What do the Indian women of today want? Is it success, equality, love, independence or an all-encompassing magic trick that automatically transforms our existence into things that dreams are made of? A modern, Indian soul-searching book by economist and author, Shrayana Bhattacharya, delves into the complexities that entangle the lives of single Indian women of today.
The Shah Rukh Paradigm
Shrayana’s lens of capturing the challenges faced by lonely and love-lorn Indian women is specifically distinct. Her calculated analyses as an economist blends considerably well with her narrative abilities as a storyteller in a book that entirely uses the living legend and the king of romance, Shah Rukh Khan as an unwavering barometer. The book specifically looks at the lives of Indian women after the 1991 economic reforms and uses Shah Rukh and his filmography as an effective metaphor to deliver a story driven entirely by statistics. In the process, Bhattacharya uses the story of the collective Indian population’s love for this romantic icon to share her very own journey in seeking and losing love.
Through the genre-bending narrative, Shrayana’s brilliance as a storyteller and social thinker is a stark reminder of how entwined our lives become with the stimuli, both social and economic, that we’re fed with.
It is no news that films, stories and the narratives that we consume on a regular basis either dictate our aspirations or form a framework that we follow to achieve these aspirations. Stories are often a reflection of our unfulfilled desires or realising desires that were dormant for far too long. Shah Rukh’s romantic prowess on screen is one such trait that chartered the actor’s climb to success. In representing a sensitive, charming, almost mythical idea of a man and subsequently a partner for the women of that era, Shah Rukh became a cult hero for the Indian women who continue to seek love today.
Was Shah Rukh the ideal choice to base the story on? We cannot say. However, for a vast generation of (North) Indian women, their choice of a favourite on-screen hero revealed many unsaid stories of the lives they have lived and the lives that they aspire to live.
Data As Social Commentary
Desperately seeking Shah Rukh follows the lives of three women across caste, religion and social status and their stories of finding love in a sea of men who are far flung from their romantic expectations from an ideal partner (read Shah Rukh). Using the 1991 reforms as an anchor to narrate her story of women just chartering the unexplored realms of economic and social freedom, Shrayana’s extensive research and ability to guide her story through data and statistics grounds her narrative all the more firmly with the reader.
Through the data, the writer presents ideas about the actual freedom that Indian women experience and how they navigate these limited frontiers. The story firmly puts forth powerful commentary on the quality of lives the women lead in the country. The wider ambit of including stories across social classes also is very telling of how little we as women have in common despite having to lead lives of prolonged challenges and resistance.
Shrayana’s book may have scraped the surface of a deeply entrenched iceberg that represents feministic narratives and unpacks complex and uncomfortable conversations through storytelling. Her ability to package all of it with a witty sense of humour and her ‘as a matter of fact’ manner of presenting realities could create spaces that are better able to hold conversations and the promise of this is eagerly awaited.
You can purchase Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh : India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence here.
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