Author Kishwar Desai's new novel, which deals with the emotive issue of women's security in an atmosphere of heightened sexual violence, has a very strong and eerie resonance with recent incidents of rape and gangrape shaming India.
The third book of the Simran Singh trilogy, "Sea of Innocence" is based on some unsolved and unresolved rape cases which date back more than five years.
"I must clarify that like all Simran Singh novels, I base the plot on research - because even though the genre is fiction - I don't want people to ever forget that all this is actually happening around us. So while my characters and narrative are all part of my imagination, I do constantly refer to real-life events, with names and places so that people can give the story a context," Desai told PTI.
"While I was doing the final edit of the book, the horrible case concerning Nirbhaya took place in Delhi. Coincidentally, because the time line for my book was also December, I was able to include a few lines about what had happened to her, as I felt my book would be incomplete without mentioning her tragic story.
"Yet, though the novel was already written by the time this happened, I think readers will find a very strong and eerie resonance between my narrative and recent incidents of rape and gangrape in India. After all, there is a common background narrative that connects the story of all women in India - and I think that is reflected in all my Simran Singh novels - whether they deal with foeticide or renting out wombs or now, rape."
Desai dealt with female foeticide and infanticide in India in her award-winning "Witness the Night", the first of the Simran Singh trilogy. Her second book "Origins of Love" is about surrogacy and IVF and how topical the issue is both in India and abroad.
The story and plot of "The Sea of Innocence" was conceptualised around three years ago when "my publishers had told me that they would like Simran Singh, the social worker cum amateur detective who appeared in my first novel, 'Witness the Night', to be part of a book series".
She says "The Sea of Innocence", which the readers so far have called as a 'page turner', deals with a very difficult and emotive issue in India - the basic security of women, in an atmosphere of heightened sexual violence.
"There is a zeitgeist in this novel that readers have found compelling."
Desai, wife of House of Lords member Meghnad Desai, also wants to take Simran's story further.
"I constantly receive such amazing responses about her from all over the world, and that is wonderful. Because she is the anti-thesis of the popular notion of Indian women---in cinema, literature, art and in real life.
"She is bold, fearless, unconventional and completely independent without losing her vulnerability. She is not super-human but a normal woman. She is completely altruistic and helps others because she wants a more equitable world but she also does foolish things like falling in love with rather unsuitable men."
The author says the worst kind of politics takes place around women in day to day life.
"We must get rid of caste once and for all because it has made women's lives a living hell. Within each caste they are the lowest of the low. They are also the lowest category within the family structure and what frightens me is the mob-violence against women which takes place within families itself."
Desai feels Indian men are gradually becoming regressive. "I have some hope from the younger generation. But by and large because we live in an unreformed society there is little room or incentive for men to change their points of view about women and unfortunately, there are plenty of people who will exploit these regressive values, and convince women that they must remain within their own 'boundaries'.
"But till women rebel and demand their rights, nothing will change. Women in India need a strong liberation movement that unites all women and that has still to happen." Given the disparities and inequities within the social system in India, Desai thinks for a large part of the country the Indian government will have to take strong universal steps of reservation of seats and giving special status not to states but to women.
"Not as vote banks but because we need to ensure that a major human resource is not kept unutilised. Till women become economic contributors to the household or have identities separate from men they will not be respected.
"So the solution is threefold: women need to unite, they need to rebel and the government needs to act, more swiftly where women's problems are concerned. The people in this country need to fear and respect female power or Shakti as it was known. And it is this Shakti which is represented in the character of Simran Singh. We need more women like her!"