Tanya Bisht is a woman vigilante who lives in Delhi and fights rapists. In her words, “It was a big mistake on my part to be born in Delhi without taking the simple precaution of being born a man. But I am overcompensating for this inadequacy by kicking a**.” She is the protagonist of stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant’s new book Under Delhi.
Sorabh, whose first book 'The Wednesday Soul' was also about a woman vigilante, says that Under Delhi was supposed to be a prequel to his first novel, but as he kept writing, it became a different book altogether. “The story has been in my head for five years. When I started putting this book together, I realised the two women are completely different, their personalities, family backgrounds and job profiles. So this book couldn’t be the back story of the central character from my last book,” he says.
Sorabh, who calls himself ‘yet another feminist male’, feels that feminism has an important place in the Indian society right now. “Yet I had men telling me that I am trying to cash in on a current topic. I don’t think I need to experience something to be empathetic, just as I don’t have to be at a war zone to understand what people there are going through. One just needs to have an open mind and talk to many people. And what I have realised is that the number of men who treat women well are definitely not in the minority,” he adds.
He also says that writing a book from a woman’s perspective hasn’t been easy. “I teamed up with a good editor for this book, who had earlier worked on a lot of novels by women, so she knew what would work. I also made my wife, sister and female friends read the first three chapters to make sure it is all relevant, because I didn’t want to be disingenuous in any way.”
Even though the book is inherently funny, the author made sure that the humour didn’t disengage the readers from the important issues like eve-teasing and sexism at work and LGBT rights, which he tried to highlight in this book. “The book in no way tries to trivialise the trauma of sexual assault. So the jokes are not attributed to the crimes but to this one woman, who in spite of being a vigilante, is vague and indecisive about a lot of things,” he says.
Sorabh, who founded the comedy touring company East India Comedy, recently collaborated with actors Neil Bhoopalam, Meiyang Chang and Rajit Kapoor for a video titled I’m Not a Woman which became immensely popular on YouTube. In this video, Pant and the others apologise to women of the country for India being the second most unsafe place in the world for women. One of the most interesting reactions this video has received is from men, who feel that it isn’t their responsibility to apologise for crimes committed by members of their sex.
“And then there was a group of around 30 people, who trolled all of us saying, ‘you’re speaking about women empowerment; what about empowerment for men?’ All of this was based on a single news report which stated that 20 per cent of all rape cases filed in North India are false.”
“Anyone who has been wrongly accused of a crime deserves all the support, but one needs to get their priorities right. I mean you can’t use statistics to hide behind the fact that you’re probably a sexist. Imagine you are on the Titanic which is about to hit the iceberg and someone says, ‘so Koala bears are becoming extinct; let’s focus on that’,” he adds.
Sorabh finds writing a cathartic experience, “Especially with this book, I just wanted to get the thought out there and also make it funny so that more people read it and think about the concerns I have tried to raise.”
The author is presently planning a sequel to Under Delhi; and also working on a funny historical mythology book. He adds that deadlines are his ultimate inspiration to get all the writing done. “If you tell me that you need something by August 8, I’ll probably give it to you by December 2018,” he says, laughing. “Since I love writing, it is also a selfish motive on my part to make sure that people are always reading something or the other written by me.”