Jharna Banerji on her Latest Novel

By Ritika Jain in Trending 24/04/2018

Jharna Banerji is an 81-year-old independent lady, who has always believed in the power of freedom. She comes from a liberal Bengali background and has worked hard to make her way through life. After her husband passed away, life was lonely and difficult for Jharna but she did not give up. Instead, she took it as a challenge and refined her writing skills to launch her book recently.

Perched on the Periphery, as Jharna says, is a book about a woman’s courage and power to rebel against the society and ultimately define her identity. It is a journey of a 19-year-old widow through emotional and mental turmoil only to emerge powerfully with a new identity and purpose for life. Jharna has beautifully depicted the different phases of Nandita’s life, the protagonist of her story. Perched on the Periphery paints an intimate portrait of one woman’s journey to define herself as the values and traditions of her homeland start to feel increasingly foreign

 

Perched on the periphery

 

In a Feministaa exclusive, we talked to Jharna about her life, experiences and her book.

 

How was your journey as a writer?

 

I started my journey as a writer with short stories. I enjoyed observing little things in life and weaving stories around them. I started writing back in 1980’s but I never gave it any importance. I was married, had children and I was involved in my roles as a mother and a wife. I was never a career-oriented woman. My family was my priority, it still is. The writing was a hobby then, something that I liked and that my husband always encouraged me to do. I used to write a lot. I used to participate in competitions all over the country. In fact, one of my short stories even won a prize alongside Ruskin Bond.

It was after my husband got unwell, that I got off the radar for a while. I couldn’t devote much time to writing. But, I do not regret that it was my role to play and I played it as gracefully. Even when my husband was ill, he used to tell me to take out time to write. He used to say that I involve myself in petty things by letting off the bigger goal in life. It was after his death that I devoted much time to my writing.

 

Was it your personal life that inspired you to weave a character like Nandita? What was your inspiration?

 

I used to go abroad a lot while my son was studying there. And, I observed there were a lot of Indian women like me. These women had settled down in a different country for their children. They had no selfish motives. I used to put myself in their place and think what would my life be if I had to depend on someone else for my identity. It was difficult to contemplate a life of these women when their children would need them less. What would their life revolve around then?

 

 

I would sit and contemplate the meaning of life.

I come from a much liberal background, I had a choice to be independent and I chose that. But being a keen observer that I am, I noticed these women who had just devoted their lives to their families. They were not financially independent, they had no personal interests and they were not familiar with the society they were living in, yet they were there. That drove me to write a story about these women.

Nandita’s character is also inspired by my mother a little. Though later in life, after getting married, she became a lot more liberal there were always some instances of her orthodox background. The conventional upbringing always inhibited her in some way or the other.

So, yes a little inspiration here and there and Nandita was born.

 

Why did you choose to tell the story from the perspective of a widow? Why not a married woman? Do you believe that married women are shackled, they do not have the freedom to make choices?

 

I came up with the idea of telling the story of a widow not because I believe that married women are bound and cannot be rebellious.. Any woman married, unmarried, single or widow, I believe is not bound by shackles if she chooses not to. Everybody has a choice to be independent.

I chose to tell this story through a widow’s perspective because I wanted to show a contrast. Nandita is a widow yet she is rebellious enough to walk out of that life.  She wears the white saree but she is liberal in her thoughts. She is strong enough to choose an independent life for herself.

 

What inspiration can the other women derive from your story/ your character?

 

As the protagonist of my story, Nandita, I believe most women in our society go through the identity crisis at some point or the other in their lives. Nandita does not give in to the societal pressures and norms. Neither she defies the societal norms nor does she succumb to the pressures; she fights.

Women would be able to take inspiration from Nandita’s character to fight their battles.

I would say if you have to make your identity, you do not have to accept the norms of the society to prove yourself. Everybody should be courageous enough to go ahead and make their choices without considering whether they fit in the rule book or not.

 

Writing a novel is a tedious task. It is not easy to complete a book, I am sure it would have taken a lot of time and energy for you to write this book. Please talk about that.

 

It took me 10 years to complete this book. Like most writers, the writer’s block took off a lot of my time. But I was dedicated. I gave myself a timeline. I dedicated particular hours in a day for my writing. Even when my husband was unwell, I did not give up writing. In fact, like I said before, my husband inspired me to write. He inspired me to be a better person, to do better things.

 

How do you define Feminism?

 

I believe in feminism. But, I do not feel that we have to prove men wrong to pave a better path for women.

 

Feminism

 

Men and women are both parts of the same society or should I say of the same nature. Even if you talk about equality for men and women, you cannot deny the gender roles. A female gives birth, man cannot; you cannot deny that. Similarly, a child’s care and concern towards his/her parents cannot be categorized as male or female. It is children’s role to look after their aging parents. Nature has defined rules for men and women and no matter how loud we talk about feminism, those roles cannot be altered.  Every person has his/her role, and they should play their roles with pride.

 

Do you think Patriarchy exists in every stratum of our society?

 

Patriarchy is everywhere. It is man’s character to try to control and that is how the rules of our society have been carved. The patriarchy is everywhere, it is just the intensity that differs. If you go at a lower stratum, the rules are stricter. Where we come from, we have a choice to say no, there is less drama. We grew up in a liberal culture and therefore were given a choice. Women who grow up in an orthodox set up do not have a choice. We can at least question, some girls do not have that privilege too.

 

Why did you choose to be a writer?

 

Writing is a very cathartic experience. It opens up your mind to other people; it opens up your mind to different perspectives. And, when you think about a particular problem from different perspectives, you gain much more insight into an issue. That really helps you grow. It makes you a much more empathetic person. Writing has made me a better person.

 

Ritika Jain

Ritika has been working as a freelancer in content creation and editing for about 2 years now.Also worked as a content editor with S Chand Group of companies and have interned as an assistant content editor with McGraw Hill publications. She’s currently freelancing as a content writer/blogger with some publication houses and a few social media start ups.
Ritika has gained experience in different genres of writing while woking with these various organisations. A curious soul and an avid reader, Ritika likes experimenting with her writing style and have written various blogs and articles.


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