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Arunima Maharshi

IWB Blogger

Writer Tanushree Podder On Authoring Military Books And Life Of An Army Wife

  • IWB Post
  •  August 14, 2019

Think of the the last time you read an “army book” that was authored by a woman and which didn’t just take you into facts and wars, but also gave you an insight into the ‘more human-less superhero’ aspects of the army officials’ lives. Any that you can recall?

Writer of more than twenty books, an avid traveller et travel writer, and an army wife, Tanushree Podder has authored three of her nine novels on the Indian Army, addressing the said subject, and how!

Already garnering a lot of attention, her recently published book, No Margin For Error: A Tale of Bravery and Brotherhood set in the Indian Armyis a follow-up to her first two army novels, Boots, Belts, Berets and On the Double. And as Tanushree disclosed to us, the two will soon be adapted into a web series by Viacom18 Studios. Now how amazing is that!

Our conversation started on the note of Tanushree’s love for writing, and how life helped transpire her passion for travelling, gradually moving on to her speaking about leading the life of an army wife, and the strong bond she shares with her husband, and, a lot more.

“Being an army wife, while I did have my own observations, but to write a book about the lives of NDA (National Defence Academy) cadets, only a cadet can tell you about the little things and the experience of training, and it wouldn’t have been possible without his contribution,” shared Tanushree while talking about her husband.

Tanushree Podder

Having read so much about the love you have for writing, the question that I have on the top of my mind is, where did it all start from?

I have been writing for donkey’s years now, as a freelancer journalist, as a travel writer; it was a hobby that turned into profession. Marrying an army officer, I couldn’t continue with my HR job afterwards, so writing and later authoring books, it happened as a natural progression.

And next in order is your passion for travelling, which, as it is believed, connects one with oneself; how has it contributed to your writing self?

I think it is genetic, my love for travel; my father was a big time traveller. Also, marrying to a defense officer, we were always on the move, living in different cities, meeting new people. Later you tend to become restless when at one place for too long. And though I hadn’t thought initially, but I got to cover a lot of countries abroad, too. When you travel, you grow as a writer, as a human being. As they say, travel is the best teacher; it adds new dimensions to your personality, to your writing.

Your husband’s army background strengthened the foundation of your army-based novels; tell us a little more about his equation with your writing career?

In my opinion, Indian women find it difficult to pursue a career unless there is support of the family. Writing, which is so much about observation, needs you to isolate from the everyday and mundane, and for that to be possible, family has to be supportive. And I am very thankful to have my husband as my strongest support, and for him to have played an active role in my writing career, too. Being an army wife, while I did have my own observations, but to write a book about the lives of NDA (National Defence Academy) cadets, only a cadet can tell you about the little things and the experience of training, and it wouldn’t have been possible without his contribution.

Tanushree Podder

Tanushree with husband, Ajoy Podder

Tanushree and her husband, Ajoy, have also co-authored a book on climate, titled ‘Decoding The Feronia Files’.

I have read that your books focus on the “human” side of the lives of army officials, and not just the hardships and conflicts that they are surrounded with.  

Most books that you find in this genre would be dry and factual, unless there is a mention of death of soldiers, which evokes emotions in the reader. When we think of army officials, we picture strong and valiant characters, but like any of us, there exist a human side of them, too. They also go through joys and fears, experience sorrows, suffer heartbreaks; my books take readers to all those corners of their superhero lives.

Do you think a female author’s voice holds a distinct significance in representing a genre like that of military books?

Yes, indeed. A woman’s perspective and view makes a difference. My first army novel, Boots Belts Berets, is the story of a group of 16-year-old boys, who have just begun their lives at the NDA. Where while they go through a tough training regime, but it does not take away their exuberance, that pump of adrenaline, which they possess by the virtue of being teens. And so amidst training, like other kids of their age, they, too, indulge in mischief, steal moments of fun; and that is where my focus lay, to present a complete and real picture of young cadets.

Did you get to interact with NDA cadets and officials post the book releases? How was their response?

After Boots Belts Berets’ release, I was invited for a talk at the Indian Military Academy; it is rare for them to invite a woman speaker. In the interactive session, one of the cadets asked me if it was actually true – the instances and incidents that I wrote about in the book, do they actually happen in reality? One of their seniors later came on stage and addressed them on it; he said, everything in the book is true and relatable. Later I also got to interact with the NDA cadets at the Pune Literature Festival.

Tanushree Podder

Tanushree with NDA cadets at the Pune Literature Festival

Interestingly, that day one of the cadets also asked me if/when I were to write a book about them. [Tanushree’s second army-book, On The Double, takes the readers to IMA.] 

What are some of the challenges and biases that come with being a wife to an army man – a little insight into your world? 

Well there’s a lot to it, and the family experiences it from very close; I remember all the times when my husband would be called in the valley, it used to be a tough time back home. I think the contribution of army wives remains unsung; she is that pillar that makes it possible for the husband to be able to leave for the front, and to be at peace in mind.

People only see the glitter of army lives, the on the surface facts that we get to live in lovely houses and cantonments, but the hardships remain invisible. When the husband is posted in fields and you have to act as a single mother, solely responsibility of everything, yet remain smiling and cheery throughout, it requires a lot of mental and emotional strength. And when war occurs, the families experience living death every single day.

One can only imagine. So while plotting characters for the stories, did you find the scope of introducing strong women characters, too? 

In the first book, there were no such women characters, except for in the imagination of the boys, and a few instructors, and so the need of developing the characters did not arise. In the second one, too, it was almost a similar case. However in the third and recent, No Margin For Error, there are instances when one of the two main characters remembers and talks of his wife, sharing about her situation, her emotions, which to a certain extent brings out women’s agony. But yes, except for the light love story I wrote about a young girl who falls in love with an army officer, I am yet to explore a women’s perspective in the army setup through my writing. 

We look forward. And lastly, you talked in one of your earlier interviews about finding gender discrimination in the literary world as irksome; would you want to share with us of any personal experience in that regard?  

There have been many; when I first stepped into the field, I had to meet a lot of challenging attitudes, deal with skepticism, and then also when I moved from fiction to other genres. The reaction, that as women you might not be able to deal with certain things, is very discouraging. And though now a lot of women have entered the fields of writing and publishing, but I feel that we are yet to get our due share.

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