UNDERSTANDING TRUE FEMINISM FROM KAINAZ JUSSAWALLAby Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri December 1 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 40 secs
When a true feminist speaks, her words are like leaves floating right before they rest their feet on the ground. Here’s Kainaz Jussawalla for you, in this interview with Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri.
When I first received the proposal from the author and her literary agent, I was rather dismissive. A memoir in the forties? Unless you are Sasthi Brata and have the literary genius of penning something like My God Died Young, surely an autobiography is self-indulgent. However, Kainaz Jussawalla’s book ‘Who Wants to Marry Kai Juicewalla’ felt like a breath of fresh air. Living up to its subtitle of ‘One life, Many Loves, Endless (Mis)adventures’, it’s a refreshingly candid take on what it means to be a woman. With remarkable wit, often bawdy humour, Kainaz talks about ‘serious’ issues that plague a woman, from body-shaming to intimacy and love in the era of Tinder, to looking for the perfect man, to how we end up defining a woman’s worth in terms of marriage and motherhood, to the presence of an unseen guiding force, including King Khan, that shapes our destiny.
In a conversation marked by her trademark joie de vivre, she spoke about the book and these issues.
You describe yourself as a romantic feminist. Do you think it is an oxymoron?
To be honest I think I am a moron. Period. I should be in love-rehab if they have something like that. On one hand, I am all for girl power and empowerment and very vocal about my inability to tolerate injustice and misogyny of any kind. On the other hand, I can be like ‘I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her’, as cheesy and romcom as it may sound. And oh boy! Have I made some wrong choices because of this paradox!
So yes, even after falling in love harder and more often than a one-year-old trying to walk, I wouldn’t just lie there like a carpet and get walked over in a relationship, so that’s where the feminist in me roars like a tigress. Like I mention in the book, Rio (Rahul) held back his bisexuality and his identity from me and as much as I was into him and the family approved of our match made in the skies, when I found out, I kicked him where it hurt him the most and threw everything that he was wearing on the day out of the window. I don’t know how he ever got home, because I never saw him after that.
I am definitely a hopeless case when it comes to love, I eat and drink, dream, burp love as mentioned in my book and have left my heart wide open to get trampled on. At the risk of being cast out, I wouldn’t take the word of any feminist who tells you she despises or is against having a relationship with a solid man. If she does, more power to her. However, when the deal-breakers like loyalty, trust, and honesty are involved, I transform into a raging lunatic-feminist with no patience for BS. In fact, most of my exes have sworn they needed intensive counselling after we broke up.
You have mentioned in your book that ‘we all crave the deep water of intimacy, which is created when the rivers of friendship and love become one’. How is this relevant in the age of Tinder?
This I have to find out from those who are on Tinder. At the risk of spilling the truth about my age and showing my ancient views on this, I have been on no dating site at all. I am petrified. I did try a matrimonial site once, maybe ten years ago and that’s where I met Neville the Devil who plays the villain in my book. A Harvard-type, a finance guru with an artistic eye, a perfect gentleman who turns into a violent beast when I tell him marriage with us just won’t work. So, I’ve had my online nightmare!
I feel when Tinder started out, it still had scope for respect, friendship and love. But over the years it has turned into a hook-up zone. Love doesn’t really figure there. Tinder and the rest I believe are all about swipes, right, left, up, down. I think swiping on Zomato and Swiggy are more rewarding. At least you get what you ordered. A friend’s friend was anxiously searching for her soulmate on Tinder. She did date a foreigner from the site and got kind of serious about him until she realised that he was looking for someone to amuse himself with until his project in India got completed. How sad is that! The deep waters of intimacy can’t be explored if you can’t trust your partner and I wouldn’t trust anyone who is on a site filled with opportunities for no-strings-attached liaisons and has access to such freedom. It’s like a buffet versus an old-fashioned meal at a fine-dining restro.
Why does your global hunt for a perfect man always seem to crash and burn? Do you still feel we need a significant other to complete ourselves?
Ouch! I’ve reflected a lot on that. Enough at least to know that it’s not only me. I have concluded that my Venus is probably placed in a house in my astro-chart that doesn’t permit me a permanent residency. Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds, I have had my moments where I came close to being hitched. But now I wonder, am I commitment phobic after all? I discovered that recently about myself after completing the book.
I despise following the herd. The cattle mentality some people possess sucks. I always felt this urge to be different. I never really wanted to get married. The idea of marriage was far more appealing than the responsibility of it. I saw marriage only as a way of legally binding the person to you. I craved emotional security more rather than anything. But when my peers did the entire shaadi routine and then most wanted to walk out of their marriages after a few years and were stuck there only because of their kids, the futility of it came to light. So, you crash and burn either way.
I don’t think we need anyone to complete us whatever Hallmarks and Archie’s cards and Mills and Boon tell you. However, it’s nice to have someone to share your day with you and your little victories…someone who will accommodate your mood swings and your tantrums. A hearty friendship over intimacy is what I now believe in and it’s worked well so far. I think one can fulfil the desire to love and be loved even with a pet, a baby, a passion or a few genuine friends. And if the hormones are still aflame, there is always Tinder, I suppose.
You deal with some serious issues like bullying, body positivity, staying single and being independent with dollops of humour and wit. What is the role of humour as a coping mechanism?
I wasn’t laughing back then and I didn’t cope with humour when the body shaming and bullying happened. I was a wreck, lost and anxious, more so because the family never saw what the fuss was about. I had little support there except from my grandmother, Granny B. Her understanding was limited in a way, though she tried to be as empathetic as possible. There were days I didn’t want to step out or go to school. I was a bright student and I loved singing and dramatics too, but they discarded my efforts because of my looks. I wasn’t bad looking, just a bit bigger than the rest. Coming to think of it, I was just chubby, not even obese. My grades dropped a bit, not much, but I was deprived of all I could have been if only I had a peaceful school life. It was at St Xavier’s College that I met the Fab 4. They lifted me and gave me the acceptance I had never received in my earlier years. Indeed, a miracle. It was then that I began to lighten up, crack jokes and allow my real fun personality to shine.
So back to your question, I don’t think I use humour as a coping skill any more than I use sadness as an excuse to not budge from my chair. It’s just me. Even when I was flying, the crew would look forward to being rostered with me. Kai on a ten-hour flight meant outrageous dirty talk and banter and work became pleasure, time passed faster for them. Humour and eccentricity are rooted in my Parsi nature I gather, but I haven’t inherited it. No one around me at my place or the ancestral line I knew of seemed to have this kind of crazy in them. Humour is also my social persona, a front so to speak, an effort to make others feel happy or bring them out of their miserable worlds or listless thoughts.
It took a parrot to change your destiny. Do you believe there is a force guiding us? Would you call it God, destiny or fate?
I call it God! And my life is evidence of this. I keep my spiritual views to myself mostly because I am not one for debates and infinite arguments. I always feel religion and spirituality are about perception and experience. We all believe or disbelieve according to what is happening to us and around us. And at different stages of our lives, we get stronger or weaker in our faith, depending on that. There were stages where nobody knew the throes of despair I was in.
I don’t trust therapists either. I visited one years ago. She began talking about her problems and I had to sit and give her advice and then pay for it. I recognise my flaws, my strengths. I am self-aware. That comes only when you have an honest relationship with yourself and the source. I don’t care much for self-help books. I nurture a soft corner for Rumi and Gibran, I imbibed a fair amount of calmness from their quotes. I think this love for sayings and old poetry came from Granny B. She could recite Kipling and Shakespeare on her hundredth birthday too.
So, for me it’s God and I. It took a lot of hard stuff and sharp curves to get me here and I don’t think I would discover the FORCE, at least the way I did, if it hadn’t been for those.
As far as the parrot goes, I think most women and girls have a phase in their lives where they consult tarot readers, coffee-cup readers, tea leaves and who knows what else to find out where they are heading in their personal lives. The more serious ones get their kundali checked, expecting a different answer from the next astrologer and carry on until they get the reply that brings them comfort and hope. So, while Rustom the card-drawing parrot assured me that every boyfriend was my soulmate, he may have been correct in that moment because that’s the energy he picked up at that point of time, but he was wrong most of the time in the long run.
What has ‘romancing the King Khan’ helped you learn about love, lust and life?
King Khan is a bit of a rogue. A loveable one of course on whom half the women of the world are crushing. His dimples, his arms flapping like a bird every now and again, devilish smile…these should have been banned ages ago. If I say I love him as chastely as Daruwala Aunty next door does, it would be a damn lie. I think I lust or let’s say he fired up my engines for a long time. Just like he did for most of us. I had this ‘one cheat’ rule with all my exes: I am allowed one cheat. And he is allowed one. Of course, it has to be an inaccessible celebrity like a Clooney or an Aniston. SRK was obviously mine.
The biggest life lesson from SRK is that you need to establish a brand for yourself no matter who you are. You can be the best writer or actor there is, if you want to be that famous, focus on building yourself, keep your reputation as clean as possible, stay in your lane, be kind, rise after failures, respect others and tap that nerve of the audience and readers that brings out a truckload of emotions within them and a wee bit of fantasy.
This is just how I perceive him. I don’t know, for I haven’t been into SRK’s head space, his home or his bedroom.
What made you write a memoir at such a young age?
Young? Do you remember the disclaimer in the book: Timelines have been changed. I meant that! But if by young you mean in spirit, yes, I am eighteen still, though my body yells eighty nowadays. The truth is I feel that I have lived for more than twenty people put together. In terms of travel, adventure, relationships and mental ups and downs.
There was so much I didn’t put into my memoir and still it went over 400 pages. However, I made sure the journey of self-discovery was maintained throughout the pages and that readers relate, resonate and rejuvenate after every chapter. And it did happen! The number of readers who messaged me mentioning how things have changed for them or at least how they gained courage to make small changes in their lives, it was gratifying and humbling.
I’ve never fancied myself as a voice or someone who had anything immensely life changing to say. Until I woke up one day and realised that the party girl was halfway to becoming Mother Teresa. That’s a colossal leap, isn’t it? And worth writing about. In real life I struggle to make it through the mornings without a second cup of tea, inspiring others is a long shot. So, my basic goal of penning this memoir was that…I was bruised, scarred, body shamed; I loved my Parsi community, I wanted to thank my grandmothers wherever they are, I had some insane love stories to share, been part of several bold escapades and girly exploits and lived a non-conventional lifestyle bordering on the scandalous. So, I put it together to see where it took me. So, as much as I should say like most authors would, I felt this need to motivate and influence others, it wasn’t. Rather, I wanted to tell the world, ‘Shit happens! If someone like me can make it somehow, so can you. You have to not be afraid to follow your truth whatever it is. People will let you down. You have to be your own hero.’
What have been your experiences as a writer of this book? Any reader feedback that stands out? What are the books and writers that inspired your journey?
Initially I had an editor and an agent who caused nothing but delays and crushed my confidence in my manuscript and my skills for a while. But that changed when The Book Bakers took over and pitched it to Om books International. I learned a lot. How to keep patient, how to trust destiny’s timing, when to keep quiet and when to put my foot down. It’s been beautiful to be honest and when I look back, I am grateful. The abysmal childhood stuff and the heartaches were dreadful, and making my dreams come true sounded like a fairy tale for a long time, but when I created something rewarding out of the pain and the few nasty situations, the feeling was quite something else.
I have lost count of readers’ feedback, but of those that stood out I will always remember two. One young boy wrote, ‘Ma’am I was so fat that I stayed at home ashamed, never got out, friends teased me so much. Now I get out and I behave like you. I don’t care. Guess what, ma’am? Now they are scared of me.’ There was another boy who told me that he understood his sister better after reading what a woman goes through. It’s amazing how many guys have appreciated my book. It was a pleasant surprise.
As far as writers go, I wrote my first book when I was eight years old. Inspired by Enid Blyton’s mystery series. And then I did a few more of those. That made me almost sure and the people around me certain that this was my path. Granny B would often ask, ‘When will you publish a book?’ Such was her conviction.
It took a long time to get here for I chose another vocation and got wrapped in that, after a short yet fulfilling stint in journalism. I also knew a bit about my uncle Adil Jussawalla while growing up but not much. It must have stayed at the back of my mind. Even his father wrote books on nature therapy. I really like Elif Shafak and Sophie Kinsella. Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding I enjoyed! I related most to her life. Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts, which young woman hasn’t read those under her duvet with her flashlight on? Rumi and Gibran I have mentioned but I do enjoy a Paulo Coelho now and then. There was a phase, aeons ago, where I read most of Ayn Rand and Paramahansa Yogananda. And last but never the least, Jackie Collins. As controversial as those sounds, Collins was that one author I couldn’t put down. I feel her energy and mine were in sync. Kinky, intense and free thinking. Actually, if I don’t connect with the psyche of the writer, I can’t read them. And I won’t read any genre just because…