I know Munmun Ghosh from the time her second novel “Unhooked” kicked up a storm of controversy with my readers when I happened to review the book. It wasn’t surprising, I mean the protestations, as candidness is as arresting as it is challenging. More so, when you are dealing with formidable taboos like intellectual mating (“Unhooked”) and childlessness (“Thicker than Blood”), both from the perspective of female protagonists in a contemporary milieu. But what has always intrigued me is how men have endorsed Munmun’s views notwithstanding the fact that her books are distinctively women-centric. They have empathized with Anamika (“Unhooked”) and sympathized with Mayuri (“Thicker than Blood”).
It was, therefore, not at all surprising when Anupam Kher launching Mummun’s third novel “Thicker than Blood” on 16th February 2016 evening at Title Waves bookstore in Bandra, Mumbai, confessed with engaging frankness “Kiran and I have gone through this rigmarole –– the doctor giving you the time to do it, and rushing for the same – which is sometimes not so funny and sometimes funny, so I can fully understand what Munmun is writing about in “Thicker than Blood”. It’s not just about a maternal urge, even a man has that urge to see his child grow up before his eyes apart from that feeling ‘Wah maine kya paida kiya hai.’ I must recount an incident when Kiran and I were trying to have a baby. She would go to Dr. Soonawalla and it was not happening. One day I was shooting for this comic song Eji, oh ji…for Ram Lakhan, was funnily dressed in a dhoti and chotiya. Kiran was told by the doctor that this is the right period and you have to make love. And so she called me up on the landline and said, ‘Please come.” I looked at the roomful of people. Subhash Ghai, Jackie, Anil and 18 other people were on the sets, I said I can’t. She said, ‘I am waiting.’ It had to happen within the next one-two hours. So what do I tell the director? And also it was important to me because we had been wanting to have a child for three years then. I said finally that I have to go. Ghai said. “Pagal ho gaye ho kya? Kya hua? I said, “Income tax raid ho gayee.’ That was the only reason one understood those days. When I reached home, Kiran took one look at me with that dhoti and chotiya and said ‘Go back.’”
…..One browse of the smashing success story of the book launch and I was a simmering cauldron of questions and queries. So wasn’t it obvious that I would invite my friend Munmun to an intimate tete-a-tete over a cuppa steaming cappuccino?
As she settled down gracefully, I couldn’t contain the excitement bubbling within me any longer.
“So, how does it feel when a man after reading your book says that the emptiness of childlessness resonates with him?” I blurted.
She smiled patiently and replied, “I think it needs a person of great courage to admit having pursued an important desire in earnest and not met with success. And Anupam whom I have known for many years is both a man of great courage and sensitivity. But still I had not expected that he would endorse my book so completely by narrating his own personal experience of the tabooed subject I had written about in the book. It reconfirms my faith in him and also validates “Thicker Than Blood”. I hope Anupam’s words will induce more men and women to read this book so that they have a clearer idea of available options, and also can explore these unapologetically, with courage and enthusiasm.”
I quote Anupam Kher, “The world tries to frighten you with what you think is your shortcomings. That is their weapon. But if you speak about these yourself, then they can do nothing to you. Like if I think oh, it’s so sad I am bald, the world will make me feel it. But what if I say it as a matter of fact. Like it’s a fact I had facial paralysis ten years back. I am saying it. My company almost went into bankruptcy 12 years back, I am saying it. So now what will you frighten me with? Self-pity is the most unattractive thing in the world, especially in a man.”
“I loved what he said Munmun, especially, about self-pity. What say you?”
Munmun nodded her head in assertion, “Me too. We need to obstinately look at what we have going for us in our lives and appreciate the same instead of lamenting about what we don’t have. For complaining does not get us anywhere; it can’t change our destiny. However, as Anupam pointed out, we need to be also aware of our shortcomings for only then can we overcome these through conscious effort. And there is no harm in discussing one’s weak points with a friend, mentor, parent, sibling or any well-wisher as long as the intention is to seek guidance and discover ways to overcome these weaknesses through the talks and not to wallow in self-pity.”
“I will again reiterate what Anupam said at the Book Launch, “Not bearing a child can sometimes leave a woman feeling incomplete, it should not be so. Also, society tells her you don’t have a child and makes her feel so sometimes. So we went through that whole phase, Kiran and I.”
…..Do you really believe in today’s DINK (Double Income No Kid) times, when a woman has so many varied avenues of expressing herself, not having a child, can really pull her down to such abysmal abyss that she will be even ready to cross the borders of fidelity to bear her own child?”
Munmun’s unperturbed gaze never left my face as she answered me in her quiet, modest way, “I think it depends on what you make your priority in life. For a homemaker like Mayuri, my novel’s protagonist, understandably having a child is kernel to her happiness, to her idea of a complete family. And once a desire grips you, be it Mayuri’s for a child or a young man’s desire to become an actor or maybe even my own desire to be an author, it can make you go any lengths, depending on the force of the desire and a host of other factors. I have seen even extremely successful career women holding top-drawer jobs in corporates pursue motherhood with all-consuming passion, nay desperation. Attaining motherhood can become an obsession.”
“I believe “Thicker than Blood” is inspired by a real-life story of one of your friends. Can you elaborate?”
Munmun was quite ready with her answer,“Yes, it is, a good friend’s experience. Her story moved me because of the sheer intensity of her struggle and the growing importance of its core issue. I felt it needed to be told. Also, the story appealed to the romantic in me because it’s basically the tale of a man and a woman and their relationship as it evolves over years. This novel is really my ode to love.”
“Well!” I said, ” My question is a double-edged sword. Now comes the second part. Do you think love can overcome social dogmas of childlessness? Also, do you think that any individual, family or for that matter, even society has a right to raise an accusatory finger on a woman charging her of barrenness?”
A few minutes passed in deep silence, before she replied, “No, of course not, no one has a right to do that any more than one has a right to point fingers at a person for being ill. What such a situation calls for is compassion, not blame. And to answer the first part of your question, I do like to believe that love can overcome an obstacle like childlessness and as I have written in the book, there are so many ways of addressing this situation today. A couple need not remain childless, just because the woman is not conceiving naturally. Childlessness is a choice today.………”
We were both quiet after this for a very long, long time. As the rays of the parting sun slanted over the window panes, I poured two more cups of smoking coffee and said, “You’ve had a long association with Anupamji. His fondness for you and your work is quite apparent when he says, “I always believe your first reaction to a person or thing is a truthful reaction. When we meet someone for the first time, we either like the person or don’t. You may call that first reaction an instinctive feeling or gut feeling, but I think that is the most important feeling. Later our minds manipulate it over a period of time. I have dealt with my life on my first feelings, first reactions to people. So when Munmun first met me as a journalist years back, I sensed in her an earnestness, a sincerity and a certain quality that is called as bebaakpan in Hindi, I do not know how to translate it, but that appealed to me. I believe there are certain relationships in life which are like a pause button on a tape recorder. You just press the button and you can begin from wherever you left.”
“… How did you associate your novel with a persona like Anupam Kher? Was it a natural choice given your association with him or was it something special and uncommon which we, his fans, don’t know about?”
Munmun took a long sip of hot coffee before she spoke, “Well, I have known Anupam for many years, from my days as a journalist. He always impressed me as being extremely well-read with a keen interest in literature. I remember, when I would meet him on the sets for interviews, he would sometimes recount Anton Chekhov’s short stories to me. When I wrote my first book Hushed Voices’, I met him with a copy of the book, just to show it to him as a friend. He took it in his hands, flipped through it, and said, “Munmun, I like the feel of this book. I am going to launch this book.” And he did so with flourish and set me off on my literary career, so to say. That greatly boosted my morale. My present novel, Thicker than Blood, comes out of a lot of research and hard work, and is my most serious literary endeavor, so I sought Anupam to launch the book. I was apprehensive of whether he would find the time for a launch given his busy schedules. As usual, he allayed all my doubts and agreed to do it readily, maintaining, “I have absolute failth in you as a writer.”
“I think that’s what he reiterated at the launch.” I said, “To quote him once again, “There is so much of joy to do things for people you believe in, you want to put your stamp of conviction on them in your mind, that’s the biggest test of any relationship, so Munmun, this launch is not for you but I am doing it for myself.”
“…..Believe me, the same is the feeling here. Do tell me what you have next in mind?”
She chuckled and said, “Well, I’d like to keep that a secret. All I can assure you is that I won’t stop writing. I can’t stop writing for words are breath to me. I breathe words. Capturing the beauty of life in words is my driving passion.”
We were on our third cuppa when I remembered how Anupam had reacted when Munmun had tried to correct him on a factual point at some point on stage. He had turned round and said to her, “Let me speak. Isn’t life also about talking wrong things? Why should we be perfect? I am not perfect and nor is Mayuri, the protagonist of the novel and so she is believable.” Yes, we all are imperfect and we should bask in the glory of our imperfection and rejoice our mistakes because it’s the way that we take life on to the next level through our blunders and failures. And that is exactly what Mayuri does in “Thicker than Blood”. She stumbles and staggers before realizing that in order to stand erect and strong you need to overcome your own inhibitions and inner weaknesses. You have to expand your horizon to move on and vice versa.
When Kher asserted, “I believe women are much stronger than men as God has entrusted the task of giving birth to another life to a woman.” I thought herein lies a woman’s true empowerment in her power of creativity. When I said that aloud, Munmun agreed with me absolutely, positing, “The urge to create is fundamental to humans, one can create biologically, artistically, in any way, but create one must.” And on that note of strength and conviction we said goodbye not to part ways forever but to meet again, probably on her fourth literary venture, over series of virtual cups of piping hot coffee.
With warm hugs and wishes to Munmun Ghosh of unending success and literary creations…
To my readers: In this virtual interview I have unapologetically quoted Kher, not because he is Anupam Kher, but because his words ring true and are so much in tandem with what the book “Thicker Than Blood” stands for. It may seem as though Kher is present in our midst without being there. And who knows someday I may be discussing the subtle nuances of literary expressions with him over series of virtual cups of coffee as well!
With those wishful thoughts!!
You can read the review of the novel “Thicker Than Blood” here