An interesting conversation with Kirtida Gautam, author of ‘IAm16 ICanRape’

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Writing a novel on the sensitive issue of rape is not an easy job. It’s like walking through a minefield. Tread carefully, or you’re doomed. You can be misunderstood. Misinterpreted. You can be accused of handling a serious issue lightly. You can be called insolent and a sadist.  Kirtida Gautam had the guts to bring an ugly issue to the fore. And then name it ‘IAm16 ICanRape’. The title mocks the deficiencies inherent in the judiciary and the legal system of India, which became highlighted during the trial for the Nirbhaya rape case (2012). A juvenile, responsible for much of the stomach-churning cruelty inflicted on the victim, was handed the most lenient of sentences because he was underage.

It was a pleasure to engage Kirtida Gautam in an interesting conversation on her beliefs, her way of writing and the challenges faced while authoring ‘IAm16 ICanRape’. Read on.

US: The minimum age of criminal responsibility has been a controversial issue in many countries and the intelligentsia is still divided on this issue. Your book takes up the sensitive issue of rape and challenges the crime and punishment philosophies prevalent in our country’s law and judicial system. Why is still there no consensus?

KG: In behavioral sciences there is a theory of Lawrence Kohlberg in which he describes 6 stages of moral development.

Level 1 Pre-Conventional

  1. Obedience and punishment orientation- How can I avoid punishment?
  2. Self-interest orientation- What’s in it for me? Paying for a benefit

Level 2 Conventional

  1. Interpersonal accord and conformity- Social norms; the good boy/girl attitude
  2. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation- Law and order morality

Level 3 Post-Conventional

  1. Social contract orientation
  2. Universal ethical principles- Principled conscience

Here, I completely agree with juvenile bodies that claim these boys are not developed in their personality and moral conscience. In other words, they are intellectually and physically mature but morally they are yet to achieve maturity. They see world either from pre-convention or convention level of moral development. They are still at a stage when they try to avoid punishment and they see a situation from point of view what is there for them.

Tell me what basic common sense tells you. If these boys will try to avoid punishment, how should we correct their behavior? Answer is simple. Operant conditioning! By threat and execution of punishment; logical, most logical answer!

So, I belong to the school which believes that it is much better to stop a crime taking pro-active measures rather than giving a criminal safe, punishment-free and comfortable environment to commit his/her crime.

Teenagers do need the support of their parens patriae to tell them right from wrong.

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US: How has been the reception of  ‘IAm16 ICanRape’? Has it helped people view rape from a fresh perspective? Tell us some good things you have heard from the readers.

KG: I am overjoyed with the reception the book #IAm16ICanRape- War AGAINST rape culture in India- has received by the readers. It seems that the book opened a Pandora’s Box. It is one woman’s voice, but every woman’s opinion. This is how Indian women have been thinking for a long time. In India, women are treated like third class citizens, especially if they suffer the ill fate of a crime like rape.

This is not an acceptable situation.

Some of the best things I have heard about my book are-

US: Have you faced any backlash from people who didn’t agree with your views?

KG: One of the major concerns and criticism I heard about the book is about the title of the book, #IAm16ICanRape. Many people considered it unaesthetic.

I have often been questioned, sometimes in very rude words why I choose this particular title for my book. One day a person on FB dropped me a message asking, “How vulgar are you as a person to name your book like this?”

The very simple reason why I choose this title for the book is because I believe everything in the life DOESN’T have to be aesthetic. I know that the title feels abusive, almost like a SLAP. It elicits uncomfortable emotion in a person who reads the title. But that is the point!

When six people rape a woman on a moving bus in the capital of a country for 40 minutes and then throw her on the road in a winter night buck naked, and yet one of the culprit gets almost negligible punishment from the state for his crimes- there is nothing aesthetic about this situation.

One major defense mechanism, DENIAL, is employed by Indian society when we try and find aesthetics in everything.

THERE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE AESTHETICS IN EVERYTHING.

The “unaesthetic” fact of Indian society and its legal system is that when we take out garb of political correctness aside, no one stops a 16 years old from thinking-
“If I have to commit a crime, let me commit it NOW. If I commit it after I turn 18 I will have to face much severe consequences.”
NO ONE!

US: Bad reviews are integral part of an author’s life. How do you handle them?

KG: When I hear a comment which is negative, my first knee jerk reaction is to defend the work. But when I give myself some time to go back and think about the suggestion, which I always do, I feel that there is merit in negative criticism.

I don’t always incorporate the suggestions made by my Beta readers and readers, but I mull over the possibilities suggested by them, it is food for thought.

My first Beta readers are always Mrityunjay Gautam, my spouse and Payal Chopra, my sister. And they are ruthless when it comes to criticizing the work. They make me shed tears, real tears with their hardnosed criticism. The best part, they make my book a better book, and end of the day, it matters more than anything else.

US: You have a background in screenplay writing. Tell us something about it. How different is it from novel writing?

KG: Before delving in the differences of these medium, let me tell you the similarities, the most basic similarity between these two mediums is that they both demand Art of Dramatic Writing in the story telling.

There has to be a rush, urgency and dramatic thrust in the story to push a reader/viewer from one chapter/scene to the next.

The basic difference is the time constrain, in movies, a screenplay writer has to finish the story in approximately 120 minutes. In novels, the length and depth of the story decides the duration of the story.

Mahabharata is one of the best stories- EVER WRITTEN- it is huge! But it is a story that readers live in their minds.

US: You have experimented with a non-linear and shifting POV style of story-telling in your book. How did you ‘plan’ your plot?

KG: I researched for my book for one and a half years. I had a basic treatment- 15 page document- ready before I started with the research. I wrote around 350 pages of research and brainstorming material. But after all this work, I still didn’t have a story. I didn’t know what I will write in the novel. I mulled over lot of possible stories but nothing made sense. Then I wrote a 5 line- blurb kind of document which said, more than anything else, what I want this story to be.

A grandfather comes to know that his grandson, his prodigy, is accused of committing a rape. In India, the grandson can go scot-free in 2 years at rehabilitation center. But the grandfather is not able to sleep with this fact. He goes through psychotherapy. The journey takes him to the dark corners of his own psyche where he questions the fabric of morality that binds our society and realizes that it is extremely fragile. What does he decides in the end?

I used to come to my writing desk, read this blurb, and sit next to my laptop watching the walls. After doing this for quite a few days, I had my first breakthrough. The chapter, I call 9.1, came in my head in which Aarush accuses his grandfather of sexually molesting him.

I said in my mind to Aarush, “You are a very wicked person!”

Now, the plotting became interesting. I plotted the whole story so that with each chapter, the people who look dark in the beginning look brighter and brighter with each consequent chapters and vice versa.

I also followed the Monomyth concept of Joseph Campbell to the T to construct the plot.

The shifting POV was pure luck in terms of idea. I was toying with the idea if the book should be from Aarush’s point of view, or Rudransh’s point of view. When I started writing character sketches of other people, they all had such distinct voices. I thought why I can’t have multiple points of view. That will give the novel required magnum opus spirit that talks about such a deep rooted social evil and give me an opportunity to talk from diverse angles.

I choose 15 points of view because I have given every character a different MBTI profile. There are 16 different personality types in MBTI, but I have not given the writer’s profile to any character, so there are a total of 15 points of view.

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US: What kind of research did you do for your book?

KG: For almost 2 years, I researched books, articles, internet material and newspaper articles about rape and sexual violence.

Following books helped me the most to understand the nature of sexual crimes committed by juveniles-

US: Tell us what you have learned about the Indian publishing industry. What trends do you see?

KG: Self publishing has changed the way whole publishing industry works. In today’s time the onus of promotion of a book, be it a traditionally published book or a self published book, is largely on the writer.

As there is going to be so much literature around for people to read, I think that in future, word- of-mouth publicity is going to work more effectively than any other way of marketing. People trust their peers more than they trust traditional media personals.

And therefore, it becomes even more important for the writer in today’s time, to write a book that represents his/her craft at its best.

US: In today’s world, what do authors need to do other than writing?

KG: Authors need to connect with their readers and understand the zeitgeist of our time. I think it is most important for the author to decide what his/her heart bleeds for and then work in that area. I will give you an example.

Lisa Genova wrote Still Alice because her grandmother had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and as a neuroscientist she felt for the subject. That is the reason why the book became her voice. It is very important for an author to know what he/she truly wants to raise an opinion about. And then write the books that help him/her to create a platform which actually matters to him/her in the long run.

Work from the deepest recess of the heart, and you will never fail.

  • second book of Yin-Yang series

US: What are you working on, presently?

KG: I have finished writing my second book in the series I call, Yin-Yang series because it talks about the power struggle and/or synchronization between feminine and masculine energies in human society and nature.

The second book is in two parts. I have finished writing the first part and I have started working on the step out line of the second part.

You can buy ‘IAm16 ICanRape’ from Amazon India and Amazon.com.

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