Modern Indian Retelling of Jane Austen

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Moving to Gurgaon from Kolkata gave Debeshi Gooptu the culture shock of her life. Our readers’ favourite author was a business journalist who moved into the infamous neighbourhoods of Gurgaon in the 90’s. And to make sense of the swanky world with Punjabi ‘mirchis’ around her she started writing a blog. Her blog Gurgaon Diaries got many hits and writing quickly turned into her passion. The character of Dragon Aunty, from one her most loved stories Dragon Aunty Returns, was born out of one such blog post. Her delicious stories are totally relatable and a witty take on the flashy world of Delhi NCR. Readers are finishing her latest book, Mr Eashwar’s Daughter based on Jane Austen’s timeless classic Persuasion, in just one sitting! 

Now you may be wondering, don’t we have too many Austen-inspired stories already? Yes, we might. However, Mr Eashwar’s Daughter is a modern retelling like no other. Endearing characters, relatable storylines with a hint of that Bengali touch make it all the more wonderful. It is a lovely mix of old world charm and the current changing times. Debeshi had never thought of writing a book till she moved cities. “I wish I had more time to write! I have a day job at a digital marketing agency and I do all my writing at night.” she says. This week we spoke to her about adapting Jane Austen for Indian readers and here’s what she had to say :

Q. What is your earliest memory of reading Jane Austen’s books?

D: I’d read Pride and Prejudice when I was eight years old. My father had just passed away and a generous friend of my sister’s had loaned me a collection of books and comics to help me deal with the pain of losing a parent. In the pile was an abridged version of Austen’s classic, dog-eared with big lettering and black and white sketches. I loved it. I was always slightly precocious for my age, the youngest of three siblings, and the story of a mother trying to get her three daughters hitched to wealthy husbands appealed to me. 

Q. How is the 18th Century English world of Jane Austen like the 21st century India that we live in? And what are the differences?

D: Come to think of it, there’s not much difference between the world of Jane Austen and the world that we inhabit. If you transport any of her characters to the present, they would fit in quite well. Her plots revolve around women, marriage, dysfunctional families, money troubles, greed, pride and inherent biases. Aren’t these the sort of things we come across daily? That’s the reason Austen’s appeal has stretched across centuries. 

Q.  Persuasion is one of Austen’s lesser known novels. Why did you choose it as your inspiration?

D: Both my editor and I picked Persuasion because it had a lot of drama which would translate well in the modern context. Besides her popular novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility have been done to death in terms of adaptations. Persuasion is relatively untouched in that sense. So it was a challenge. It took me three months to write the novel. While there have been many retellings of this particular tale, I didn’t read a single one of them. I wanted to stay true to Austen and write the story in my own way keeping the modern milieu as a backdrop.

Q. Why did you pick Jane Austen? Don’t you think she is overdone? There are several other authors who wrote in different time periods. What made you choose her work?

D: To be honest, it was more my editor’s idea to rewrite Austen than mine. Having said that, Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors so I would have probably picked her anyway. We did consider several other authors but in the end, Austen won. My version takes the readers through North Bengal (Siliguri & Jalpaiguri), Kolkata, Gurgaon, Dharamsala and Mcleodganj – towns and cities which are special to me. There’s music, tea, doomed relationships, quirky parents and second chances. Not just that, the protagonist is named after legendary singer Freddy Mercury. In my novel, Commander Frederick Wentworth is reborn as Farrokh “Freddy” Wadhera.

Q. What can Jane Austen’s stories and Mr Eashwar’s Daughter teach us about love?

D: I think the main message in all of Austen’s novels for me is that no matter what the odds are, love always triumphs in the end. Quite clear that she did believe in second chances.

Read all her stories here. 





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