An Interview with Shilpa Raj - the popular author
An interview with Shilpa Raj, the author of a bestselling memoir - The Elephant Chaser's Daughter. Shilpa has been instrumental in raising the voice of downtrodden through her book and other mediums as well. You will like her thoughts as an individual and also as a bestselling author. DO read the interview below!
Question 1. How would you like to describe your journey so far, Shilpa? You started with short stories and a diary and finally, you are here with a great book! How has this experience been?
Shilpa Raj: Now looking back, everything seems like a dream. The seven long years I spent working on this book seem to have gone by so fast. I feel overwhelmed each time I hold the hard copy of my book in my hands. The journey of writing and bringing my story to life through the book has transformed me deeply and personally. To begin with, it’s given me a newfound confidence and a stronger identity as an author who has the power to speak for those who are waiting to be heard.
Question 2. Did you simply want to tell your story to the readers? Well, some of the serious readers think that you have very beautifully converted your personal story to a story of many others as well. What was in your mind when you began writing The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter?
Shilpa Raj: I began the writing this book, not with the intention of telling my own story but that of Shanti Bhavan, the school that brought me up. The financial crisis that the school faced in the year 2008 was a very significant event in the lives of the children, in particular, because it endangered our ability to continue studying at the school and dream big. As an aspiring journalist from the age of 15, the need to capture my story and that of others I grew up with was important and was only natural for me to do. I strongly felt that while the school was in danger of closing down, I could at least preserve its story through my writings.
I searched for a voice for some time for the narrator of the story and finally realized that the only person I know well enough was myself. I also tried to put myself in the shoes of my classmates and feel and see the world through their eyes. I decided to tell the story of the school and what it was like for me to have it as an integral part of my life.
Question 3. This is a memoir and it has now been a successful one. How do you feel being the first from your community having written a memoir? Does it feel like an achievement or some other kind of emotion is there?
Shilpa Raj: I do feel very happy being the first from my community and in my family to have written a book. But along with that happiness comes the realization that this book is symbolic of all the other opportunities I’ve been blessed with -- to be the first one to receive an education and a new way of life. Being able to write this book is just one of many things I have been gifted with. I now have the possibility of higher education, travel the world, and choose the career I wish for.
Question 4. You are very much interested in child psychology and you aspire to be doing something in that direction as well. What improvements do you think we need to bring in our education system at the present? Do we need to make it more inclusive or is it something else?
Shilpa Raj: Yes, I aspire to become a child psychologist and work intensively in the field of counselling children and helping them with their various emotional and mental problems. I firmly believe that by helping children, we automatically empower them when they grow into adults. Carrying emotional problems from childhood into adulthood debilitates them terribly.
From my own personal experience as a student at Shanti Bhavan and my awareness of the ways the education system runs in India, I’ve come to see that we fail students in many ways. Firstly, there is an underlying sense of blind obedience that comes along with the expectation that students simply memorize the study material given to them, without much creativity or curiosity. While a lot of energy is spent by students and teachers in covering the prescribed material and fulfilling the needs of the State and National Board, we fall short in encouraging a culture of free thinking. We also need to emphasis on value development from a young age.
Question 5. Have you started writing the second book? What would it be? And after this successful work under your name, where do you see yourself in the current Indian literature, Shilpa?
Shilpa Raj: I haven’t started working on my second book yet. I have different ideas as to what my second book should be about. I’d like to try my hand at short stories or children’s books. Eventually many years from now, I would like to write about my personal experience in the field of mental health here in India and elsewhere.
Question 6. We often know about authors when their works are big successes and we generally forget to ask about the various people who might have supported them in such achievements. We would like to know about those people who have supported you reaching so far.
Shilpa Raj: My caretakers and friends at Shanti Bhavan who I have come to consider as my family have always been the strongest source of support for me. Every time difficulties at home pulled me down, the strength and courage I received from the stability Shanti Bhavan offered me helped me move forward.
Question 7. As a reader, what kind of books do you like reading? And do you have any authors for your consideration you might fancy imitating someday their style of writing?
Shilpa Raj: I particularly enjoy non-fiction and short stories based on real-life events. I’m an avid reader and look for inspiration in books constantly. I admire many authors. I’d like to develop my own style based off learning from different authors.
Question 8. Lastly, what would be your message to the readers, Shilpa? And also, what would Shilpa Raj, the author, say to aspiring writers?
Shilpa Raj: I want every reader to know that writing a book is a labour of love. On difficult days, working on my book kept me focused on the purpose ahead. It helped me put many the daunting pieces of my life into proper perspective. I grew closer to my family as a result of spending time learning about their individual lives and struggles.
I’d encourage every aspiring writer not to give up simply because of rejections and criticism that are certainly going to be encountered at some point in their journey. It’s important to have a mentor or a group of close friends who can offer encouragement and motivation to go on when one doubts oneself and the work they are trying to bring to life. An author’s life can be very lonely and emotionally taxing. Hence, it always helps a great deal to have a trusted group of people around you who believe in your work, and more importantly, in you.