How Giving Birth To A Daughter Made Author Shubhangi Swarup Fearless
- IWB Post
- March 28, 2023
Being able to travel the world from the comfort of your reading space is a gift that only a book can give you. Getting lost in time zones and spaces far removed from our own is the supreme form of escapism and pleasure that reading can allow a person.
Shubhangi Swarup’s debut and Emile Award-winning novel ‘Latitudes of Longing’ is an extremely expansive work geographically that will walk you through the islands of Andaman and Nicobar, snow deserts and valleys in India. A universe in its own, the book finely weaves together nature and humans in four interconnected stories. The novel addresses important issues related to conservation and the environment. Enabling the readers to breathe in distinct worlds, Subhangi opens up about her journey of architecting this world and its unique characters.
“During my travels, I realized that we all are fiction and that our experiences are fiction. Growing up, I had specific literary influences, but today, I feel that everyone I come across has a unique story to tell and I need to listen to it attentively. From an opium farmer, women in dance bars to political prisoners in Myanmar, I came across people from all walks of life and found the most meaningful stories in them,” says Swarup who likes to call herself a story-listener instead of a storyteller.
Traveling had always come naturally to Shubhangi, who had worked as an award winning journalist and hence toured to various remote areas. From Ladakh borders to villages with no electricity, she made a little nook for herself everywhere to give important ground reports. While going to distinct lands and creating stories is often romanticized, Shubhangi shatters all those rose-tinted glasses with which we look at travel literature. She honestly reflects on the gendered struggles of traveling as a writer.
“I was accosted and often harassed on the streets. I could not even understand what some of the derogatory remarks even meant. But, for a long time, I gave a sanitized version of the journey in the press because I felt my experiences were inevitable as a woman. After giving birth to my daughter, a thought struck me that I would have to tell her about the impossibility of being a free woman in this world – and that was absolutely shattering. It was then that I decided to change the narrative of my experiences and tell my true story. I didn’t have to carry that weight.” Shubhangi admits that she found courage when she saw young girls taking charge and speaking up against the wrongs done to them at workspaces during #MeToo movement.
The sexism and patriarchy that Shubhangi experienced as a writer extended beyond the personal front and became institutional as it seeped into the publishing houses, an establishment that plays an influential role in shaping the career of an author. Shubhangi revealed that in European markets it was very difficult to challenge the publishers over the cover decided for her book. Her work has been translated in 17 languages, but she feels that sometimes the chosen cover did not align with what the books stood for and hence some meaning was often lost.
Despite these struggles, Shubhangi feels that the process of writing is extremely fulfilling. What makes the process worthwhile to her is the chance to breathe life into her characters and explore them in depth. “I inhabit all my characters and I feel everything they feel. When it was time to draft the death of one of my characters, I specifically asked my husband to be patient with me as it became a tough experience for me. I like to explore problematic people, understand the roots of their discomfort, so writing about them is always liberating and cathartic,” says Shubhangi.
Talking about developing a career in writing, Shubhangi also reflects on self-doubt and failures. She admits that deep down she always wanted to write but certain things and notions held her back until she could not contain her imagination any longer. “An Msc in Violence, Conflict and Development does not really align very well, but I am glad that I could find a way back to my childhood passion,” says Swarup, thus demonstrating that there are certain ideas we can never shake off, no matter how far we venture away from them, and those ideas are definitely worth pursuing. She also highlights how the journey of being a writer is never linear, and it is not a cut and dry process. Everyone has a unique writing journey that comes with its fair share of failures.
“I was often discouraged from writing by my literature teachers and one of them also tried prohibiting me from taking a subject because I was perceived to be unfit for articulation and writing. During a creative writing competition in my college, I bagged the first position, which left my teachers in utter surprise,” shares Swarup, who feels grateful about not succumbing to the views of the world about her work and going on with her calling. “This book, for which I invested around eight years, is the greatest gift that I have given to myself,” sings off Shubhangi Swarup.
Written by- Tripti Moolchandani