Unravelling stories of Women Achievers

Gunjan Jain’s novel, She Walks She Leads was released in Bangalore recently. The debutant author has profiled the lives of 24 women achievers in India, all dynamic, feisty and talented women such as Nita Ambani, Sudha Murty, Priyanka Chopra, Sania Mirza, Mary Kom, Anu Aga and more. In an interview with RITZ, Gunjan highlights her journey during the writing of this novel and her passion for writing. Excerpts:

gunjan jain

 What made you profile noted women in India? What was the intention behind the same?

I had been out of India for a few years, studying and then working. When I returned back for good, I realised that the profile of the modern Indian woman had changed. They had high-profile jobs, ran successful industries and institutions and reigned at the top of creative vocations. Yet, their path is strewn with hurdles that men do not traditionally face. They are up against gender discrimination, a patriarchal workplace, coupled with household responsibilities.

I felt that to bring these stories to would enthuse other aspiring women when they encountered tough moments in their own lives.  Every success story would boost their resolve. They could see themselves as the next Chanda Kochhar at the helm of a financial institute, or bringing about medical revolutions like Dr. Swati Piramal, bringing sporting honours to our country as Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza have or branding the entertainment world with their image a la Kareena or Priyanka!

That became the starting point of She Walks She Leads.

How exactly did you go about getting interviews with the women and also their friends and families quoted in the book? How easy or difficult was it to get an audience with some of the most famous names in India?

Let’s just say that I have my sources, but I am not telling!

Seriously though, it was easier than one would think. They were all extremely accommodating and gracious with their time and thoughts. If they were apprehensive about trusting a first-time author with details about their lives, they did not let it on. The women were extremely helpful in connecting me to their friends and families to contribute to their stories.

Just a thought: – women such as Nita Ambani, Kareena Kapoor, Sudha Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar no doubt are stalwarts in their respective fields and women achievers we all need to be proud of. But haven’t they been eulogised time and again? Wasn’’t it time to feature women like Ela Bhatt (of SEVA), Dr.Rani Bhang, Mallika Sarabhai, Nandita Das, Aparna Sen and others whom many don’t really know about?

Absolutely! There are so many women that I would have liked to include in She Walks, She Leads. In fact, my original list had more than a 150 women on it and I wish I could have retained them all…but of course that was not an option. I spent days and nights agonizing over every name that I chose to leave out and decided that I would let the material dictate the course. And that’s how I arrived at the final 24.

I agree with you that there is a lot that is already known about some of these stalwarts, the challenge thus for me was to uncover newer facts about them. One of the ways that I believe I have done that is by including insights of those from their personal and professional circles. Their comments have brought in a third point of view, besides mine and the protagonist’s, which has led to a more complete profile. We all have some memories that have faded with time, and then a friend or relative mentions it and we have this ‘Aha!’ moment as it comes back to us…this book is full of those moments.

Did you ever dream of becoming an author? Or was there some trigger than turned you into one?

Writing has been a hobby since childhood and I regularly contributed to my school and college magazines, and wrote in my free time. But, did I ever think that I would go on to author a book? No, I don’t think that’s a thought that ever crossed my mind.

She Walks, She Leads is the culmination of a quest of sorts. It is the answer to the many questions that were emerging in my head at that stage and I figured that this was the best way to answer them.

Would you want to write more of non-fiction or get into fiction?

I think it is too early in my career as an author for me to restrict myself to any genre. The decision to write an anthology on successful Indian women emerged from an organic thought process and I think that the next book I write would also come out through a similar process. Since I have been always more inclined to reading non-fiction and I do find autobiographies and biographies very inspirational, I do believe that I am more likely to write non-fiction. But I am also a great believer in going with the flow so if a ‘once upon a time’ find of a story takes root in me then that’s what I will write!