When they met on Women’s day they created an explosion, an explosion of ideas and thoughts. And in the process we recorded this amazing video of the tale makers which we share with you along with an edited version of the discussion. They are Ritika Kochhar, the eloquent writer of ‘Weapons of Kalki’, and the sensational Richa Jha whose children’s books are rocking the world.
This happened a few weeks back….
“Hello Ritika, Sid this side.”
“Hello there, How are you?”
“Good, good. Okay listen, I have a crazy idea.”
“What fun. Tell me.”
“Listen, why don’t you and Richa have a zoom meeting on Women’s Day and discuss your thoughts? And then we’ll publish the recording in East India Story.”
“Huh! That sounds like a great idea!”
And then after a few weeks…
Ritika: What do you think of Women’s Day?
Richa: I think the intent behind that is pretty noble. Because, unfortunately, we are still in an age where women do require that extra day to stand out and say that, look, we are holding one half of the world’s sky. And we deserve to be acknowledged for what we do. Which, unfortunately, most women aren’t, or a large majority of the women aren’t. But I definitely don’t like this whole commercial drama that happens around Women’s Day. Because it is also a little humiliating to have something of a Women’s Day. So, I’m sort of conflicted, about the need to have a day like this. I feel it does more injustice to women than the supposed justice it’s meant to do and I personally don’t believe in it at all.
Ritika:Yeah, I just want to know who the rest of the 364 days belong to?
Richa: Exactly, exactly. But I still feel that you know, Ritika you and I are pretty privileged that way. I mean, ancestrally a big part of my family still lives in the villages. And I do see, I do see where on a day like this, express themselves, and they get to showcase their talent, and they get to, you know,talk a lot about their own livestheyget to be themselvesin a public sphere,which many women don’t have the opportunity to at all.
Ritika: One nice thing I saw on LinkedIn was somebody who was celebrating and thanking all the women she’d worked with.
Richa: Exactly, yes, yes, yes. I don’t know whether it was last year or two years ago, on Women’s Day, I just took it as an occasion to congratulate and to acknowledge the work, the fabulous work that all the women creators at Pickle Yolk books have done. So one by one, I was bringing out their works, the efforts, the madness, the passion that had gone into each of the books, each of the titles, and how they went about creating it. I would have loved to just run across to each of them and hug them and say thank you because thanking the women also is an important part, how many people actually do that?Or, for that matter, how many of us would actually go and thank some men.
But I don’t see again, like you, I don’t keep track of any of these days at all. I mean, there are so many of these made-up days that I can’t. Last year, I started maintaining a diary but I lost steam in a matter of 15 days. There was Goat Day and Shoe Day and Diabetes Day and I lost interest.
Ritika: Why did you decide to become a publisher from the children’s writer?
Richa: Both happened almost at the same time. And in tandem.
It wasn’t one or the other. You see, I became a children’s editor first. I was editing the children’s section at Timeout Delhi. Okay. And that is when I came across a lot of these lovely books that were happening in India for children. I would get all these fantastic books for reviews and I felt that there is a huge gap that I can fill with the kind of picture books that I have in my mind. So I started writing them andpretty much decided to start publishing them. I was working with Wisdom Tree at that timewhere it was like a beautiful mentorship for me that happened there from Shobhit – the publisher there because I was handling the children’s program publishing program.And because of that, I got to understand how the entire industry works, and also Shobhit was the one who sort of just encouraged me to go and start publishing on my own
Ritika: So how many titles have you done now?
Richa: Writing-wise, I have done 15 or 16. And I’ve edited one anthology. But I’ve edited quite a few.
Let’s talk about you. Your book is phenomenal. You are a very, very accomplished writer.
Ritika: Thank you
Richa: So where it all comes from? Because I feel that on your writing – the prowess that’s there in you, and all your intellectual, whatever is churning inside you, and all your life’s experiences as being a woman, I think they’ve all culminated inthat series.
Ritika: Okay, so I came to this book, and I think I came to the way I am because the women in my family. My dadi was the one who told me stories, you know, bedtime stories from Ramayan, et cetera. But my nani, her mother, and my Nana‘s mother. These three were the ones whose stories are phenomenal. So,my Nana’s mother -we were told she was from the mountains. When my Nana’s father who was a lawyer, decided that he was going to go for six months to KalaPani from Lahore to be the lawyer to the political prisoners. He gets onto the boat and his very pregnant wife decides she isn’t going to let him go alone so gives the rest of their kids to her eldest daughter to look after,takes the smallest one who she can’t leave behind, and get her pregnant self onto the boat to KalaPani along with him.
My Nani was a Superintendent of a hospital and a gynecologist and had to quit her job to return to Lahore whenshe was pregnant. She has a baby on June 8, 1947. And since her husband has a non-family posting as an army man, she was told that she had to go back and get her job, so with aone-month-old baby, she comes back from Lahore really not knowing whether she has a job or not.So, I come fromthese badass women.
Richa: And that’s also what you are inside. So that’s pretty much running through your veins.
Okay, but something made you interested in literature at a very, very early age, which is why you and I connected there? So we met because we were studying English Literature together. At what point did you decide to study literature then?
Ritika: My parents put me into science in the eleventh standard. And I flunked because I was learning dance, German and I was playing sports. So, I went back to studying arts, which gave me lots of time to spend studying literature and history, which I loved and which got me into a good college. So, because I flunked, I actually got this kind of freedom. Actually, for me, flunking was not bad. Otherwise, I would have been stuck in not having something which you wouldn’t have enjoyed.
Richa:So, I have to ask you about your influences. How much of an influence was our teacher, Manju Dalmia on you?
Ritika: Huge, because A, knowing that there is a woman I know who has written books that have been felicitated as world class. So, I think representation is an important thing.
Why do you write?
Richa:Why do I write? Oh, that’s a good question. Thank you. Okay. Nobody’s asked me about it because, I’m trying to create many, many worlds that I could not inhabit when I was a child.
What are the things that have shaped your life and shaped you as a writer?
Ritika:I give open credit to a lot of authors that I love like Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman and Mahadevi Varma. Who else – Guru Nanak, Faiz – all of it definitely comes into my writing. I mean, they shaped my writing. Mahashweta Devi’s Draupadi. That character was of huge, huge, huge importance and that influenced, I think Mani Ratnam’s Ravan. And that then influenced my writing.
Richa: How much has you being a woman mattered in the form in which the book has come out?
Ritika: Completely, it is a very feminist book. All my writings, I have realized, are very feminist.Even my articles and all are very much a woman’s point of view. I don’t think a man would write like I do. And I’m very proud of that. My hope is that women girls read these books, read these characters, see representation and go on to be more and more badass. Because I don’t see enough badass women out there. I mean, in books, I don’t see that as women. And this whole idea of mythology being used to subjugate women nowadays is very problematic. And that’s not true of our mythology. The more I read, the more I see really badass goddesses.
Richa: But this silencing of the woman’s voice is in all spheres. It’s in science.
But we sort of got sidetracked. Besides your family influence what else has made you a writer that you are?
Ritika: I had a stalker for 5 years, but I could not talk about it openly because I was working, and when you are heading a department, you don’t want this to come out.
As women we know and see that our space is different from men’s space. And as I said, representation then matters we inhabit a different space, we see that our space is different than men’s space. Here representation matters. As youngsters when we were in school, in college, and first years of my jobs, etc., we were very different people. We were a lot meeker and a lot ready to listen. We didn’t have any way of representation; of knowing how to be stronger. And then there was, for example, the Nirbhaya incident and the ‘me too’ movement. We’ve all been through everything that the ‘me too’ movement talked about, which is why it became such a forest fire. Because every woman had been through so much, we never had a space to talk about it. How do you talk to your parents about being harassed or groped? How do you talk to your parents about people in the office? You never had any kind of space and the ‘Metoo’ movement created in space.So, between 2012 and the ‘Me Too’ movement my life changed
Let’s talk about you. How do you write? When do you write? Do you have a separate space?
Richa: No. I don’t have any set time for writing. And I’m not a regular writer at all. I write quite infrequently in that sense. So, I don’t call myself a writer at all. I am a creator. I mean, I’m creating picture books, but I don’t call myself a writer at all. I don’t write much. I’m a very, very lazy writer. I don’t have a set time at all. For me. All these books that you see, they’ve taken years, they’ve sort of just been brewing in my head for years and years and years. And then one day, finally, I’ll just sit for those 10 minutes and it will all come down on paper. That’s about it. But there’s no set time to write. I mean, all the writing that I’m doing frommorning to eveningis essentially the admin stuff, firefighting, emails.
Ritika: Well, Thanks to you, my book got done because you had all this experience, and you gave it all to me.
I had one last question, if you don’t mind, which is what are your influences? Who were the strong women in your life? What are the strong people in your life who influenced you?
Richa: If you ask me for names, I will not remember much. So, my mother’s generation, and my father’s generation are probably the first set of people in their families to have had a formal sort of education outside of the village. My father’s grandfatherwas a teacher, and he’s created his own Sanskrit dictionary. And was very, very learned, but it was still the village style upbringing. My mother’s father was again, completely self-made, I don’t know how he managed to study and get himself a Western education and became a legal adviser and all that, you know, to a large company. I now realized that given the kind of backdrop that was there, and also the fact that, you know, my father has seven sisters and four brothers – so they were 13 and two passed away. And also, my community. I belong to Mithila, which is in north Bihar. That’s the Madhubani Darbhanga area. So, we are neighbors with Bengal but Bengal has kick-ass women for the last at least three, three centuries. Maithals have not had that. So traditionally, it’s been a very very homebound sort of space for the Mithila women. So given all that, I mean, hats off to my grandfather, who educated his daughters. In my father’s generation, all my bua’s are the first set of women who are all at least postgraduates. So, I had the influence of those strong women, because they were really fighting patriarchy in the real sense. I mean, I’ve seen how our villages run? I’ve seen the mindset of the people in in our communities. So, I know the kind of hard work they would have had to do.
Similarly, my grandmother on my mother’s sidewas a very strong woman. My mother has been a very, very strong influence of me as has my Massi. I have had strong women, but they’ve still sort of followed the traditional ways and are still working in the traditional framework. But they are very outspoken, extremely hard-willed. And you know, nobody can really say or do stuff to them. It’s like, their word is final t but still, they’re still pretty much seen themselves within a certain framework.
So, you know, for me, that was the those were the influences that were coming to coming on to me. But I know for a fact that mentally I think I was a free spirit completely, like, even when I was a little child, whatever little I can remember. So, there’s always been that little dissonance. You know, like, I know, that 99% of me does not belong to that at all. It just can’t. And yet, I’ve not really broken myself away from that mold, either. I wouldn’t say a mold, but that framework either. So, I think all these having all these pull pushes and pulls and tears and whatever, you know, I mean, I think those are what have influenced.
Ritika: I keep wondering if these badass women that you’re talking about had had the means to run companies and all of you, can you imagine?
Richa : I’m telling you if these women had got that opportunity, I mean, the face of my community would have been so different. it’s just that they never got a chance. They just never got a chance.
Ritika: So, kudos to you for giving the chance to the next generation.
…………Wow, interesting conversation, isn’t it? Let’s watch the un-cutt video of their tete-a-tete