Women Need To Stop Being Apologetic For Their Success: Huma Tanweer
Huma Tanweer, popular author of books like How to Become Rich, and Women Entrepreneurship- in the age of globalization thinks that women need to put themselves out there more often. The recurring question is what makes Huma’s writing different from other women writers writing in English. What sets her apart in a class by herself is her humanistic vision, social reality and social consciousness, which make her empathize with man, woman, child or creature when they are in a sticky situation. Huma doesn’t call herself a feminist even when she takes up women’s causes. She states, “I am not exactly a gender-correct person.” Huma Tanweer is very conscious of her part in tweaking the conscience of the individuals in the society. Huma Tanweer sits down with The Weekly Mail to chat about feminism, men and women, and about why women should stop being apologetic for their success.
Tell us something about Huma as a person.
I believe that we are each unique yet part of a larger, universal consciousness. I seek to unveil and share the experience of my life through my writings. I often joke that it is wiser to be uninterestingly interesting rather than interestingly uninteresting. By uninterestingly interesting, I am referring to intense thought and reflections of truth, as we see it – aspects that might fascinate those who connect with you deeply enough, even if you say little at the outset. By interestingly uninteresting, I mean a tendency to say far too much far too often when there is, in fact, a paucity of thought or substance.
Your latest book, He loved me enough to let me go is a romantic thriller that digs deeper into an unsuspecting revelation. Tell us something about it.
He loved me enough to let me go is a nuanced take on the human psyche in its extremes of light and darkness – the depths of human morality and the exaltedness of unconditional love. This romantic thriller unravels the struggles of a young boy against all odds in a land outside of his home. Within the contours of a traditional Kashmiri household in the egalitarian setting of foreign countries, the story spins into a tale of love and infidelity; readers are left wondering if both sentiments can maintain a balance. This intensely gripping novel offers a fun and complex mystery with some great romance and seduction on the side.
What in your opinion makes a good thriller?
For me, a good thriller is a page-turner that strikes a fine balance between pace, plot twists that have little or no loopholes and impressions of the gamut of emotions that the characters in question each go through. A compelling thriller carries scenes that build up momentum and conclude abruptly, leaving readers yearning for more, rendering them incapable of doing anything else unless they plough through the next scene or chapter to figure out what is going on!
What has been your biggest achievement as an author?
I debuted as an author at the age of 19 with The Social and Controversial Issues, a critically acclaimed and elaborately researched book based on personal interactions and interviews of top business leaders of the country. It has also been featured in the libraries of the foreign universities based in UK and US. This debut book established me as the youngest non-fiction international author at the time, joining the likes of Arindham Chaudhary and Shashi Tharoor. More than those developments, I would say that the innocence and idealism that spilled into my work during my earlier days as a student set the stage for what now looks to be a literary career.
Do you believe that education and economic independence for women would make them self-reliant sooner or later?
It isn’t easy to be a contemporary Indian woman. This is a woman more aware of what is right and wrong and who knows there is an option to choose how she wants to live her life. But something holds her back. The 2000-year-old Indian culture expects her to be the custodian of the traditional culture and hence she puts her desires on a back burner. Men tend to move on with giant strides while policing women’s progress and curbing it.
I think women in India dream of the same things that women all over the world do. Freedom. Security. Dignity. Love. Happiness. Nice clothes. Good Food. Vacations. Miracle cures for grey hair and cellulite. Muscle tone and unwrinkled skin…I’m not being facetious but, in my travels, I talk to people all the time. Strangers and people, I am introduced to and I discover that beneath our skins all of us dream about (of) the same things. It’s perhaps the priority that’s different. It’s only fair that women in India be allowed to move on and move up as much as the men are doing…Education, financial freedom, career prospects etc. have improved the lot of the Indian woman. Sadly, the village women are still untouched by these factors that have in many ways liberated the urban woman from the tyranny of the traditional culture. And it is the traditional norms that keep woman tied down and the fear that if she were to swerve from the accepted path, she will be ostracized.
The fear of society is a great impediment to personal freedom whether it is for a man or a woman and in a country that has always considered women to be inferior beings, women are that much more hesitant to assert themselves or merely claim their rights. And this makes me eager to present Indian woman as she is rather than the doormat kind of person she is often projected to be as… The way I see it, an Indian woman is someone who has a core of steel despite being wrapped in many layers of tradition. The difference between India and the west are we shy away from breaking ties with our family. In fact, such severance happens only in extreme instances. Lot of women put up with abuse etc. because it still isn’t easy to be a single woman in India. There is social ostracization and financial insecurity and the feeling that she was at fault somehow.
I think young women these days should aspire to mesh traditions and a liberal outlook. And priority should be education and economic independence. The rest will follow naturally!
You reflect both male and female sensibilities with ease in your novels. How has this been possible for you?
I think that this will always be a hallmark of my writing, in the sense that it will always address aspects of human behaviour. I don’t think that my writing is restricted to exploring facets of female life. I think what concerns me most is the human condition. It just so happens that the theme of a particular novel had a natural slant towards women. In He loved me enough to let me go, the focus was artistic integrity and their gender doesn’t matter.
When you refer to men as feminists, what quality do you seek in them?
A sensitivity to get under the skin of a woman and see what shakes her world, her thoughts.
How has your experience as a woman shaped you as a writer?
Only to a certain extent. I rely greatly on observation. I don’t allow myself to intrude into my writing. But my writing has been fashioned out of certain events in my life.
What is the one thing that women need to stop doing?
I think women need to stop being so apologetic for their success. They ought to put themselves out there more. I’m an author so I see that when it comes to books, women authors need to market a lot more. They’re very apologetic when they’ve written a book while male authors will just go out there and promote their book. So, I think it’s really important for women authors to promote their work, to be proud of it. Because if you’re not proud of your work, if you don’t speak up for your work, no one else will.
How much do you subscribe to feminist thought?
Feminism as I understand it demands women is treated as equal to men. I prefer to take a stance where I believe "about the right women have to be women without having to be inferior beings". And it was this I wanted to explore with The Social and Controversial Issues. And also depict that it isn't easy to be a contemporary Indian woman. Even since The Social and Controversial Issues, I have been referred to as a feminist writer and I have vehemently opposed this for these reasons. One, I do not set out to write what I write with the notion of ushering in change. The creative process begins for me when certain aspects of life trouble me. I then try and explore why it is the way it is. But in doing so I merely hold up a mirror to the society we live in. At no point do I delude myself that by doing so I will help start a social revolution. It isn’t my intention in the first place.
Secondly, while several women’s issues are close to my heart, I find I am unable to agree with everything that feminist theories propound. And hence to identify myself with something that I do not completely endorse would be wrong and unethical.
And finally, as a writer what may interest me with one book may not matter to me when I am working on another book. Hence to bind myself to a particular ideology or writing would mean gagging my thoughts and limiting my boundaries. While I may return to female centric storylines, I am not sure that this is all I would ever write. Perhaps by my failing to identify myself as a feminist, I am playing safe. But I believe that I owe it to the writer in me to be unfettered.
Do you believe that the oppression of woman originates solely from patriarchal setup? Is she also to be blamed for her condition?
I don’t believe that oppression of women originates solely from the patriarchal setup. Women do not stand up for themselves and tend to take easy way out of silence. Moreover, her well-being is still so hinged on approval that she’s willing to compromise again and again.
Your male protagonists Ayaan and Karan are realistic and well-rounded. How do you bring in so much conviction into your male characters when you are a woman yourself?
Pretty much in the same way that I create my women characters, I step into the shoes of the character I create and whether they are male or female they tend to be viewed and decided by me in the same fashion.
Would you like to share a few words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
It is important to be aware of your own voice as a writer. This involves being more connected to yourself. Secondly, I’ve learned that being open to new experiences and new pathways, good or bad, helps renew one’s perspective, provide a grounding for new settings and characters and give free play to the wealth of creativity and imagination we each have within.
Stories are intrinsic to human nature; we live to tell, retell and listen to stories—stories of mythological folklore, stories of ancestry that are passed down from one generation to the other, accounts of war and grief, stories of love, loss, adversity, resilience and spiritual awakening. Each life is a story that is unique in itself. A good writer honours that and seeks to do justice to how best a story can be told and what genre will do that story most justice. So, genre, in itself, is secondary.
Writing can be like swimming in an ocean with no end in sight. But it can be rewarding if you write from your heart and soul. People pick up on that kind of vibe and value the uniqueness that comes along with it. This involves tremendous patience and endurance replete with years of practice—not because you want to become clinically perfect in it, but because you enjoy it.
It is critical to read multiple authors and writers across all genres and formats, ranging from sci-fi, medical thrillers, literary fiction, philosophy and poetry to theories, monographs, white papers, op-eds, articles and news pegs. I personally love Wilfred Owen’s war poems, Geoffrey Chaucer’s oeuvres, Sidney Sheldon’s psychological thrillers, Pablo Neruda’s poetry and more broadly speaking, articles on political economy and cultural displacement – that’s a mishmash of sorts!
Finally, writing isn’t a career. It is a lifeblood that must feel right in your heart and resonate in your soul. Sometimes, you don’t choose writing. Writing chooses you.