Juggernaut writing platform’s editor’s pick of the week is The Girl on the Road by Shuma Rana.
A well-known journalist, Shuma Raha writes columns for Business Standard, Gulf News, The Quint, etc. In The Girl on the Road, she channels her years of experience as a journalist to unveil the uncomfortable truths of our comfortable lives. She has also published the English translation of the Bengali novel Haate Bajaare by Bonophul. Her debut collection of short stories, The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories, was published last year.
The 2012 Delhi Gang Rape Case shook the capital and its aftermath witnessed widespread condemnation of sexual assault, concern over the safety of women as well as a discussion over our attitude towards women. Shuma Raha’s voice cuts through these cries, and with her sharp observant eye, she uncovers the culture that sustains it. With people absorbed in their selfish race to success, there is also the culture of superficial concern towards issues such as rape. Crimes happen, people protest and then carry on with their comfortable lives. The story is a disturbing reveal of people and their real motivations.
In the story, Raha asks a critical question – what happens when a rape is not merely an account in the newspaper, but calls you to action? What happens if you come across a girl on the road at night?
You can read this scathing critique of middle class apathy here.
Your story is Editor’s Pick of the Week. Please tell us more about it and its inspiration.
The Girl on the Road is set in Gurgaon and it plays out against the backdrop of India’s horrific rape problem. The story is about the hypocrisy and selfishness that we often see amongst urban, upper middle class Indians. It throws light on the choices that we sometimes make in the pursuit of our safe, aspirational lives — choices about loving and leaving that show us for what we really are. So it’s also funny in parts, because it exposes people.
I guess the story germinated in my mind because of the innumerable incidents of rape that one reads about in the newspapers every day. I wanted to pit that brutal social reality against people who lead smug, comfortable lives.
Do you have any particular rules or rituals you follow as a writer?
I try to put in some hours of writing every day. I try to read a little every day. It doesn’t happen always. But that’s the goal.
What got you interested in becoming a writer? Where do you go for inspiration?
Well, I’ve been a journalist for many years, so I suppose I was always keen on writing. But fiction writing is a different ball game, and for a long time I merely wished to write fiction — I didn’t know if I could. For a long time I didn’t have the courage or conviction to even try.
For any writer, life is the best inspiration.
What’s that one piece written by you, which is your all-time favourite?
The Girl on the Road is definitely the all-time favourite so far!
Your bestselling authors and books list. Why do they make it to your list?
When I was growing up, I used to love reading thrillers by James Hadley Chase, Sidney Sheldon and Ken Follett. Thankfully, my tastes have matured slightly since then! The bestselling authors I go back to again and again now are John Updike, Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rabindranath Tagore (in Bangla) and many others. Oh, and not to sound too pompous, at times Shakespeare too. The particular books are too numerous to list.
These bestselling literary fiction authors make it to my list for manifold reasons: sometimes it’s for the sheer brilliance of their language and craft, sometimes it’s for the smashing good stories they tell, and often it is because they have the power to depict the incredible variety and complexities of human relationships, emotions, and life in general.
Any writing tips you’d like to share with fellow writers?
Keep a certain time every day for your writing. Be zealous about protecting that time from every other distraction. And read — read the greats, the not-so-greats, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama… I do feel that it’s your reading that determines the quality of your writing.