The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 22, 2002

Meet the author
“If I had to write for a livelihood,
it would have killed my creativity”

Shinie AntonySHININE Antony is the regional winner from Asia of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Short-Story Award (2002). She won this award for her story A Dog’s Death. She also won the Commonwealth Short Story Award in 2001 for Somewhere In Gujarat. Her collection of short stories — Barefoot And Pregnant — has been recently published by Rupa. She spoke to Humra Quraishi in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:

The title of your collection of short stories — Barefoot And Pregnant seems misleading, in the sense that these stories go far beyond feet and pregnancies and the mundane. Comment.

Barefoot And Pregnant is a phrase that pokes fun at chauvinists who want their women barefoot (so that they are unable to socialise) and pregnant (helpless). Supposedly caring men mouth the phrase in different words. The title was in this context. It was also meant to provoke.

The plot of Darling Darling is sexual in nature and takes constant digs at middle class morality. Was this meant to be a provocation?

The sexual happenings in Darling Darling are incidental. Obviously, if a transvestite or a transsexual tied the conventional nuptial knot, there is bound to be curiosity as to the consummation. If you are asking me whether I was provoked into making those digs, then I don’t know.


There’s plenty of sex, sexuality and sensuality in your writings and yet it can’t be termed blatant. How would you describe your writings? Also how did your family react to the stories?

In fact, an earlier editor asked me to inject some more passion into the manuscript! I don’t think I have written about sex in a titillating way ever. It is confusing, tormenting, complex-inducing, even faintly repulsive, but not a pleasurable activity in my book. I’d like to think I don’t indulge in flights of fantasy but present somebody else’s truth. In my immediate family, my husband is my harshest critic and my dad my blindest fan.

To what extent have your personal experiences influenced your writings?

Though my stories are not autobiographical, I guess there is a bit of me in the descriptions. Mainly, story-writing is a kind of retelling. I try not to identify with the ‘I’, which is why Darling Darling, though written in first person, mocks self. Once you identify with the protagonists then sympathy overrides characterisation. So I probably take an event from my own life and then weave it with others’ events, words.

Do you think that the personal and the private affects the person’s psyche and so, to a certain extent, what the person writes?

Yes, I certainly, agree with that. Events make a deep impression on your mind when you are in your formative years, especially because a lot of adults are blind to the presence of small children and ramble out their innermost conflicts. Thus one has a dark aunt who bravely eschews fairness creams and then cries heart-brokenly into her pillow at night. As a dark child you learn that racism is politically incorrect by day but a secret shame by night. However, I must add that when I am depressed I am able to laugh at myself but when I am cheerful – like I am most of the time these days – I write morose stuff. I want to kick this habit.

You are in the midst of writing your first novel; does it follow the same pattern as your stories?

As a reader you are able to discern a pattern, but I am as yet unaware of one. And if there is one, oh God, I should break it! If you mean the pregnant part, then no, I have got it completely out of my system.

Many take to writing to fulfill an urge or fill up void or even to express what they generally can’t in everyday settings. Why did you give up a full-time career to take to writing?

Actually I was laid off kicking and screaming. BridgeNews closed down in Oct last and I was out of work. Around the time Rupa and Company gave my manuscript a nod and then I just never got back to a full-time job, what with the kiddie books and king-size laziness. When I wrote the stories that make up Barefoot And Pregnant I was working with The Economic Times and then The Financial Express.

Can a fiction writer in India survive on what he earns through writing? Are there any insecurities and pitfalls involved?

If a writer is enormously talented or receives a lot of media attention then why not? But if I was not shamelessly sponging off my dad and spouse, I’d be nibbling rusks. I haven’t really thought about this, but I guess I would be unable to write at all if writing was my livelihood. I have two small daughters and putting food into their mouths via my pen would have killed my creativity.

If you were given the choice which of the characters portrayed in your stories would you like to be?

I think the pregnant beggar woman in Bay-Bee, who ekes out a living through a mundane biological process. It appeals to my sense of drama and chronic laziness.