hear questions like couldn’t you get married? Couldn’t your family get you married? As a single woman life is not easy here. Going to family events especially wedding is yet another task. Relatives bother my mom with the constant refrain of why don’t you get your daughter married? Everywhere you go people somehow find it their duty to fling unsolicited advice at you. Even gynecologists perpetuate the same stigmas and aren’t any different.
Renting a house is a trial altogether. If you a divorcee than you are looked down as a husband snatcher and what not. You are at the receiving end of unwelcomed prepositions at the workplace if you are a single woman. If you have high career aspirations then people say things like isne to career se shaadi karli hai. There is so much I could keep going on, read the book and you’ll get to the depths of it.
Did speaking to any of these women help you somehow or taught you something new about the ordeals of a single woman?
The fact is that even if we all have our diverse stories, we have a common truth. We are all at the receiving end of the same stigma. So I wouldn’t say that the stories helped me out, but they really did help me in creating a community of support nurtured by sharing our stories and fights.
Since we are talking about the stories, which one do you think is the most fearless of all?
Oh, they are all fearless. Take, for instance, the story of widow Shantala. She started working to make ends meet in a big city like Bangalore after the untimely demise of her husband. She wasn’t really qualified for the jobs and had to face a lot of struggles. Today she runs a business empire.
Then there is another story of Gauri Sawant, a transgender single mother. She adopted an orphaned daughter of a sex worker and gave her home but today she is fighting for her adoption rights.
How has been your family’s reaction to your writing so far?
My family has been very very supportive.
You got in contact with so many women while working on the novel. Are you still in touch with any of them?
I am, and would always be in touch with them. Of course, with some more than the others but the connection would stay with all of them.
Please tell me about your journey as an erotic writer.
I personally don’t like this label. Don’t get me wrong. I am highly grateful for all the love that I have received. But getting labeled as a type is very suffocating for me as an artist.
I get that. Let’s rephrase. Would you like to share how writing empowers you?
It is the only way I know how to live. Writing is my constant companion. It is my way of reaching out to God.
How do you aim to empower others through your writing?
When people read my books I want them to feel brave enough to break their silence. As a creative person, I aspire to touch lives.
Your book “Sita’s curse” became a huge success. You have shared on a number of platforms how people approached you after reading the book. Would you like to share one of those experiences?
“Sita’s curse” brought a revolution. You know what, not just women but a lot of gay men approached me after the book and asked the question: Is desire only for women? Even men have desires. That was quite a revelation.
In one of your recent Facebook posts, you talked about writing a memoir. The post also talked about your childhood in Kolkata. Please share with us the fragments of nostalgia that you aim to conjure in the book.
Childhood nostalgia! Honestly, I am not a big believer in nostalgia and I think it is highly overrated. I mean people change over time and so do the places. Of course, it remains a fact that I grew up in Kolkata and I have lost many things in the city, including my love and my grandparents. The memoir is going to be about confronting the dark shadows of these unresolved feelings.
What would be your message to all the single women out there who are fighting the stigmas imposed by the society?
The society doesn’t pay your bills, doesn’t sit by your side when you are admitted to a hospital and doesn’t call you on a lonely night and thus, doesn’t need to be bothered about. Empower yourself, make your own mistakes, it’s okay and you don’t owe any explanations to anyone. Lastly, please don’t judge yourself using the standards employed by the society.
Here are some of the fearless narratives shared by Sreemoyee :
Leaf through her book for more.
First published on Apr 4, 2018.