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An in-depth conversation with Purva Grover about her latest book SHE

Womahood and what it means to be a SHE

by Vaishnavi Singh


Purva Grover is a journalist by profession and author by passion. Even though both jobs revolve around the act of penning down, their content differs greatly. It is not common to find news articles written about the smell of coffee beans or the colours of an extraordinary sunset. Both disciplines, however, require a great deal of observation.


SHE is Purva Grover’s third book. A memoir, it is a “collection of experiences” and, as she herself calls it, “a celebration of life as a woman.” In a gendered society, a lot of our experiences as human beings are defined by where we fit in the gender hierarchy. As important as individuality is, it is not detached from the society we live in.




Certain events are unavoidable, especially when we are powerless kids or rebellious but still powerless teenagers. Grover knows this well, and it is evident in the way she begins her book with her experiences as a teenage girl. Boys and periods. A plethora of adult problems follow. SHE is a whole bunch of girl-talk put together in a compact, portable form. In an author’s interview with Ukiyoto publishing, Grover answered a number of questions about her book.


When asked about her history with writing, Grover said she has been writing ever since she can remember. As a kid, she used to write letters to her parents and slide those into their room. She started penning down her day-to-day impressions as diary entries when she was in kindergarten. Writing, for her, is not something people choose. Instead, “writing chooses us.” She has always been an avid observer of life. In a way, writing was meant for her. Her primary job as a journalist helps her keep in touch with writing, but it is her habit of keen observation that deserves the most credit for her success as an author.


Her first book, The Trees Told Me So, is a compilation of short stories, tales of love, loss, and life. Some of the stories are narrated by trees themselves, while others are narrated by people whose lives revolve around trees. It Was The Year 2020 is her second book. Written during the lockdown, it is a short tale describing how the five senses got affected during the pandemic. SHE is her first non-fiction book, a memoir.


  • On the inspiration behind SHE


The inspirations behind the book are “all the SHEs I’ve ever met.” For Purva, girlfriends are the best investment a woman can make, at any point in time. The book commemorates getting together with your “girls” and engaging in conversations about each other’s lives.


Purva recalled the frequent instances when she gets asked what it is like to be a woman. People ask about her work-life balance. Every woman receives questions like these. The truth is that it is impossible to summarize what it is to be a woman. Womanhood is not merely a socially imposed identity, it is an experience. “I don’t know how to be anything else,” Purva explained. SHE is about discovering oneself as much as it is about expressing oneself. The subtitle of the book itself tells us, “Among the many things I don’t understand, most are feminine.”


  • On writing for the self vs writing for the world


Purva shared a beautiful thought: “If we have more stories in the world, the world is going to be a better place.” Her goal as a writer is to make her stories, her observations of the world and insights, reach other people so we can all connect. Yuval Noah Harari explains in his book Sapiens how our unique language evolved “as a means of sharing information about the world…Our language evolved as a way of gossiping.” The way we share stories has not only enabled us to expand our imaginations, “but to do so collectively” (Harari).


SHE possesses a distinct interactive element with unanswered questions and thought-provoking statements. Purva wants, through this book, for people to stop, ponder, and question. She claimed that “nothing in this book is a coincidence. Everything is intentional.” No extensive research has gone into the development of this book. The only sources of the book are real people with real stories, conversations with girlfriends over a call at 2 AM in the morning and in offices by the water-coolers.


Purva wishes to foster a collective curiosity, a community that shares. “I want this book to be dog-eared. I want it to have coffee stains, wine blotches, and turmeric.” People are, in reality, scribbling their thoughts on the pages of SHE. Purva is elated to receive photos of pen marks and screenshots of pdfs. It is the dream of every author to have their work discussed in communities.


  • On the choice of titles


SHE boasts an array of intriguing titles, from ‘Spaghetti vs. Divorce’ to ‘No please, I’d prefer a grill toaster instead.’ The titles ignite a spark of inquisitiveness in the readers. They attract our attention by their mundaneness and their appearance of normality. They are gateways to topics we like to talk about, topics that are both relatable and cathartic. Some titles are vastly different from the essence of their content. Purva mentions a chapter titled ‘I have a dog’ which is actually about career. Only after we have read the chapter will we realize why it is named the way it is.


As Purva mentions, these chapters are dedicated to girlfriends, ex-boyfriends and lovers, careers, and life. Purva claims she is not giving any advice in the book because she is “not wiser” than the average reader. Even though it is a book about women, Purva does not see it as a worthy candidate for feminist literature collections. “It is just about being. It is a celebration of life, and being okay with who you are.” It portrays the fact that individuals are multi-dimensional; they are all human. The individual Purva talks about in her book happens to be a woman. Just like everyone else, “we also sigh, we also smile, we also fight.”


  • On the choice of including or excluding difficult conversations


SHE discusses a variety of happenings and events that make up a woman’s life. Purva wanted to touch upon certain topics but took care to not make her discourse very heavy because the heavier topics “deserve a different space.” She wanted to give a platform to conflicting voices and decisions. For instance, she conveys the ideas of both mothers and non-mothers in an equally sympathetic tone through conversations between the two. She does not take sides. Both sides are valid, and both sides deserve to be recognized. At the end of the day, an individual’s decisions are theirs alone. “When women stand by each other,” Purva said, “nothing can be taken away from us.” We should all agree to disagree as we go along, value each other’s opinions and, in turn, expect our opinions to be valued.


Just like fiction in general, the conversations in SHE are derived from the personal experiences of Purva and those of the people around her. In multiple places, SHE employs the words of Purva’s friends and colleagues, the “SHEs” around her. A lot of writers struggle with depicting other people and their words. Purva took permission from the respective people before quoting them. She has taken the utmost care in upholding the voices of her loved ones.


  • On SHE’s global reception


When asked about the book’s global reception in the light of its mostly Indian context, Purva pointed out the universality of certain experiences. “Acne, waxing, and bad hair days. Career decisions and the hunt to find the right kind of love remain universal.”


The author herself grew up in India before she moved to Dubai. The Indian cultural references in her expressions of childhood and adolescence are inevitable. Her account of hesitation permeating her mother’s explanation of periods is reflective of the Indian custom where parents and kids do not talk about private parts.


Her book is not about boxing people into categories. On the contrary, it is about erasing the invisible boundaries. It is about going above and beyond categories. Irrespective of age and background, some aspects of being a woman remain the same. We feel the same emotions and strive against similar challenges. At the end of the day, we are all human beings sharing similar burdens and finding beauty in similar things.


On the same note, Purva highlighted the importance of non-women picking up SHE. In fact, Purva has acknowledged in her book the importance of certain men in her life. The book’s aim is to provide fresh perspectives. “There are lots of things that go unnoticed and unsaid. It is about understanding an individual. This is what it’s like to be in my shoes.” She wants people to gift this book to their girlfriends and even their non-women friends.


  • On her future plans as a writer


Purva is looking at two books in the near future. We Are All Broken will be a series of anecdotes and short stories. “Ultimately, there is something in all of us which continues to be broken.” Another book will be an ode to the place she dwells in, Dubai. She will expand on her feelings about living in Dubai from a non-tourist perspective.


  • Tips for aspiring authors


Purva believes discipline is the key to success. She reads and writes consistently, sharpening her skills in the process. Every aspiring writer must read a lot, and practice writing as regularly as possible. They must also learn to keep their fresh and fragile work aside, like wet cement, give it time, and come back to it later with a refreshed mindset to evaluate it. They must not judge their bad drafts. It is okay to write poorly. “A bad draft is better than an empty page,” she believes. Connecting with like-minded people helps as it allows one to connect with their inner self.


We need more authentic voices, like that of Purva Grover, that echo the significance of everyday life through a literary medium. After all, this is precisely what life is about: the minuscule intertwining with the humongous. Hopefully, like SHE, Purva’s upcoming projects will capture us with their relatability while honouring the nuances of what it means to be a human being.


[Watch the interview with Ukiyoto publishing here: LIVE WITH PURVA GROVER]

Get a Copy of SHE by Purva Grover.

References:

Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens. Penguin Random House, 2021.


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