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Shilpa Raj

Shilpa Raj

Shilpa Raj

We would love to know about your childhood.

I was born in the village of Thattaguppe in southern Karnataka. This village adjoins a dense forest inhabited by wild animals. My family belongs to the Dalit Christian class. Both my father and his grandfather were in the illicit liquor business. My maternal grandfather was a laborer on landlord’s fields and my mother had worked until recently as a housemaid.

The turning point in my life came when I was a little girl, all of four. The principal, psychologists and social workers from Shanti Bhavan interviewed me before accepting me to the school at the age of four. Shanti Bhavan, a boarding school started by an Indian-American philanthropist, Dr. George, was looking for children from very poor families to live and study. The aim of the school is to break the cycle of poverty by imparting world class education to children from impoverished backgrounds and thereby, changing the course of their lives.

Shilpa, first of all, congratulations on your splendid debut! What is the feeling like being appreciated by readers? And also being the first lady to write a memoir from the section of society which is still kept away from education?

It is very encouraging to have my first debut work published and read by many. As a young female author and the first from my community, I realize that there is so much power to impact as a writer. I have the ability to talk on issues that need to be discussed, and raise awareness. I am mindful of how I put this power to use.
I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to rise above the circumstances I was born into through an education. I only wish many other children benefit the same way as I did. Hopefully this can be done if we have more schools like Shanti Bhavan all around our country.

What was it like being at ‘Shanti Bhavan’? How did it help in your life?

Through my years in Shanti Bhavan, change came in many ways for me. Right from the beginning it brought about stability, self-confidence and self-esteem. I have learnt the importance of universal values such as honesty, personal integrity and transparency in addition to human virtues such as humility, kindness and generosity. I have been exposed to people from many countries from the volunteers who teach here and they bring with them their cultures, experiences and skills. I have developed the ability to communicate confidently and freely with anyone, and take on leadership roles

Do you plan on sticking to a single genre or experimenting as you go?

As a young author, a lot of subjects, both fictional and non-fictional, interest me. I do not want to limit myself to a certain subject or topic but rather use this power that I have found through writing to build upon my authenticity as a writer and, at the same time, explore the world with its diverse issues through my pen.

What does your family feel about you taking an year off and writing a book?

It is a very strange idea for my family. Initially it was very hard to explain to my family as to why I was taking the year off to work on a book instead of going to college. No one in my village has ever done something like this before and I can understand why my family was uncertain of my decision. Some of them are disappointed that I do not want to become a lawyer or something more conventional.

You have been extremely upfront in your memoir.Was it a creative choice or just mandatory for an account like this?

I could not do justice to my memoir without being completely honest. While there is a taboo attached to discussing sexual experiences, one must not forget that it is a part of growing up and might involve sexual experimentation. After I mustered the courage to write openly about this particular encounter, I realized that by talking about it I was able to come to terms with it and move past it.

About the Interviewee:

The daughter of a housemaid and an elephant chaser from a South Indian village, Shilpa Raj's life changed dramatically when she was selected at the age of four to attend Shanti Bhavan, a boarding school for poor children.At sixteen, her need for self-discovery drove her to write a moving memoir of her turbulent past.Shilpa Raj completed high school with distinction in 2011-the first in her family to do so-and received a Master's degree in psychological counseling.