Shrayana Bhattacharya, a popular Indian author and economist, was one of the speakers at the Nepal Literature Festival 2022 being held in Pokhara currently.
In conversation with Sewa Bhattarai, she spoke about women’s quest for love, intimacy, and economic freedom in a power-packed session offered by Parachute Naturale shampoo.
Bhattacharya is an internationally acclaimed author whose book Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh won many hearts for its novel approach to discussing women, employment, and the economy.
The Shah Rukh Khan glamour
Shrayana Bhattacharya at the event discussed her experiences with field surveys as an economist. She described her experiences working with women in Ahmedabad’s slums. The women were hesitant to speak with the surveyors, who came, inquired, and then left. Their research or survey had little impact on the lives of the women who struggled every day for economic freedom. They were working for minimum wage and could not see themselves as a part of the bigger economic structure discussed in the study. Bhattacharya did not give up attempting to learn about these women’s lives and financial conditions.
She began by asking the women who their favourite Bollywood actor was as an icebreaker. “Shah Rukh Khan,” women said almost everywhere she went, whether it was the slums of Ahmedabad, Jharkhand, or the posh areas of Delhi. The clever concept of discussing Shah Rukh prompted the women to open up and tell Shrayana Bhattacharya about their lives and financial situations.
However, they were not always discussing Shah Rukh. Instead, they discussed their financial difficulties and how tough it was for them to see him on screen. In these interactions, she saw a pattern.
Women all around India projected their unfulfilled lifestyles onto Shah Rukh Khan’s films. Shah Rukh had, in films, the lives they could not have and the economic freedom they did not have. And, his on-screen presence provided relief for these women. ‘Women don’t want to marry Shah Rukh. They want to become him,” Shrayana Bhattacharya assertively claimed in front of a flabbergasted audience in Barahighat, Pokhara.
The clickbait mystery
The session was very inspiring and enlightening in many ways. Through her book, Shrayana Bhattacharya has masked the hidden agenda: emancipation of women and economic liberation using Shah Rukh’s name. Almost a clickbait, the Bollywood star’s name has worked wonders in encouraging women to come out of their shells and dream of an end to all the various glass ceilings that suffocate them.
Bhattarai complemented Bhattacharya’s natural charm perfectly well. With succinct questions that led to insightful discussions, the discourse was one of its kind. Bhattacharya talked about the hard-hitting reality that despite the economy of India and the subcontinent’s growth, the economy in itself is masculine. Women from marginalised communities are far from being included in this large, male-dominated system. Even working women who are on the same intellectual level as these men often become victims of prejudices, gender biases, and discrimination.
Women have faced years of subjugation and domination in all fields, and the economy is not in any way different. Shrayana Bhattacharya emphasises that women nurture the economy like they nurture a baby. If women were to disappear one day, the economy would undoubtedly collapse. Women are inevitably required to link the chains that form the larger economy yet they are merely being sidelined as adhesives.
Through her book, Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh, Bhattacharya unravels various layers showing the lack of women’s inclusion in economic parameters. In order to uplift the country and the economy, it is essential to invest in women’s empowerment. Whether it is by supporting women-led businesses or empowering women entrepreneurs through microcredit and microfinancing, the burden falls upon us to rectify the injustice.
The session was a fresh take on feminism and women’s evergoing plight for freedom. Parachute Naturale’s initiative to support a session dedicated to women’s upliftment and economic empowerment was note-worthy. It was refreshing to witness men in the audience mesmerised during the session.
Shrayana Bhattacharya talked about all the women who have been wronged by the patriarchal society and firmly stated the need to design an economy that is women-friendly.
The session was followed by interactions with the audience, who praised it.