If you thought a college degree was a pre-requisite to success, in the literary world, Sharanya Manivannan will give you a run for your money.
“I don’t have a college degree, not because I was such a rebel but because my family is thoroughly dysfunctional,” Sharanya tells SheThePeople.TV.
Also Read: SheThePeople.TV Celebrates Women Writers
Growing up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, she moved to India in 2007 and currently lives in Chennai. Her book The High Priestess Never Marries has been a topic of conversation among many book lovers, and critics. She speaks to SheThePeople.TV about writing, challenging societal norms, and how her generation isn’t doing enough of that.
I started to write when I was 7 years old
What inspired the idea for The High Priestess Never Marries ?
The difficulty in finding or keeping love as a headstrong, but unfortunately heteroromantic, woman. And connecting this with socio-political realities: gender discrimination, misogyny, the status quo. The book started on a fun note: misadventures in love. It gradually grew into what it means to build alone, without the scaffolding of the social legitimacy of marriage. What does one do with her heart when it is chronically broken, but when she refuses to bend her will alongside it? That’s what the stories in this collection attempt to answer.
In India only 5% of marriages are inter-caste. Marital rape is legal.
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Your book is about love and freedom, how do you think the Indian society today accepts this phenomenon? (considering the social norm of marriage/wedlock)
Well, it doesn’t. The statistics show that only 5% of marriages are inter-caste. Marital rape is legal. There was a recent Supreme Court case in which the ruling stated that it is the duty of the Hindu wife to serve her husband’s parents, and he has grounds to divorce her if she doesn’t. Islamic women’s organisations have been fighting against triple talaq for a long time. Where’s the love in the institution of marriage then; where’s the freedom? People will get defensive and talk about their individual scenarios, but if they look beyond their own noses the writing’s on the wall.
How do you see the youth changing this paradigm?
I don’t see this paradigm being challenged enough in my generation. The heterosexual women and men I observe (in urban milieus) still see arranged marriage as the perfect fire trampoline. Do whatever you want to, hurt however many people you do, but at the end of the day, defer to the custom. When all else fails, jump off and into the wide open arms of the patriarchy!
The paradigm will only change when society stops being so casteist and communalist.
Love doesn’t reign in India because these structures and divisions do. What is required isn’t superficial displays of empowerment or liberation, and certainly not saccharine gestures of romance, but true systemic change.
What challenges do women face when it comes to choosing to be single?
Four years ago, when Jyoti Singh Pandey was murdered, it became acceptable to openly talk about how afraid we are, how dangerous this country is to be in a woman in. Now, I feel things beginning to creep back into silencing and shame. We’re accused of exaggerating our situation. We’re told that if we weren’t free and safe, we wouldn’t be able to talk about it at all. I bring up the spectre of violence because it’s probably one of the main reasons why women don’t stay single. They seek the perceived protection of marriage: everything from the fact of not having to live alone to the smidgen of respect you may get purely on the basis of the ring on your finger or the nuptial chain around your neck.
We forge the best selves we can be, and we embrace the world. But we never stop looking over our shoulders.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
This will sound like a romantic answer, but I hope at some point in my life to be able to learn about small-scale agriculture. Or something else non-corporate but which also doesn’t require me to continue to monetise my skills by producing content or copy. I dearly want to find something else to depend on financially, so that my creative work never has to have that pressure on it. This, too, is a big part of what it means to build alone.
Your message to our readers?
There’s a kindness deficiency in the world. Kindness isn’t in charity, which lets you feel good about yourself without having to engage with a person beyond a monetary contribution. It’s in listening to one another, considering alternate perspectives, always taking the high road of knowing that every person you meet is in some struggle unseen to you.