Following violent clashes at a protest in a Delhi University college in 2017 and the subsequent social media trial, Gurmehar Kaur, a young student activist, decided to share her story but it wasn’t the one everybody expected it to be. Small Acts Of Freedom, her debut novel, is a gritty tale of three generations of strong, passionate single women in one family who have faced the world on their own terms. The book talks about the fierceness of love and the power of family. From her grandmother who came to India from Lahore after Partition to the whirlwind romance between her parents...from her father's state funeral to her harrowing experiences since her days of student activism.
Gurmehar is also the ambassador for Postcards for Peace, a charitable organization against discrimination and the co-founder of Citizens for Public Leadership, an independent movement focused on advocating progressive public policy in India. She lets us in on why she chose to tell the story.
What was your moment of realization to write Small Acts of Freedom?
It took me a very long time, almost seven years to come to a point where I knew how I wanted to narrate this book. As a child, I couldn't notice my life wasn't usual and the things I was going through, were not what a child goes through in a conventional setting. As I grew up, read more, I learnt that this is something I needed to tell and I am very fortunate to be able to tell it at this age where my childhood memories are still fresh and yet I can look at them with an adult understanding.
How did the DU protests and the consequential social media responses shape your thoughts?
It is definitely one of the most defining moments in my life but I don't think it is the DU protests that shaped my thoughts or books, in turn, it is this book and the thoughts I grew up with that resulted in the DU process. I cannot deny that the protests weren’t impactful. Maybe my next book will be what everyone expected this book to be about, set in Delhi, about students and campuses, who knows.
How do the timelines of three generations of women correspond to each other?
If there is something that is similar to all the three women, it is the fact that they have all stood for things that they believed in and lived their lives on their own terms, no matter how much scrutiny or backlash they had to face. My grandmother lost her husband when she was very young she had to raise my mother and aunts, and my mother, unfortunately, has the same fate. They are both women who have learnt from each other and for each other. It is a story that I felt like I needed to tell.
Have you found your voice as a writer, and what is it?
I don't think I have and I'm not looking to find it any sooner. I understand that in a few years there will be a time when I find my voice, but till then I just want to grow and change as a person and as a writer. There is a lot more that I need to see and learn. I wouldn't want to box myself up or put a label on myself just yet.
Take us through your creative process.
I didn't write this book in the most favourable circumstances. I was still in my third semester in college when I began, so it meant that I had to go to college 8 am till 5 pm and keep up with my college work and the only time I had to write was at night. I wrote and worked on the book in my dorm room between 9 pm and 4 am every day for over 10 months. I feel that stories and creativity comes easily to me, I always keep my eyes and ears open and read a lot. I'm always living with the story and its characters in my head but the tough part isn't the creative bit, it is the discipline to sit down and do something about all the creativity. With this book that's what I tried to do.
Lastly, what is next from here?
I want to focus on myself this year and college while I continue working on all the projects that I have already taken up. Sending applications for further studies takes up most of the time for now. I do hope to do law, let’s see how that works out.
Text Garima Gupta