Hyderabad: When Ratna Vira was working on her debut novel Daughter by Court Order, she already knew that she had something special, something powerful, a story that must be told. The story mattered enough for Ratna to leave her job and work full time on the book while it was nearing completion.
Daughter of senior journalist Nalini Singh and S.P.N. Singh, Ratna explored the serious issues of discrimination against women, especially when it comes to property rights. Aranya, the protagonist of the book, is a single mom who faces one of the most menacing villains in none other than her own mother; a mother who denies the very existence of her daughter in court to deny her a share in the property. And thus begins Aranya’s fight to be recognised as a daughter, ‘a daughter by court order’.
“I genuinely believe that we all have a book in ourselves that’s waiting to be written. And the time had come to write mine,” says the author. “I had been writing bits and pieces of it over the last six years but the idea of the plot, and how to weave all of it together into one coherent, seamless story happened over the last two and a half years.”
So, what happened in that time that made her finally write the book? She answers, “I had begun to hear a lot of women talk about issues close to them. And I found that there was a common thread that ran through all the stories and experiences. Some were more intense, and some were less intense. But be it Aranya’s story, or Priyanka’s story or even my friend Anu Modi’s story; the fact still remains that India is a patriarchal society where the rules are different for daughters and for sons. And that’s where the idea stemmed from.”
The book strikes a fine balance between the courtroom drama that ensues as Aranya fights for her rights as a daughter, and the family politics that goes on behind the scenes, and in the run up to the litigation. Ratna shares that she did not need a lot of homework as she was exposed to the good aspect of litigation process as her grandfather H.D. Shourie had done a lot of litigation work for his organisation called Common Cause.
“Also, I had interned with Rani Jethmalani where I realised that the severe problems faced by women cut across economic strata and education background, and is applicable to every section of society. In a lower strata society, you put your hands on your hips and you shout and scream and you fix it. But in the upper sections of society, it’s violence by silence. And it need not be physical violence but it could be emotional violence, it could be suppression, or being denied the same choices, or ultimately, the right to property,” she says.
Interestingly, Aranya’s mother, Kamini, comes across as pure evil. Ratna says that while it’s nothing new, it’s just something that is not widely talked about. She adds, “And I wanted to explore this aspect of violence within families and also, what women do to women. The boundaries are always set by them. The family you are born into, your mother tells you what to do; you get married, your mother-in-law tells you what to do. And then it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. This is a cycle that needs to be broken, which is something Aranya tries to do in the book.”
While the book accommodates a lot of what Ratna wrote over the last six years, there’s a lot that’s left out. “See, I am a painter too; and just like you don’t put all the colours in one painting, you don’t put all the words in one book. I hope you’ll see some of it in my next book.”
When asked what is her next book about, she says mysteriously, “I can’t tell you much about it but all I can say right now is that I’ll surprise you.”...