It is my honour and privilege to interview one of India´s finest contemporary authors, Sadiqa Peerbhoy. Her latest book, ´House of Discord´ was launched at the Bangalore Literature Festival in November 2017. You can read my review here: House of Discord Book Review
Hailing from a Nawabi background, Sadiqa Peerbhoy is a true cosmopolitan having lived in Hyderabad, Mumbai and currently a proud Bangalorean where she has been residing for over forty years now.
Ms.Peerbhoy wears many feathers in her wide brimmed hat. Starting as a journalist, Sadiqa Peerbhoy went on to become an advertising legend who spearheaded major campaigns for Indian and international brands since the 1970´s.
She is the screenplay writer for popular TV shows in the 90´s such as Sara Jahan Hamara, Honee Anhonee and the scriptwriter for various BBC World documentaries.
Her columns are a regular feature in major newspapers such as the Deccan Herald, Newstime, Midday, The Brief, Times of India, The Bangalore Monthy to name a few. She is a published author with over 100 short stories and 5 books till date.
Ms.Peerbhoy is the founder of the British affiliated, The Wigan and Leigh College in Bangalore where she also teaches advertising, marketing and graphic design. She is an ardent learner of Hindustani Music, taking four classes a week to hone her musical passion.
On the personal side, she married her sweetheart and fellow advertising giant Bunty Peerbhoy, loving and doting mother and a very proud grandmother.
Over to the interview with the legendary lady herself –
Q. ´House of Discord´ was my favourite book written by an Indian author last year. I thought the book was brilliantly written with a mature balanced outlook. Given the dark backdrop of the story, the book is surprisingly fun and highly entertaining. You seem to have this wonderful knack of telling a story like most simply cannot. Where does this effortless ease come from? Please enlighten us.
Sadiqa: I think I was born with a certain fluency of words. There are a lot of poets in my family and they are all big readers. From an early age I was fascinated by books. I think whatever you call talent was realised courtesy years and years of reading anything and everything I could lay my hands on.When I was in Class 3, I recall telling my class teacher a Mrs D’cruz that one day my books would be in the little library she guarded so zealously. I started writing for publications when I was in high school and chose to do Literature and Psychology in college to better understand the complexities of the human psyche.Then it was a long journey in Advertising ..a deadline ridden stressful business.The only way I kept my sanity was by writing a humour column and short stories for the Sunday papers. So I guess its been years of joyfully fine-honing a craft. Its great to work at what you like because it is not work at all.
Q. As a reader, I felt that this was one book that could have afforded to have more chapters to it unlike other books that gets critiqued for poor editing. One, because the book is quite engrossing and two, to add more depth to certain characters such as Adam or even Ricky and Vijoo for that matter. Do you agree and why/why not?
Sadiqa: If both Vijoo and Adam were also afforded their own stories the book would have become too long and un wieldy. I think Adams own conflict has been dealt with in some detail but Vijoo is too young to have a story of his own. I think even the minor figure of Dhonduram is a unique character with his own angle and cocktail of traits.
Q. We need more real women portrayals in mainstream media like the resilient mother Lokeshwari or the emotionally mature Salma or despondent Sarita as well as the classic ´damsel in distress´ Lily. Or even the caring friendly ghost Nimma as opposed to the bloodthirsty ´Chudail´ often seen in movies. Interestingly, there is no importance given to the mother´s role in movies today unlike in the past. Why is there such a wide gap between reality and fiction when it comes to the depiction of women characters in the media in your opinion?
Sadiqa: If you go by television and films the women are stereotyped but in fiction one has the scope to flesh out real women who are individuals and march to their own drummer. Lokeshwari is a strong type with a soft underbelly as shown in her introspection where she wonders how she became this dominating. In my earlier book too, there is a memorable mother– Sartaj Jehan Begum who stops at no artifice however blatant and dishonest to get her son married to a girl of her choosing. I am like neither but I have known women like this and being one I can understand the female psyche and what drives them.
Q. Women are generally not perceived to be funny and emotionally highly strung by nature. But your books dispel these myths perfectly well. While Lokeshwari is rational and a natural leader, you prove through your writings that women can also be extremely witty, clever and objective. Is this stereotype the truth or a lie based on your personal observations?
Sadiqa: The story of ´House of Discord´ spun out of a couple I have observed. The dynamics of their relationship is responsible for much of the dissension in the family where the girls have a strong role model and boys do not. I suppose the beautiful Lily is a stereotypical of an innocent young girl unaware as yet of her allure. In truth, there is far more to a women because they operate from the gut. But a male oriented society like ours feels threatened by a the innate strength of women. Women are more closely connected to their innate natures whereas men are ruled by fragile egos which need external validation all the time.
Q. Relationships and Humour seem to come across as your fortes. Are there more genres that interest you or would like to explore more?
Sadiqa: Perhaps in the future I will explore humour in the shenanigans of a large family set up… or maybe a murder mystery with humour. Haven’t thought about it. Meanwhile I have a gothic romance-drama in the pipeline called “Mayurkhand” based in exotic Rajasthan. It should be out by year end.
Q. I read some where that Hyderabad is the city that you share the strongest emotional connect with owing to the priceless memories that you shared with your grandmother who lives there. Your debut novel ´Marry Go Round´ is based in Hyderabad. What is it about Hyderabad that fascinates you apart from the family memories?
Sadiqa: I was born to Hyderabadis though I grew up in Bombay. The average Hyderabadi is a warm lovable and loving person with a heightened sense of drama and lives his own screenplay in as filmy a manner as he can get. Every little incident is grist to his drama mill. They also have a unique quirky dialect with a turn of phrase that is colourful. A Hyderabadi’s sense of self deprecating humour is something only another one can understand and guffaw at. I love their all inclusive warmth and affection.
Q. You have written three collections of short stories before venturing into novels. ‘How I survived Motherhood´, ‘Madonna of Mumbai Cats and other Stories´and ‘But Other Mothers Do’. And today, you also have two novels to your credit ´Marry Go Round´ and ´House of Discord´. Which of these books have given you the most creative satisfaction?
Sadiqa: I think I had a lovely time writing the book and the script for the play ´Marry Go Round´. But my columns are where I live as I wrote about every trivial everyday event when my children were growing up and I made it funny ( I hope.). Its like a day to day log of growing up children.
Q. Can women have it all? Your life seems to be a testimony that women can indeed have it all. How do you manage to balance work, hobbies and family so well?
Sadiqa: I think women can have it all but must be prepared to spread themselves thin and work twice as hard as any man because it is not a level playing field to start with and people are quick to judge. If you know what you want, you are aggressive.If you are goodlooking, you are dumb. Etc etc. You have to prove yourself over and over again and be true to who you are.
Q. What is your take on the future of Indian writing, any advice to aspiring authors and when can we expect another spectacular novel from you?
Sadiqa: I think publishing in India is too concerned with the business aspect at the cost of good writing. It is a business of course but one cannot be shortsighted and think that there is no market for fiction other than teeney bopper romances..Chicklit as they term it.. My advise to young writers would be to write what comes naturally and not write for the lowest common denominators in the mass markets.
My next book, now with the editor is about a singer who is in a relationship with an erstwhile Maharajah and is suddenly missing. Decades later, her daughter goes back to the small princely state to find out what really happened to her mother. It is named Mayurkhand. Again its not what passes for mainstream these days in fiction.
Q. Finally, a hypothetical question to end this interview on a fun note. ´House of Discord´ would make a fine movie in my opinion. If you had to choose the cast for the movie, which actors would you pick for the respective roles of Lokeshwari, Vikram, Pammi, Rajan, Salma, Sarita, Raj, Vijoo, Ricky, Adam and Dhondubhai?
Sadiqa: I think Shabana Azmi with a few extra kilos would do a great job on Lokeshwari as would Naseeruddin Shah on Vikram. The rest can be anybody. Maybe Ranveer Singh can be Rajan the rebellious.
Thank You Sadiqa for the lovely insightful interview. Its been a pleasure knowing more about you. Here´s wishing you tremendous success for your outstanding novel ´House of Discord´and also to many more such literary scorchers waiting in the pipeline.
´House of Discord´is available for purchase at the below link: