'I'm every woman, it's all in me'

'I'm every woman, it's all in me'

A chat with Krupa Ge whose debut novel poignantly explores feminism, identity struggles and everything in between in the Indian familial context.

What We Know About Her

We didn’t talk to each other about love, come to think of it, ever. We lived as if love had nothing to do with us, all of us, daughters, wives, aunts, grandmothers and grandaunts. We lived in a world where everything, like marriage, was arranged to cause the least confrontation between people.”

These words might resonate with many Indian woman, for behind each one is a hidden story that begs the question, ‘what do we really know about her’? In her debut novel, What We Know About Her, Krupa Ge writes about womanhood as experienced by three generations of women with a fresh feminist perspective. The book is centered around Yamuna, a young doctoral student searching for meaning in her life through the stories and apparent secrets of her maternal grandaunt and famous artiste, Lalitha; stories her family seems to want to leave undisturbed. In her quest to uncover exactly who her ancestor was, Yamuna discovers the answers to what it means to be a woman, back then and now.

The novel is built around the tenet of marriage in India and how it has evolved from an unquestionable transaction between elders to a fight for an independent journey of love, albeit besieged by familial expectations. She captures the identity struggle that every woman faces at some point in her life. To put it in Lalitha’s words, “What does dignity mean to us? Being a family woman, or being able to pursue art… Why can’t a woman decide for herself what she wants to be? Isn’t there space for all of us to do what we want to do in this new, independent India?”

Rich imagery

The author sets her story against the stunning backdrop of the rich imagery of Madras and Banaras, teeming with lyrical words in the vernacular and familiar South Indian visuals of crowded railway stations, hot coffee and Carnatic music. This is the quintessential book for any Indian who is being torn in different directions by their own ambitions, family and the desire to find love and make their own path. What We Know About Her is one woman’s answers to questions emerging out of the music of her ancestors’ past. Through the story of Yamuna and her grand aunt, the book poignantly inspects the heavy mantle of womanhood that is passed down from one daughter to the next.

Krupa Ge is a writer based in Chennai. In 2017, she won a Laadli Award for a weekly column on women in cinema. She feels her novel is for anyone looking for a certain kind of story — a bit of romance, a bit of nostalgia, some biting reality, and some amount of mystery. DHoS caught up with Krupa to answer a few questions on writing, feminism and inspiration. Excerpts from an interview

What inspired you to write this novel?

More than a decade ago, my mother told me a real-life story that stayed with me. The imagery, the way she described the events, I can replay it all in my head even now. It was the story of my grandmother’s wedding being fixed. It was beautiful but also very bittersweet in hindsight, for my grandmother was only 14 when she married. A child bride. I started to think about writing a romance set in the past after this, in the times of child brides.

What has shaped your outlook on womanhood and feminism?

Personal experiences, stories from and of the women in my life, the strong sense of sisterhood from women who’ve stood by me through these years, reading great women, knowing them… life itself.

If there’s one thing a reader could take away from the book what would you want it to be?

It’s not always possible to do the right thing, we are products of systems after all. But despite it all, it’s possible to make connections, to push the boundaries that are separating us, one step at a time. It’s okay to ruffle feathers. ‘Bad girls’ aren’t so bad.

What or who do you look to for inspiration when you sit down to write?

When I am writing, I am not really thinking of inspiration. That is more an act of creating, of grappling with the empty page, a process with its own rhythms. But I am inspired by women who write whatever it is that they want to write about. Bama, Jamaica Kincaid, Anita Desai, Mieko Kawakami... this list is very long.

What is your hope for mainstream feminist literature?

My hope is that the brilliant women writing across languages in India will be able to make a living from writing. Right now breaking even as a writer, as a woman writer, seems impossible.