Saturday, December 18, 2010

kishwar desai

An Interview with Lady Kishwar Desai – Journalist & Author

As the world sets its eyes on the International Women’s day, marked every year on 8th March, It gives us an opportunity to look back and reflect on the contribution of women – the backbone of our society. Women hold a very important place in the Hindu mythology as the three main elements of a human’s life – power, wealth & knowledge are personified by Goddesses, viz, Durga – Embodiment of Power, Saraswati – Embodiment of Knowledge & Lakshmi – Embodiment of Wealth.

An old saying goes – “Strong women make strong nation” and it is very relevant in the present day world. In a conversation with Mrs. Kishwar Desai, a famous journalist, author and wife of Lord Meghnad Desai, Member, House of Lords, she talks us through her early life, career and her views on various issues affecting women all over the world today.
1. What made you decide upon joining this field of work?
I have been working in media now for now more than 25 years—as a journalist, TV producer, anchor, TV channel head and now author. I always wanted to write and was also fascinated by the visual medium. So I suppose I found the right medium by first joining TV—and now by writing about cinema whenever I can.
2. Tell us briefly something about yourself and your background.
I grew up in India –went to nearly 10 different schools because my father was in the police. He was (and still is) incorruptible and so irate politicians would transfer him around frequently. I studied economics in college –but realised it was not for me. I got an early break first with the Indian Express and Femina. Soon I was making UGC documentaries, and then joined NDTV. I remained in TV for a long time—till I came to the UK, and settled down to write my first book, Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt. The wonderful response to the book has made me into a full-time writer!
3. As a British Indian/Asian/Indian woman have you ever faced discrimination in your field of work which is principally male dominated?
I have to say that I always felt I have been very lucky that I was born a woman—and it has always been a help and not a hindrance. I have never been discriminated against—and I always received a great deal of encouragement in every organisation I worked with. In one of my first jobs, for instance, in Femina, my boss the wonderful Vimla Patil hired me even though I was five months pregnant! I think if you work hard and honestly—you can have a successful and very enjoyable career, even as a woman, and especially in the media industry.
4. Do you think in Britain work ethics/environment for Indian women are equal as for Caucasian men and women?
To be honest, I have never worked here in an office environment. But I am, by and large, very impressed by the great amount of attention paid to equality in the work place. The environment is extremely ‘politically correct’ and I think the Government takes a keen interest in the workplace. There will always be individual cases where discrimination may have occurred—but I think the present generation of Asians will not tolerate any injustice as they have a great sense of self respect and are as well educated ( if not better) than their Western counterparts.
5. What is your opinion about forced marriage and honour killing?
It is obviously terrible that both forced marriages and honour killings still exist, and women are often the innocent victims targeted and cruelly treated by their own families. It happens in Asia and unfortunately, it even happens in the UK, as people bring both the good and the evil traditions with them, when they migrate. However, whilst in India these incidents get reported cursorily and then disappear—the media coverage of these crimes in the UK is enormous and there are also organisations which actually help the victims –if they survive. Therefore, one hopes that at least in the UK, things may change—and that Asian families will learn to value their women as much as they value their men.
6. According to your opinion what is the most special essence in a woman? How would you celebrate that essence in a woman on 8th of March 2009?
Every woman has many special strengths so it will be difficult to pinpoint just one quality—but I suppose the most precious essence of being a woman is to be a ‘caring’ human being. Often this quality is suppressed in the struggle to survive. So, to celebrate that quality on International Women’s Day—I would ask women to show that they care –about their families, and especially about their little girls. I would request them to start a global campaign against female foeticide, which is an enormous problem in India.

Talking of Darling  ji
Kishwar Desai has come up with “Darlingji”, a biography of Nargis and Sunil Dutt. ZIYA US SALAM speaks to her
Photo: R.V. Moorthy 

a Delicate weave Kishwar Desai’s husband Meghnad Desai (left) wrote the indroduction of her book
A few years of research on Nargis and Sunil Dutt, and Kishwar Desai cannot stop smiling. There is a reason: the editor-turned-author is the cynosure of all eyes, busy with photo shoots, launch parties and the like. All for the book “Darlingji: The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt” that she has painstakingly put together with an introduction by her husband, the one and only Lord Meghnad Desai. In fact, it was the husband with whom she intended to write a biography of Nargis, of course with help of Sunil Dutt.
Soaking in all the attention, Kishwar says, “I did not realise that I was such a shy person. I have just discovered I am such a nervous person. I will learn and be ready when the next book comes out.” The next book, on Saadat Hasan Manto, will take time. For the moment, all the attention is on Nargis and Sunil Dutt, who were just paid a pictorial tribute by their daughters Namrata and Priya Dutt.
Isn’t it too much of the same?
“I wanted to do justice to Sunil and Nargis Dutt. I wanted an authentic biography, not just a hagiography. Nobody wants to be honest, nobody wants to say the truth. I was lucky that Dutts were straightforward and open. Both the books were planned at the same time. There was so much material that Sunil Dutt had collected meticulously over the years. I wanted to write a long, proper biography, the other is a pictorial book only on their parents…There were certain things Namrata and Priya did not want to talk about for understandable reasons. I had to be an objective biographer. I wanted to give the highs and low, tribulations and triumphs. I wanted to give the picture and story of India through their story.”
Mother India
The book was released to coincide with the 50 years of Mother India – it was released on October 25, 1957.
“Nobody is talking of Mother India now but it is my own way to celebrate. In the book what comes through is Nargis is at the film’s premiere missing Sunil Dutt who is in Mandoli…how she wishes she were there. I have tried to figure out the stormy relationship between the two. I am full of admiration for Sunil, he was a progressive man in his own way but surrounded by many others. So he felt overwhelmed. The media was being nasty, people were pressuring him. He was a man of conviction, had his own fears, but talked it through with his to-be wife. The period needs to be put into perspective…Sunil Dutt’s was the normal insecurity of a man. He would have felt nervous, people would have said that he was taking advantage of her. It all had a happy ending.”
So, Kishwar has talked about Sunil Dutt’s fears when she was a top star, and he was just a beginner. She has also talked about the insecurities of Nargis’s brothers. As also her much-talked about association with R.K. Films. Uncomfortable territories all. But nowhere has she encroached upon human sensitivities. “I have been dispassionate without being insensitive. I did not want to sensationalise. We must respect people who have been through so much. All of us go through pain. We must not inflict it.” Soothing words, simply said.

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