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January 09, 2018

‘This Book Is More Like A Free-Flowing Conversation With Readers’: Shobhaa De On ‘Seventy…And To Hell With It!’

Text by Tina Dastur

What better way to celebrate turning 70 than penning a book on your life that sees you fondly looking back at the innumerable experiences that shaped it? Shobhaa De has done exactly that with Seventy…and to hell with it!

One of the most accurate indicators of ageing is, believe it or not, toenails — even over greying hair and crow’s feet. Just ask Shobhaa De, who turned 70 earlier this month. One could emphatically say that age is just a number to the livewire writer, who is more concerned about wanting to ‘go to Buenos Aires and learn how to tango with a tall, graceful, ponytailed stranger; eat figs in Tuscany; wade into moonlit waters in Goa, Andrea Bocelli singing just for me; and wear jasmine in my hair and watch apsaras dance at Konarak’.

Penguin Books’ Seventy…and to hell with it!, which released in December last year, is De’s dialogue with herself, as she reminisces about her life and ruminates on diverse topics and themes that range from family, marriage and relationships to personal space and social media. Peppered with personal anecdotes, De’s book is witty and honest, and she unapologetically confesses that it’s about no one but herself. It is her way of sharing the ‘why not’ moments in her life and offering pearls of wisdom on how to navigate life’s tricky turns. After all, as she admits, her philosophy on life is simple — ‘Pyaar do. Pyaar lo’. Tucked away within the pages of this book are nuggets of learnings and advice from someone who’s been there and who only wishes to give love and get love. After all, she asserts, ‘Nothing else is needed!’

Excerpts from an interaction with the author:

On what inspired her to write the book “I am privileged to be alive and kicking at 70. Reason enough. Also, the sobering thought that in an earlier generation, for a woman to survive at all at this age, was a challenge and an achievement. For my contemporaries and me, that is a sobering thought. We must make the most of life and its many opportunities.”

On Seventy…and to hell with it! “This book is more like a free-flowing conversation with readers. You can open it at any page and keep going back and forth. The structure is completely different.”

On ageing “Mentally, I feel like my 17-year-old self! Alas, my body tells me to shut up and get real! There are visible and invisible physical changes to come to terms with. That’s tough. I often attempt an impossible physical feat when I am travelling, and have to remind myself it is no longer an option.”

On what the book has done for her “Writing the book has been cathartic and liberating! I found myself shrugging off so many idiotic notions and beliefs, while revisiting them. I am feeling so much lighter! We hang on to too much stuff — possessions and memories. At some point, the debris must be cleared.”

On the passion for her craft “It remains undiminished. So does my output. I still write 1,200 to 2,000 words daily; I still experience a thrill with each new book. I write every column as though it is my first — even after writing them for 45 years. That is the unadulterated joy of writing. Unlike in the field of the performing arts, where you are judged harshly by your physical appearance, a writer speaks through his/her words.”

On her advice to the next generation “Well, it’s hard to pick just one piece of advice. But I would say, to young people reading the book — remember, you will get to this age yourself someday. Don’t dismiss the elderly. There is much to emulate. Don’t be harsh and cruel — those two senior citizens could be your parents! And don’t take youth for granted — before you know it, it’s over!”

On regrets “Since I am not Frank Sinatra singing My Way, I have to say I had several chota (small) regrets. Nothing that paralysed me emotionally, but just pinched a little! I am philosophical and reasonably detached. I don’t hang on to baggage. What’s over, is over. Next!”

On playing to the audience “I am not a restaurant. I am a writer! There is no menu to choose from —
just this one book. I write when I have something to say. I write to express myself. Like a painter paints. That’s it. Of course, it’s a rewarding and comforting feeling when a book finds its own readers. Without readers, there’d be no books!”

On how the book helped her to understand herself better “It has been a vastly enriching experience. I loved writing the tough parts. And I found myself crying a few times as I keyed in my feelings. That has been my biggest reward. I reconnected with myself after a very long gap!”

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