Much to the delight of bibliophiles, London-based Indian author Jaishree Misra is one of the many honourable guests at this year's Dhaka Lit Fest, where she will not only talk about her own writing, but also shed light on matters such as Brexit, feminism and writing as a woman.
She has produced eight novels in her career, including her acclaimed debut novel, Ancient Promises, the story of a woman's journey to self-discovery, heavily drawn from the novelist's own life. Janu, the protagonist of the story, starts off as an obedient daughter, enters the role of a wife which brings her no happiness, and over time, becomes a guilty lover. Does Janu find happiness in the end?
Going by the number of readers who wanted the answer to this question, Jaishree's first book became a bestseller in India, and was sold worldwide by Penguin UK. It is now a prescribed text for several BA English Literature courses.
Jaishree had to give up a job at the BBC because the breakfast shift timings were playing havoc with her family life, particularly in the care of her daughter with special needs. This is when she set out to write a short memoir, which eventually turned into Ancient Promises. She wanted to make it less autobiographical when it came to turning her written words into a novel. Subsequently, she broke the memoir into chapters, restructured it and changed the names around. Many books later, Jaishree is a well-known name on the literary festival circuit. In 2017, she published her first nonfiction book, A House for Mr Misra, which details her experiences of trying to build a beach home in Kerala. Although fiction has been Jaishree's literary sector for several years, she has enjoyed diving into non-fiction immensely.
Jaishree has also worked in the field of special education, having earned a scholarship by the Charles Wallace in India Trust in order to complete her course in special education and has helped set up a long-term residential home in Delhi for adults with special needs.
She opened up about the struggles for a woman to gain recognition in the contemporary literary landscape. “I think that publishing is one industry where women are not particularly looked down upon and many of my fellow female Indian writers are superbly talented,” said the novelist. “However, I think that women struggle in attracting male readers, given that men are seemingly more likely to respond better to writers of their own gender. This is why women often use neutral names or pseudonyms as authors. The best example of that is JK Rowling.” Jaishree believes that it is a challenging time for authors, since with the varied pleasures of social media and streaming services like Netflix, reading and books are slipping down everyone's priorities.
During her stay in Bangladesh, she will also conduct creative writing workshops in Chattogram, organised by the British Council, who have collaborated with the Dhaka Lit Fest through a fringe event and road show by bringing British authors for talks and workshops in Chattogram and in Dhaka. “I was fascinated by the idea of coming to Bangladesh. I am excited to meet and learn about the works of poets and writers whom I have never met before,” smiled Jaishree.