Social distancing is anti-humanity

Interview/Shobhaa De, author

Q/ You wrote Lockdown Liaisons during lockdown. Is this your quickest book?

A/ The honest answer: it is still a work in progress. Book 1 has been launched and hit the number one spot on day 2, which was such a thrill. Book 2 will be launched on Saturday (June 6). And then on to Book 3, 4, 5, 6. I will continue to write the stories organically as they form inside my head, as the world responds to new challenges. I was compelled as a writer to document these tumultuous times in my own way. Imagine being felled by a microbe! How could I let this dramatic moment in history pass without writing about the emotional havoc it has caused in all our lives? I didn’t set out to become a literary Formula One racing driver and create a speed record! But the sense of immediacy the pandemic unleashed propelled me to go ahead and keep at it. It was great when Simon & Schuster got cracking, and in under two weeks, we launched Book 1 on the last day of lockdown 4.0. Timing is everything!

Q/ Did any specific incident push you to write the book?

A/ The world had/has turned upside down in a blink! There is turmoil, insecurity, suspicion, despair, confusion, anger and frustration. We are re-educating ourselves, unlearning so many staples we could once take for granted. Most of us felt trapped and claustrophobic, stuck in a gigantic prison. It took me a while to realign my feelings and get into a new emotional grid. Social distancing is anti-humanity! Human beings are social animals. We thrive on human engagement. We like the sensual aspects of our existence—touch, feel, hugs and kisses. In the post-pandemic universe, we will still be groping for answers that don’t exist. There was no specific incident as such—the trigger came from listening to different voices that were all around me. Each of us carries a unique story within our minds and hearts. The more I tuned in, the more I observed, the more I wanted to share. It is about empathy. Nothing else is as important during these stress-filled times.

Q/ What are the issues that you deal with in the short stories? Is there a common thread that binds them?

A/ Yes, it is love. These are not conventional ‘love stories’, but they explore the complex nature of love itself. All the stories are written in first person. They are monologues in which the narrator replays the mysterious passage of ‘love’ in an unfiltered way. This level of introspection is driven by extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic. The representation of love in the stories varies. It goes from tender to brutal. I occupied many skins in the process. The voices are raw and authentic as protagonists question their deepest feelings. The language is frequently rough and abusive. As masks fall off, strange things happen. Marriages collapse. Sex dies. Hostility surfaces. Memory plays games…. But it is also about compassion and understanding. I would say these stories are about love, loss, longing and lust—passionate and deeply felt.

Q/ The one good thing that has emerged from the lockdown, personally and otherwise?

A/ The only good thing that has emerged is how we look at the post-pandemic scenario, with a greater emphasis on earth’s limited resources…. Personally? (Laughs) so many self-discoveries, big and small. The virus can never kill human hope and imagination. My imagination is on fire! And I have finally discovered my inner Garbo! Happy to be left alone.