Shobha De’s Speed Post: Preparing children for the new challenges of the 21st century
Shobha De is one of the leading women novelists and columnists in India. She has created her unique place in Indian writing in English. Her unambiguous and realistic style of writing has put her among the esteemed generation of Post-modern novelists. She wrote nighteen works which are mostly acclaimed in literary circle.
Her noted works includes: Socialite Evenings(1989), Starry Nights (1990), Sisters (1992), Strange Obsessions (1992), Uncertain Liaisons: Sex, Strife and Togetherness in Urban Life (1993), Sultry Days (1994), Shooting From The hips: Selected Writing (1994), Snapshots (1995), Small Betrayals (1995), Second Thoughts (1996), Surviving Men (1997), Selective Memory–Stories from My Life (Autobiography) (1998), Speed Post (1999), Spouse-The truth about Marriage (2005), Sandhya’s Secret (2009), Superstar India-From Incredible to Unstoppable (2008), Shobha At Sixty (2010), Sethji (2012) and Shobhaa: Never a Dull De (2013). Most of the titles of her works begin with syllable ‘S’ being the first syllable of her name. Her fictional oeuvre has now been introduced in the curriculum of the University of London, Australia and in the University of Bombay.
Some critics categorize Shobha De as pornographic novelist but here is the reality. Dr. Yamuna Prasad rightly says:
Shobha De is a realist. There are some nude and sexy painting-passages verging to soft pornography being all necked and nothing Lawrencean. But they are fleshes of a momentary passion of sex starved men and women usually seen in the corrupt business world where women are taken as sex-idols and playthings. Hence, exhibitions of sex are a part of reality.1
Shobha De’s Speed Post contains a collection of letters which are written to her children Ranadip, Radhika, Aditya, Avantika, Arundhati and Anandita. In the series of six main captions, she talks about every possible thing under the roof, which is a cause of concern for a mother. Right from the manner a mother tries to reach out to her children, so that they don’t consider her an alien, she carefully sketches a mother’s thoughts on realizing that may be their kids wanted a better mother. She also talks about the guilty pains of a mother, when she so wanted to be with her child but some commitment kept her away.
Shobha De calls this book a gift to her children, on the occasion of the new millennium. She loves children her own and of others. She believes that there can never be an ‘Off Day’ 2 for parents. It is a role which once begins, continues till the last moment of that [parent] person’s life. It is a life-long duty from which one cannot be free. Shobha De considers Speed Post is her humble attempt to ask certain questions to young children when they are at threshold of the new millennium. She wants to know whether her children are mentally prepared or not to face the challenges of the new era. She wants her children to think quietly whether they can cope-up with the new time or not.
Shobha De’s letters, which have better quality to improve and to prepare children for the new challenges or problems of 21st century.
Letter addressed to kids, From Mumbai May, 1999. 3
Shobha De makes it clear that the present letter is a letter about strong bond and family-tie. If there is no strong bond in a family, even a good family collapses. The origin of this letter is one interview for a radio show. While she was being interviewed for a radio show, the person asked her what message she would like to give to the urban families for a strong family-tie. The question inspired her to write this letter to her kids.
The moment she faced this question to her mind comes the image of dining table. She believes dining table to be the most precious part of furniture in any house. People used to take one meal together in every family in the past and that provided a platform for the interaction among the family members of three generations. It also taught the younger generation two things; – How to respect the elders and – To get the information about social events related to the family.
Shobha De considers it very unfortunate that the system of one meal together everyday has disappeared our existence now. In most of the families, we find that each member has his own schedule for meal. Children have their own schedule and parents have their own if they are free at all. Today, the system of sitting together for meal has disappeared. It is a sad reality of our times that our kitchen is transformed into a canteen. Every members of family has their own time for taking food. So, the occasion of sitting together for a meal is rare occasion. It affects very badly on the family feeling. But Shobha De would prefer long chatty meal because it gives a chance to the parents to know what is going on in the life of their children. She believes that mealtime is a family time, 4 round table meal is a sign of democratic family. Those who eat regularly live quality life. Smiling faces at the time of meal increase our appetite. Those who eat together can stay together.
Letter addressed to all the older children, From Mumbai July, 1999. 5
Shobha De discussed an important issue with her older children in the present letter. The letter is a kind of advice given by Shobha De to her grown up children. She opens the letter stating that she is going to discuss a very touchy topic- ‘Smoking’
The habit of smoking has created arguments and counter arguments in her family. Of course, she believes in a principle that she should not preach that what she herself does not follow. But she is tempted to advice her children and those grown-up children who have seen both mummy and papa smoking. Shobha De confesses that she would like to smoke one cigar after day’s hard work is over. She smokes to relax and unwind herself- to be free from the tension of busy schedule. She began smoking in her youth in 1960s. The young generation was not aware of the dangers of smoking. In those days, there was no law pertaining to smoking and so there was no statutory warning on the cigarette packs. This provided complete freedom to the youngsters to cultivate the addict of smoking. But she directs one suggestion to her grown-up children that her smoking does not give a license to her children to smoke. Her children are at threshold of the new millennium and a worldwide awareness is created against smoking. It is accepted by all that cigarettes are killers. In the state of California, those who smoke are considered outsiders- out castes. She expresses a hope that her children would learn a lesson from it. Thus, the present letter reflects a carrying mother in Shobha De.
Letter addressed to children, From Mumbai April, 1999. 6
The Present letter is taken from the fourth section of Speed Post with the title- “What’s Love Got to Do with It”. The letter is about Shobha De’s idea about the relation between love and sex. It is not possible for her to imagine sex without love. She would like to call it just a mechanical relationship. She opens the letter stating that she has been often asked a question by her friend Whether she discusses sex with her children or not. Her reply to those friends would be “Never”. 7 Her friends would advise her that it is the age of AIDS and so discussion on such a topic should not be avoided. Some of her friends are not ready to believe Shobha De’s reply because she has written freely about sex in her fictions. But Shobha De finds writing about sex is different from discussing it with her own children. She found it ridiculous. Shobha De finds it impossible to discuss such a topic with her children as she said,
I honestly believe that taking about such a delicate subject so clinically take away the mystery and romance of a healthy relationship. 8
She believes that such a discussion reduces sex to more physical act. Moreover, she neither believes nor advocates “Casual-Sex”. She believes that such a strategy encourages grown-up children on the path of immorality. She does not believe in sex without love. The younger generation considers that sex acceptable even in the absence of love. Shobha De does not agree with such an argument of young generation. According to her,
Sex without commitment or feeling is an empty, sad, lonely act without validity. 9
Shobha De believes that good girls and decent boys never indulge into casual sex. They remain away from it. She believes that sex is a significant act demanding a great sentiment. Her advice to her children is not for “Safe-Sex”. She would like to advise them to behave responsibly, respect their own body and the body of others and to be sensitive in their relationship. Above all, she advises her children not to, abuse the trust of the partner.
In the letters, which are included in Speed Post, we find Shobha De speaking her mind. She tries to reveal freely and frankly certain home truth and family secrets also. She believes that there should be open heartedness in the relationship between parents and children. She is bold enough to confess everything about her relationship with her children. Whoever reads Speed post will realize that that there are certain agreements and disagreement between her children and her. She doesn’t mind if the readers come to know about it. She believes that she has made a great attempt to understand her children in a better way by writing letters.
- Prasad, Yamuna. ‘Shobha De’s Sisters: Not a Junk but a Novel.’ Pub in Indian Women Novelists in English. Ed by Prasad, Amar Nath. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2001. Page No.103.
- Acknowledgements of Speed Post by Shobha De – Published by Penguin Books India 1999.
- Speed Post Page No.91 to 94 (Section- 2- Circle of love)
- Speed Post Page No.94
- Speed Post Page No.108 to 111 (Section- 3- Growing up is hard to do)
- Speed Post Page No. 164 to 167 (Section – 4-What’s love got to do with it)
- Speed Post. Page No. 164
- Speed Post Page No.165
- Speed Post Page No. 167