Interview: Shunali Khullar Shroff on ‘the loves and lives of the upper crust of Bombay society’
Shunali Khullar Shroff’s Love in the Time of Affluenza is all about the rich and the fabulous who form Mumbai’s one per cent elite.
The story is told from the perspective of Natasha, a former lifestyle editor married into this privileged class, who now writes a column and raises three children with her husband who is mostly engrossed with work.
“I happen to be exposed to this minute fraction of the city’s population. I am familiar with this world they inhabit and so it was easy for me to place my story in it,” says the second-time author, who previously penned the Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother.
A deceptively easy read, this “satirical take on the loves and the lives of the upper crust of Bombay society”, as Shunali puts it, touches upon infidelity, what it means to be equal partners in a marriage and how privilege doesn’t shield a woman from the expectations of a deeply patriarchal society.
Here, the Mumbai-based mother of two chats with Indulge about her first attempt at fiction, maintaining a balance between humour and realism and a possible sequel to the book.
The funny play on a Marquez work in the title sets the tone for the entire novel. How did that choice come about?
Some people have asked me if my book is inspired by Love in the Time of Cholera, but no, it isn’t even a distant cousin of Marquez’s masterpiece.
I do look at affluenza as an incurable affliction. I was writing about the wealthy class and somehow the rich don’t catch cholera whereas affluenza seems to have established itself as a chronically congenital condition, especially over the past two decades.
In the new India, catching affluenza is a prerequisite qualification to gaining entry into the cool rich club. Love and its transient nature is a lot of what my book explores, and this includes self-love as well.
So well, I did pluck the courage to borrow from the title and replaced Cholera with Affluenza. Any other reference to Marquez is welcome but completely misplaced.
With this being your first attempt at fiction, did you look to any literary models while penning the book?
There are so many writers I would like to be able to write like, but I don’t think my writing is modelled after a specific writer. While I do enjoy reading intense books, I naturally get drawn more towards writing that can make me laugh.
Nancy Mitford, Sue Townsend, Evelyn Waugh, Jerome K Jerome, David Sedaris, PG Wodehouse, and EM Delafield are just some of the writers that have helped me stay happy even when everything around me was telling me to be otherwise.
There is a fine balance in the narrative between humorous asides and the harsh reality of the problems faced by women in a patriarchal society, irrespective of privilege. Was that a conscious effort?
Privilege isn’t privilege enough if it comes along with suppression of every other desire, of taking away your autonomy as a woman or compelling yourself to subsume yourself in housewifery without a voice. And I am glad you specify that patriarchy has nothing to do with privilege.
It didn’t need to be a conscious effort. It is a well-understood fact that a good way to make people take you seriously is to make them laugh first. That’s also me!
The humorous asides are just my way of looking at life even while grappling with serious subjects, and as it turns out that is exactly how my commissioning editor Faiza Sultan Khan of Bloomsbury herself is. So it all worked out very organically.
Were any characters or situations inspired from real-life counterparts?
All fiction eventually comes from real life but my characters are inspired by real people that I know. But I would say that my characters are a composite created from various people and not just a cut and paste job.
About situations, it would be disingenuous for me to say that I have imagined them all up. The situations that sound most bizarre certainly are inspired from what one sees and hears.
There’s a point where you talk of sensitising children and how important it is to talk about homosexuality as a parent. Did that stem from personal experience?
When my older daughter was about 9 or 10 years old, she talked about boys in her class calling another boy gay just because that kid chose books over football. That is when I realised it was important to sensitise her and subsequently normalise conversations about people having different sexual orientations.
My kids and I do talk about LGBTQ at home if it comes up in conversation. And last year when Section 377 finally got struck down, I talked about it with both my girls as well.
The thing is that the onus is on us parents to raise children to be more inclusive without biases based on sexual orientation, caste, class or religion.
Have you given any thought to possibilities of this being adapted for the visual media?
There have been some conversations around that with a few production houses that have approached me but I haven’t moved much on that front yet. I do see it being adapted for the screen, but the sensibilities of the team that adapts, is paramount to me, so I am taking my time.
What is on your reading wishlist?
My immediate reading list is long and I have made it worse for myself by deciding that I need to revisit some classics that I purchased for my teenager to read. So I am halfway through Mansfield Park. I cannot believe how little I remember of it.
Also on my current list are Queenie, which has been called a black Bridget Jones, Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton, The New Me by Halle Butler and Penelope Lively’s Heat Wave, which is a classic that I haven’t read, but it has been on my Kindle since last summer.
Do you see a sequel to the book? Any other upcoming writing projects?
Yes, a sequel is brewing in my head as we speak. I am also developing a script for a friend who is keen to see it turn into a web series.
Bloomsbury India, `299.
— Simar Bhasin