Interview with Sujata Parashar – Activist, Writer and Poet

From everyone we inquire the reason of feeling a sense of pride, of being an Indian. But, from an active social activist like you, we would like to ask, do you really need a reason/reasons for saying that “Yes, I am proud to be a daughter of this motherland”?

One does not need a reason(s) to feel proud of her motherland. It’s a natural feeling. Yet, as human beings, we all like others to admire and appreciate us. Whatever we are it’s because of our environment, culture and traditions. In that sense, yes, I too look for reasons to feel proud of my motherland. Not so much to prove a point but more to highlight and emphasize upon the fact that I belong to a glorious nation with a rich past and a resilient present.

I’m Proud to be an Indian!

sujata-parashar-empowering-minds-NGOWe all know that you are an Executive Board Member of Empowering Minds, an NGO, Delhi, contributing towards development of marginalized children, youth and women in the areas of health and education. Tell us something about the areas of operations and goals accomplished by this NGO.

Empowering Minds is a Delhi based national level NGO , working for the empowerment of the marginalised children, youth and women in the areas of education and health.

We run a couple of formal and non- formal educational centers in the urban and rural slums of Delhi NCR and U.P for primary level school drop outs, street and working children. Other than that, we provide psycho-social counseling; organizing workshops and meets for persons with hemophilia, a rare genetic bleeding disorder. (It’s a condition in which the ability of the blood to clot is greatly reduced. It mostly affects the male child). We also work with the youth and impart need-based skills development programs to them. As a board member I advise on strategy, and lead project implementation and resource generation.

sujata-parasharHow do you think does our youth force tend to mould and give an altogether newer shape to our Indian systems and practices?

India has the youngest population in the world followed by China. And according to UN youth will be the “new power shaping the world.”  This clearly means two things:

  1. The youth’s interest and influence will surely be a vital deciding factor in formulating the policies and programmes of the country
  2. The economic potential of the country will rise manifold

However, the great debate is how our youth will be able to change the India that showed great promise after the admirable way it attained independence but somehow could not fulfill it. In fact, despite completing several proud milestones and being accepted as one of the emerging powers of the world, India’s performance in fulfilling even the basic needs of the people has been dismal – basic education, glaring poverty, poor health facilities and the basic infrastructure are some of the challenges the country is still grappling with. Moreover, as we are witnessing; corruption, insensitive governance, poor law and order situation and overall degeneration of human values are acting as a further barrier to the healthy growth of the nation.

But I believe, the Indian youth has come of age. They are aware, vocal and extensively use the advanced technology and Social media platforms as tools for instant and collective expression of their thoughts, ideas, dissent, frustrations, aspirations and the like. They don’t hesitate in calling ‘a spade a spade.’ And as we see: this is doing wonders! The authorities and Government has no option but to sit up and take notice and work towards bringing about necessary changes in their policies and programmes. This change is welcome and will hopefully continue with the youth taking lead in the nation building process.

 ‘When a woman is educated, entire family is educated’ How far do you think does this line sounds and plays actually true?

I completely believe in that phrase. A child’s first Guru is always his/her mother. It is only the mother who teaches the child his first lessons in love and compassion and the basic human values. But before imparting knowledge to her children, a mother needs to cultivate those necessary attributes required to grow and be aware of her own self and the world around. Education helps her in developing an understanding and making informed choices for herself and her family.

Acquiring Masters degree in Human Rights, to what extent was this planned for working as an social activist, society alarmer and an executive head of an NGO in future?

It was not planned but it was certainly my calling. Before doing my Masters in Human Rights, I was working for an international airline. And like any other corporate profile, working in the travel trade had its charm: excellent work environment, foreign trainings and travel, great paycheck, meeting people from across the world and the like. But after three years of working in the same environment I somehow felt restless and empty. That was the time when I heard Pakistan’s renowned Human Rights activist, Ms. Asma Jahangir on the television. I decided I wanted to be like her. But I also felt that I would get into activism or do that kind of work much later in life. It happened sooner. After my marriage I decided to join a grass root level NGO, based in Delhi, called Prerana. Initially, I volunteered with them but soon joined them full time and went on to work on several projects focusing on marginalized adolescents and women.

Post graduation in Travel and Tourism Management, and a vast experience in both sectors, in India as well as abroad. Would you like to share with us a little bit of this idea of Travel and Tourism? Also, how far do you think of the idea of taking this as a career option?

As I mentioned earlier, I worked with an international airline; Scandinavian Airlines (or SAS as it is popularly known as), for about three years, before I joined the Social development sector. Some of the best moments of my life belong to that particular phase of my life. I am what I am today because of the training, exposure and understanding I accumulated during my tenure with SAS. Here, I would also like to mention that I firmly believe, that in order to become a better human being, one must travel and see the world.

Achieving Goals & Marking Success or Chasing Excellence. What according to you is more important?

None. Although, it is important to have goals in life. Without goals one is direction less. And once we’ve set our goals it is important to work for it. If we have the passion and a never – say die attitude there’s no doubt that we will achieve them. But according to me the most important thing one can’t do without is to have an unshakable belief in one’s own potential. Faith in one’s own abilities is the key to happiness and victory.

What turns coin of a socially active persona like you, to show a fascinating side of writing fiction, poetry, blogs, articles for newspapers and magazines?

Well, activism is nothing but taking action to spread joy in the Society. Literature does the same thing. Especially Fiction. In fact, I believe the best lessons in life are learnt in the form of stories.  I discovered my story telling talent a bit late in life. But now that I am recognized as a writer and poet I would like to use it to do my bit in spreading cheer to as many as possible.

Talking about your books. Your one book ‘In Pursuit of Infidelity’ portrays a story of many modern day couples, a story containing events that are generally left unexpressed and undiscussed always. What helped you to form the character of female protagonist, Sheena?

I can give you a long story around this. But the truth of the matter is that ‘Sheena’ just happened. I didn’t think about her character too much. She was already there in me and all the women I know and see around me. Basically she’s any modern woman who is independent in her thinking, sure of herself and greatly values her own needs and desires.

Talking about another book, ‘In Pursuit of Ecstasy.’ The story was not just-another-fiction-in-the-market.It was a youth based story, focused on the lives of four college mates, representing many present day youngsters, for whom lying to parents and rebelling is not a big deal. Where did this idea of a book actually arise from? And, would you like to share some feedbacks of the same?

Yes, the seed idea of the book came to me while reading an article in Outlook in 2010 which was about the alarming rise in crime rates in the country being committed by the youth. I was further inspired to dwell on the issue when I read, Ignited Minds, by Dr. APJ Kalam.  I decided to explore the reasons that probably lead the youth away from following the good path. Basically, through the story I attempted to get answers to a couple of questions: Why do youth lie and hide things from their parents? And what impact it has on the Society as a whole?

What’s your idea of living a life? What do you wish to see, when you close your eyes? And what do you actually see, when you open them?

Now this question brings a smile to my face! And that is the answer to your question. I wish to see smiling and happy people around me. And of course smile is infectious. So however sad or difficult our environment maybe, if we are in the company of smiling people we will sail through the harshest of times smoothly.

Two of your special and unusual (we would say) attributes are, Observing people and talking. How far do you think, do these two help you to form your fictional characters and give them a lively charm?

Well, you are partially right there. I love to talk to people. It’s something that comes very naturally to me. Am comfortable in striking the right chord even with complete strangers. I think that is because by nature I am a curious person.I am interested in people. I like to know about their lives. Also, I feel more or less we all are the same; seek the same joys, face similar challenges and the like. But what is interesting is that we all have our unique ways to deal with these challenges and face life. And we all have our individual perspectives. That is what makes us different from each other. And that is where we can learn from each other. About my observation skills, frankly I would like to develop it some more. At the moment I find myself lacking in the area. I do observe but mostly at a superficial level. Unless something really interests me I “see” but don’t “observe” as a friend pointed out to me recently.

Having said the above, I must accept that since I have a keen interest in people…I do pick up impressions, subtle gestures, habits and nuances of the people I interact with and have used them successfully in building up the characters of all my novels so far.

Sujata parashar Holding her bookTell us something about your third upcoming fiction ‘The last of the Pursuits’.

The last of my “pursuits” deals with the institution of marriage. In a sense it is an extension of my first novel, In pursuit of infidelity. But instead of focusing completely on infidelity, the story tries to find out why even best of marriages break down. What is the relevance of the so called holy institution in current times? And how marrying for the wrong reasons coupled with modern day lifestyles may lead to an infidelity.

Being a writer and smartly connected to literary, do you think of any reforms to be introduced in our writing world?

The quantum leap of science and technology is mind boggling. New gadgets and machineries are becoming outdated overnight. Our youngsters are way ahead as far as technology is concerned. Yet, these very youngsters who are sharp and extremely competent in handling a gizmo or latest touch screens, are not reading, writing and consuming books in the same manner. Many are not even competent in grasping the basics. I feel it is important that all the stakeholders of the writing world; be it writers, publishers, bookstores or even libraries and others must proactively play their part in ensuring that readers …especially the GenX continue to enjoy stories/the world of words and expressions, as much as they love their smart phones, internet surfing, video games, face booking etc.

In order to do that there must be a lot of cohesiveness and understanding among the stakeholders. A deep desire to help and promote literature for literature’s sake and for the benefit of mankind as a whole. Interactive forums, sharing of ideas and personal success stories, innovative and creative ways of involving the readers, helping and encouraging young authors with positive guidance etc are some of the ways I can immediately think of, which may boost the love for literature among the modern and tech savvy youth.

‘Pen is mightier than Sword’. How do you take and use this saying in your real life?

It is indeed. Sword begets grief, loss and negativity. Pen gives rise to introspection, realization and creativity. As a woman and a creative person, to express myself through the pen happens effortlessly.

Do you believe in the idea of being of Versatile Writer?

Well, I would like to put it this way: I believe in the idea of being a writer who writes from her heart and soul. And while expressing from the heart, if the writer is able to experiment with her form/style and make it compelling and different from her previous works, why not? In fact, that’s what creativity is all about.

Would you like to share with us about the concept of Under the Banyan Tree?

Under the Banyan Tree or UTBT , as we like to call it is an online journal where one can share their true stories. Powerful stories that inspire, spread a smile, connect, or even heal. The initiative is almost a year old now. And it’s not only a forum to contribute one’s real – life stories, it’s also a place where one realizes how similar we all are. And how we all seek the same thing in life; joy and peace.  Kulpreet Yadav, my co – editor and I plan to bring out an anthology of the best stories published on UTBT later this year. Top winners also get to win attractive holiday package to heritage properties across Rajasthan.

We would like to wrap our session with you here, with some inspiring words to our aspiring writers and avid readers from your side.

To all my writer friends I would like to say: write what you must. And write what moves a heart or brings out a smile. Keep writing.

And my dear readers: we love telling stories only because you care to listen/read them. So thank you. Keep reading.

2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Very inspiring interview. India needs more such creative persons like Sujata. Thanks for the infectious smile too!

  2. Very interesting interview indeed! An absolutely nice read! Good going Sujata :)

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