“I disconnected suddenly and crashed into bed. My body felt heavy. My legs hurt. My whole life seemed like a mistake. The tick-tock of the table clock grated on my consciousness. I pulled the pillow over my head, wrapped the blanket around me tightly and curled my body into the foetal position. It was time to go back into the silence of the womb, one had cried enough…”
Anamika, the protagonist, intelligent, inquisitive and an emotional wreck with a string of broken relationships hurriedly stashed into the past, was in dire need of an anchor, to reposeher aching mind, body and soul in the tender yet strong arms of a man who will not only embalm her wilting spirit with his passionate embrace but also strum the strings of her heart with nimble fingers and at the same time satiate her mind with his titivating intellect. Will she find her soulmate? Or will she give in to the charming candour of her very-much-married-long-distance friend, Uday, who was hell bent on exploring her as a woman? Or will she remain in self-delusion forever contented exploring those treacherous arenas of platonic togetherness wherein the minds of men and women welded with tempting promises of illusory seductions and fairy-tale-homecoming (read finale)?
Unhooked in one word unsettled me with its unconventionality, brazen sweep and blatant expositions!!! It spoke of men and women bonding and breaking off in a journey chartered by contemporary and conflicting influences.Even after deep delving and prolonged musings Anamika baffled me. I wanted to understand her and her sexually virile, best friend Mohini and her suave pursuer Uday who stalked her relentlessly from afar. Too many questions riddling the mind of the reader and the one who could solve the puzzle were the authoress herself.So, in all forthrightness, I suggested an interview cautioning her that it would be akin to a threadbare dissection of the novel itself. And you know what, the spunky lady agreed graciously.
So here goes the volley of questions which I darted at her punctuated by herunhurried and poised replies which not only cleared all my doubts but also enriched me with the novelty of a perspective, hitherto, eluding me:
Me: Let’s start with the title of the book – “Unhooked” indicates an unshackled existence. Did you intend your characters to find liberation amidst a torrid avalanche of steamy lust?
MG: No, as I saw it, through her final liaison with Uday, Anamika finally gets liberated from her own deep fears about sex and comes to understand it better. The new knowledge, gained through actual experience, empowers her to face the world of men on a stronger footing.
Me: Anamika, the protagonist of your novel, is a seeker, a bit lost, not very confident about her own self, unsure and indecisive when it comes to tutoring emotions. Do you see many Anamikas in gen now?
MG:For sure, you can find Anamikas everywhere today. Once we women reject the traditional role assigned to us, we are on our own. And we are bound to experience emotions like confusion and insecurity, as much as excitement and powerfulness, as we chart out our own distinctive destinies.
Me:Mohini is more earthy, gutsy, worldly-wise, ambitious. Do you see two confronting personas in her – one, a doting, caring mother and two, a highly sensuous, sexually volatile woman?
MG: Yes, like any of us, Mohini combines so many personas within her. I have known many women who possess both strong maternal instincts and sexual instincts, and strive to fulfill both.
Me :How will you define Uday – an artful villain or a consummate lover?
MG: I don’t see Uday as a villain, but as a real contemporary man, a great artist, with his own fetishes and weaknesses. His honesty is becoming. He is candid about his lust for Anamika and does not delude her at any point with any false promises and avowals of love. But yes, he provokes thought on the male sex-drive and what sex means to men. I see him really as an artist who wants to stretch the limits of sensual pleasure (like his art, i.e., his music) and feels Anamika may be a suitable partner. If he pursues her doggedly, that’s because he is perseverant by nature, a quality that has helped him to hone his art and achieve excellence as a musician.
Me: Against the backdrop of a society wherein sex is still very much taboo, we see a woman brazenly trespassing and avidly exploring a debarred terrain – her sexual identity (read urge). How did you conceptualize this theme into a novel?
MG:I had actually conceived UNHOOKED as an exploration of the theme of intellectual mating between the sexes in today’s metros and its repercussions. For I see a lot of that happening around me – a man and a woman talking zestily, one developing feelings while the other is content to talk, desires clashing and finally a painful or perhaps amicable separation of ways. The question is can a woman who is emotionally unattached, enjoy regular intellectual intimacy with a member of the opposite sex and disregard her natural bodily needs. I wished to explore this dilemma through Anamika. How far can you go with these uni-dimensional relationships? How long can you keep sex out of the picture if you are going to engage with the opposite sex? The instinct to touch is natural, beautiful, and perhaps our most primordial urge. How long can you deny it? I felt these were important issues that had to be addressed in this era of free mixing of the sexes.
Me: “Intellectualization of emotions is a territory monopolized by men” – Like to speak for or against the motion?
MG: I can speak only for modern, urban women and I think they analyse their emotions even more than men do. Perhaps, because mostly a woman has more to lose. Given the fact that humans are capable of reason, both men and women do deliberate the steps they take even in love, in the interests of survival. But women are conditioned to be more cautious and have to think harder than men about where their relationships are going. I believe women spend far more time analyzing and discussing their personal relationships than men. Yes, a woman may allow her heart to still rule over her head, but it does not mean that she is not aware of her condition and has not dissected it threadbare.
Me:You have cleverly dissected two very mixed up dimensions understanding and yearning for sex. The latter hugely underrated (especially in women) and the former largely overlooked. Did you feel uncomfortable doing so at any point of time?
MG:No, not exactly uncomfortable but it was very important for me to bring home the point that disconnected sex, i.e., sex without real emotional content, even if based on mutual consent, can be hugely dissatisfying and leave a lingering bad taste.
The male mindset may find it difficult to appreciate, or understand for that matter, the distinction between a woman’s emphasis on understanding the act and longing for the same. While Mohini, who is keenly alive to carnal pleasures readily jumps in and out of physical pursuits and feeds her sex appetite , Anamika is more sedate and cautious in her approach, and is not ready to accept intimacy without an emotional connect.
Me: “Men won’t accept slackness from women today like my father accepted mom with her unwaxed arms and legs…A woman needs a man …And you must take your body seriously…”
“Were there any laws specifying the age below which it’d be a crime to take a child for waxing”.
The physicality of co-habitation is grossly overrated. Would you like to underscore the point?
MG:Yes, it is grossly overrated. Be it media, cinema or advertisement, this constant harp on a beautiful body is an exaggerated and artificial hype. A woman is just not a body alone. She is much more than that. The physicality in a man-woman relationship, likewise, is an orientation which takes time to evolve. Sex is a sacred thread binding two beings – it entails a deep exchange of emotions and transference of positive energy.
Me: Anamika, the emotionally charged idealist chasing a mirage, Anamika, the detached spectator brutally critical of her own self and you, the writer, probing, prodding and pondering over Anamika’s fate. Where does the threesome intersect?
MG: Human personality is multi-dimensional. Anamika, the involved seeker and Anamika the detached onlooker are two sides of a single persona. Humans are an emotion-driven species. Rationalization is more of an afterthought for us. Similarly, a lot of me has gone into Anamika, but so have many of my other friends – bit of all of us. So it will not be right to say Anamika is me. This finally is fiction.
Me: “Unhooked” is a peripheral statement on women’s liberation. Dodge…
MG:My intent was to tell an honest story highlighting those aspects of contemporary times which have hitherto not been spoken about. In doing so, I have not attempted at any generalization which can be termed as a statement.
Me: You have said, “…men find ‘Unhooked’ a difficult terra…” Elaborate.
MG:I said that in retrospect, based on the reactions I got from male readers and my male friends. Like recently, noted film director VinodPande said that ‘’The book UNHOOKED can make men feel guilty.” Some male readers commented that the men in my novel had been shown in a weak or unflattering light. This came as a kind of surprise or revelation to me. For I did not think so while I was writing the novel. Both Shekhar and Uday, the two central male characters have many good qualities and strengths, the reason why Anamika is drawn to them in the first place, and if they fall short of her expectations, it’s because they are unfortunately human and so have their own share of weaknesses. I still do not regard either Shekhar or Uday as weak men, I see them as ‘real’ men with their own individual drives and limitations, different from our conventional, goodie-goodie heroes of Bollywood.
Me:“Mind-mating” is the lavish leisure of the neo-urban. Agree?
MG:Yes, definitely. And if both the parties are already rooted in good marriages/relationships with other partners, they can enjoy it too. But yes, there’s always a risk in mind-mating; you can never tell when it will go beyond the minds. Most man-woman relationships remain platonic in actual life, but not in the minds.
Me: Do you stand guilty of de-mythicizing women?
MG:My women are more human and relatable. They are real and inspired by those whom I have met and interacted with in my life. Different from the all-enduring, enigmatic, restrained and composed women we find especially in classical literature. I have tried to bring forth what goes on in the women’s minds behind those façades of cool composure and enviable restraint. I chose the trope of the first person monologue to help develop a more intimate equation with both the characters and my readers.
Yes, in that sense, you can say I have de-mythicized women but not guilty of the same. 🙂
Me: Marriage as an institution has lost its sanctity. Yes/No with reason.
MG:I would say, not exactly, but it is definitely under threat. The occasional flippancy that marriages have come to accommodate definitely endangers its foundation. Yet, I have also seen couples striving hard to make their marriages last, ignoring these impulsive foibles, which in itself is a sure sign that all is not lost.
Me: Platonic love or passionate love?
MG: As a person, I would definitely go for a complete relationship.
Me: Which one do you prefer – Anamika zealously guarding her turf orAnamika giving in to curiosity and temptation?
MG:Anamika zealously guarding her turf is ideal, Anamika giving in to curiosity and temptation is more realistic. I prefer both as they make Anamika complete and human.
Me:You have wrenched sex out of the closet. You have been sinfully candid about love and lust. You have disclosed the dark secrets hitherto safely ensconced in a woman’s heart and mind. How difficult was that, being a woman, yourself? What have been the reactions of your friends and foes to your bare-it-all perspective?
MG:Writing those sex scenes was a challenge, but when I did it, I knew that I had managed to put down something significant. I was satisfied with them and I am rarely satisfied with my writing. Like most artists, I tend to be overly self-critical. At one point, I had feared that the critic in me wouldn’t let the creator survive. Anyway, thankfully that stage is past. Coming to reactions, you know, Geeta, I have Face Book messages from girls who have confessed that Unhooked reads like their life-story, that the novel retells what they have gone or are going through. As for my male readers and friends, most of them have been rather disturbed by the book, though they have all admitted to finding it gripping and indeed haunting. One male reader told me that actually most men also go through the kind of experiences Anamika undergoes, in their quest for love, but only men don’t easily speak about these.
Me: Anamika succumbing to Uday is a let-down…a mindset you would like to oppose…
MG:No, it is absolutely situational. After having gone through the nth rejection, it’s not unnatural for Anamika to give in to Uday. It’s like what-the-heck-let’s-see-once-and-for-all-what-it’s-all-about mode that she operates in. A kind of desperate move on the rebound. It often happens in life that when we fail to find happiness in the ways we initially choose, we lose self-confidence and in our despair clutch at even dubious ways of happiness suggested by others whom we respect.
Me: As I have said earlier, you are too harsh, skeptical and sarcastic with Anamika. Why?
MG:On the contrary, I am told by many that I have been indulgent with her. 🙂
However, I have at times been critical of her as much as I would have been of myself since there is so much of me in Anamika.
Me:Have you deliberately left “Unhooked” open-ended,inconclusive?
MG:Yes, I did not want to give it a they-lived-happily-ever-after or marriages-are-made-in-heaven kind of an ending. I wanted to end it on a positive note though, and that’s what I have done. Readers are free to imagine what happens to Anamika after I have signed off.
Me: Many have equated you with Shobha De. Your reaction…
MG:I have always admired Shobha De as a jourmalist; she is a great columnist. I like her straight-forwardness and wit. But as fiction-writers, I think we work with different milieus. The only commonality between us is that we are both direct and unabashed in writing about sex.
Me: It’s a pity that Anamika in her obsessive quest for ideal love neglects other facets of her life and career. How justified is that?
MG:Yes, she does neglect her career at first, not her friends though, but later in the course of the novel, she evolves and locates true fulfillment in her work.
Me: I quote “…The question then is, should we retain our innocence or should we keep seeking more knowledge and lose the thrills of life, one by one…”Explain.
MG:Well, Geeta, I had not dwelled on this before but now coming to think of it, Varun’s query does insinuate at Anamika’s disturbed mental state after the fiasco with Uday. It’s what is baffling her and at the same time she does not want to delve into it too deeply.
Me:The opening passage of your novel reads – “I straddle men’s minds. Men seek me out between relationships or during tough times in relationships. I fill the emotional gaps in men’s lives and keep them warm and loved till they find security and happiness in the arms of the women they desire. My way to spread warmth is through words, conversations.”…underlines a self-deprecating, secondary status; Anamika, knowingly plays the second fiddle…Your line of defense.
MG:Yes, it is. She knowingly gets embroiled in these interim relations. Yet there is no hypocrisy about her. She admits to it.
Me: “I opened my eyes and gazed at the sky. It was such a beautiful transparent blue! The sun would have risen on the other side. It struck me the sky was without partitions. One.A continuity without stitches. Always one, unlike us humans. We were so hopelessly fragmented. Fucking sometimes with our minds and sometimes with our bodies. Rarely all there in an act.”…An epiphany!! Yet Anamika is tempted to settle for that fragmented life. Why?
MG:For lack of better choices I’d say. We humans are all great thinkers, we can analyze a problem to shreds, advise other people, but when it comes to ourselves, we are mostly propelled forward in life by our emotions.
Me: Somewhere you have spoken about “emotional rape”. Do you think it is an offence unjustly de-criminalized in judicial texts?
MG: No, I think we have to leave the settlement of some wrongs to God or call it Nature or a higher power or just the law of karma. Also, the problem is once you think deep, you realize even the offender who has hurt you emotionally has acted out of his/her own circumstances. Can you really blame him? Shouldn’t you feel compassion for him? Justice for emotional wrongs definitely falls into the space of ethics or religion.
Me:Has globalization interfered with the concept of love and belonging?
MG:Not with the concept of love, as love remains a basic need which humans will find ways to address in whichever space they are. But globalization has definitely affected our sense of belonging. It has forced people to question themselves about the bigger group to which they perceive themselves as belonging. Is that group your own linguistic community, or the city where you live, or the country to which you belong or the country to which you have migrated or are currently based in – to whom do you belong? Or can you perceive yourself just as a citizen of the world? Our sense of belonging roots us and motivates us to take action. So it becomes important.
Me: A clichéd query – Where do you see yourself and Anamika ten years hence?
MG: I don’t know about Anamika, but I do aspire to create a body of work (both fiction and non-fiction) by then that will be widely read and help people to lead even if slightly happier lives. For the summum bonum of life is happiness.
Me:Tell us a little about your first born – “Hushed Voices.”
MG:My first work of fiction HUSHED VOICES is extremely different from UNHOOKED. It is structured as a linear chain of 39 monologues, intricately linked to each other by both technique and plot. The voices belong to the poor, marginalised people of Mumbai, as they live out sharp, challenging moments in their lives, revealing in the process their entrails, aches, strengths and the whispering hopes that keep them ticking in the most inclement of circumstances. Most of them commute in near inhuman conditions by the locals which become a metaphor for the city. Finally, Hushed Voices was my fictional attempt to capture the rush of urban life, the density of a modern, flourishing city, and the fierce fight for space, comforts and the joys promised by urban living in an increasingly populated world.
Me:The journey as a writer…
MG:It’s been arduous but also gratifying. And the journey continues with new challenges to be met every day.
Me: Authors you would never dream of imitating…
MG:Salman Rushdie. His linguistic complexity and intricate metaphors are mind-boggling.
Me: Greatest publicity for any book today is getting translated on the silver-screen. In case so happens with “Unhooked”, who would you entrust the stewardship?
MG: I don’t think I am in a position to entrust the stewardship of UNHOOKED to anybody. I believe – like Vidya Balan who has expressed her willingness to act in a film based on the book, depending on who directed it – that this book will need an extremely sensitive director to handle its subject.
Me: Piled with wit, humour and satire, “Unhooked” could have been yet another spoof on fickle social dalliances in the garb of self-discovery. Yet, the underlying pathos, the wistful reminders of desires unfulfilled and unfound, detract it from the former. Will your next venture also be in the same lines or an entirely different take on life?
MG:I always hesitate to commit about the future, since things tend to change as we go along. As of now, I plan my next work to be a more ambitious venture that will drag into the spotlight an extremely important but barely spoken-about social and humanitarian issue. The setting will be the same as UNHOOKED – urban, contemporary India.
On that note of creative intent we came to the end of this exhaustive and very, very interesting interview.
Here’s wishing Munmun a very creative and fulfilling year ahead….
Cheerio!!! 🙂 🙂
Links to Reviews of ‘Unhooked’ :