Shobhaa De marks 75th birthday with ‘Insatiable’–an unconventional memoir
Novelist and columnist Shobhaa De’s new book Insatiable – My Hunger for Life, released on her 75th birthday, is a calendar of events, of food and a celebration of relationships.
Monday February 06, 2023,
6 min Read
At 75, Insatiable seems to be what life is like, today for popular columnist and novelist Shobhaa De.
Not one for sticking to convention, Insatiable – My Hunger for Life (HarperCollins India) is far from the usual idea of a memoir, and does not look back too far–just a year. The calendar of events reads almost like an exciting journal, with a lot of stuff packed in.
There’s the sense of getting through the pandemic, being experimental with food, and celebrating relationships–nothing deeply reflective, just a sense of joie de vivre. For, not everyone can rock 75 as Shobhaa De does.
This year also marks 50 years of her writing career.
“I didn’t want to take the conventional route to mark this birthday because I have marked all the previous milestones. I did a sort of a memoir at 50, 60, 70 so I couldn’t possibly go back to “I was born in Satara” narrative. It’s deadly boring and this structure appealed to me because I could combine different elements in a kind of easy stream of consciousness free style, which is almost in the moment,” she tells HerStory.
While she admits there’s a certain immediacy to the way the book was writing and may look like journaling, it’s not because it goes back and forth.
“It has a lot of memories connect with people. I am talking about foods shared, and it was a way of chronicling a significant year because we were coming out of the pandemic. There were lots of thoughts and emotions boiling around inside my head and I needed to document those,” she adds.
A turning point
From one milestone birthday to another–how have the past five years been?
Shobhaa says her last book, Seventy, and To Hell With It was more about waving a flag about a very ageist world we all live in, and it was to tell women, primarily that the 70s is really not the time to give up and think it’s the end of the world.
“In a realistic way, it liberates you and frees you from many things that may have bogged you down in the past. It was also about breaking a lot of taboos around women and age, and the pressure that society often exerts on them to conform to a certain stereotype at different ages, and the 70s is certainly a turning point for a lot of women. You are dealing with health issues, families need to be taken care of and with your partner, it can be resigned, reconciled or peaceful. It can be mellow,” she explains.
She believes the pandemic has taught us all, regardless of age, we are all equal in our vulnerabilities and each new day is a gift in many ways, especially when so many of us have lost our loved ones to COVID.
Insatiable is like a no-holds-barred account of life in one year, throwing ‘age to the winds’ in a good way.
Shobhaa laughs and says she wouldn’t recommend that women throw caution to the wind.
“Learn to care for yourself much more than caring for what people think of you. By now, you should know what your priorities are. You should know who you are, what gets you going, what makes you tick and what you should really discard. When you are younger, it’s not easy to shrug all that off,” she says.
As a celebrity on social media (and a rarity among women her age) who is unafraid to speak her mind, Shobhaa believes it comes with minefields and it can be lethal if you allow it to be that.
“I’m on top of social media, but I don’t let social media overwhelm me. I enjoy it, it’s fun. And in today’s day and age, if you are not on it you are really living under a rock. And as someone who writes, who is in the public domain I cannot be without it. It’s a beast, but make peace with the beast and tame it,” she says.
Insatiable is also a lot about food–of permutations and combinations others may term as idiosyncrasies but Shobhaa is happy to celebrate the differences.
She clarifies she’s neither a gourmet nor a food critic–just a woman with an adventurous palate. “We should all break some of the food rules. There’s no high priest or priestess of food in the universe, we have to trust our own taste buds and go with our individual choice. I enjoy food because it’s very primal and it bonds people. It represents home, comfort, love and friendship.”
And, that’s what Insatiable is all about. The insatiable sense of discovery and curiosity.
“I’m still looking for adventure, newness and excitement, the next big thing that will get me excited like a little school girl. One should never give up on curiosity, that’s what keeps human beings alive, and that’s what imagination is all about. If a writer becomes jaded and cynical, it’s really the end of the road as a creative person because life is full of surprises,” Shobhaa says.
In the book, Shobhaa also says that one cannot afford to be apolitical in today’s times. What about the whole discourse around ‘cancel culture’ and ‘wokeness’?
She finds the word ‘woke’ annoying as it’s too “self-conscious, pretentious and lacks depth.”
“Every second person you meet is talking about being woke and I don't even know whether they know what it actually implies but the cancel culture is entirely up to you. If you want to endorse it, or if you want to step out and just be yourself and take, what comes with that decision, it's not easy. And a lot of people are happily surrendering their basic right, which is the freedom of expression because they are afraid of censure, in today's difficult times, where everything and every word is, watched and scrutinised,” she adds.
She’s dealt with extremely aggressive trolling, death and rape threats, but that’s not deterred her because she believes it’s important to speak up and silence is not an option.
“I'd rather fight for my freedom than give it up,” she says.
Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti