The writer’s latest book, Lockdown Liaisons, explores life during the pandemic through 24 stories and internal monologues
“I was like a woman possessed, sweating blood and [writing] at a demonic speed,” says Shobhaa De. At a time when people are baking sourdough bread and whipping up Dalgona coffee, this doesn’t sound like the best way to spend a lockdown. But as a writer, she “simply could not let this dramatic, disruptive pandemic moment pass without responding to it in my own fashion.”
De is referring to Lockdown Liaisons, her latest collection of short stories that first came out as weekly e-books through June and July, and have now been compiled into a paperback. “Some stories were written in a day, some in two. Putting down 2,000 to 2,500 words a day became my ‘new normal’,” she shares, adding, “I was responding to so many stimuli. I was devouring news reports, watching the pandemic take over our world and our lives. The early stories in the series reflect my own confusion and pain as I watched lives crumble and change around me. So, in that sense, every story is ‘real’.”
Stories for all
Fear, frustration, uncertainty, and tragedy run through the 24 stories. Sex (in De’s inimitable style) plays a large part too — a woman contemplating seducing her brother-in-law, another fending off her husband’s unwanted attention, and a man stuck with a mistress he barely knows. “Most of the characters, like most of us, are still coming to terms with the tumultuous emotional and financial changes brought on by a lethal virus that has paralyzed the world. Everyone is obsessed with just one thing, survival! I have tried to capture these mixed feelings through the different characters,” she says.
The first-person narratives, structured as internal monologues, are mostly set among the urban, well-to-do segment. But the occasional one delves into the lives of people from other stratum of society, such as a migrant worker leaving for his village or a Benarasi weaver and his silent loom. “The book shows a great range and [Shobhaa’s] connection with people at all levels,” actor Lillete Dubey said during a performative reading of the final e-book. “Obviously, she was not sitting inside a migrant’s house, but she was sitting inside his head. Each character speaks distinctly; they even construct their sentences differently.” Dubey is now eyeing a few stories for the stage.
While switching between characters — “occupying their skins, their minds, their hearts, their lives” — was challenging for De, the short story format wasn’t. “I have written a volume of short stories in the past for Hay House, titled Small Betrayals. I love the format and strongly believe this neglected genre is poised to stage a major comeback in publishing. It has to do with ADS [Attention Deficit Syndrome]. Readers are searching for something that provides food for thought in small, delicious bites!”
Up next, we can expect a new novel, Srilaaji – Diary of a Marwari Matriarch (published by Simon & Schuster). It is slated for a Diwali launch.
In the meantime, she is keen on spending more time with her family. “I have been reaching out to long-lost friends and investing more time in relationships that matter,” says De, who has been watching Aarya and Indian Matchmaking on Netflix of late. “I have rediscovered my priorities: family and writing.”
Lockdown Liaisons, published by Simon & Schuster, is priced at ₹350. Available at leading book stores and on e-commerce platforms like amazon.in.