Rani Dharker’s first novel The Virgin Syndrome was ecstatically received and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize. Thereafter she published Anurima, Once Upon a Time … There was Baroda and a children’s book, which was published by Heritage Trust in Baroda, called Champaner and the Magic Mountain Pavadh and has her watercolour illustrations.
Rani has a PhD in English Literature and was a professor of English at M S University of Baroda, where she was the leading light in its Shakespeare Society, directing and acting in plays. Her column, The D(h)arker Side, had a wide readership in The Times of India's Baroda Times. She loves dogs and other four-legged creatures (as well as the ones that fly).
In this interview, she shares the insights that she has gleaned from her observations, writing and interactions into how young India conducts its relationships as well as the changes in the last decade or so.
From The Virgin Syndrome (1997) to 2016: Is virginity still a big deal?
Things have changed because now young people don't 'hide' their relationships but go out quite openly with the one they are seeing. There is no guilt any more. In more progressive families especially in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, even parents don't object - they know that their son or daughter is sleeping with the girlfriend or boyfriend. In more traditional families, where marriage is generally arranged, virginity is important even in these times. There are a number of cases where girls go to a doctor to turn them back into virgins by stitching up the hymen!
What is young India's take on love and relationships?
They don’t feel guilty about falling in love! They know it is most natural to be in a relationship and to have sex.
Arranged matches or love, what do you think is more prevalent?
Love marriages, arranged marriages, you find those running neck-to-neck. Did you know in some rural communities, the young are encouraged to sleep with someone so that they have first-hand knowledge of sex, instead of being shocked by what comes after the ceremony? Urban India is getting bolder and is with it especially when it comes to sex. Progressive families are fine with love marriages but more traditional communities want their children to have arranged marriages.
What are your thoughts on caste hierarchies, love and the movie Sairat?
I mean to watch it (the movie). Caste still plays a significant role in rural areas especially. Honour killings still take place – it’s hard to believe that parents would actually kill their daughter because she didn’t marry into her caste or religion. Makes one shudder at the horror of it. When will we ever learn? In Rajasthan where caste is all-important, girls as young as fourteen are sold to much older men who abuse them and when they’ve had enough sell them to someone else for a higher price. It’s a racket that is common there.
And yet, weddings are getting bigger and bigger. What is your take on big weddings?
I find it a bit sad – all this conspicuous display of wealth in newer and newer ways of staging a wedding. A bit like a play, actually.
Why do we discriminate against homosexuals when love is love?
As I said caste prevails supreme in India. As for homosexuality still considered a crime, this is so dated. Shashi Tharoor had tried to change the law but he got very little support in Parliament.
But there are certain exceptions and more acceptance. This woman in Mumbai was told by her son that he was gay. She was shattered but accepted it after a while – she then actually put in a matrimonial ad (oh yes, they are still going strong) asking for a bridegroom for her son. He had to be an animal lover because her son was one (I love that!) Needless to say, she got a lot of flak including abusive mail and threats to kill her. I believe the son found his groom. I salute the courage of that woman.
What do you think of Bollywood and its portrayal of a different kind of love?
Things are changing in Bollywood – a recent film that comes to mind is Kapoor and Sons, which raises the question of homosexuality.
Do you have any words of wisdom for us?
I don’t generally give advice but since you ask I’ll just say ‘Do your own thing and don’t be afraid of society.’
What is a favourite quote that sums up relationships and love for you?
I love this quote by Marilyn Monroe, which has to do with relationships:
“I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.”