What has helped me sail through life is sheer audacity

The Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani spoke candidly with Deepshikha Kumar, Founder and CEO of SpeakIn. Excerpts from the wide-ranging conversation.

On her debut novel

‘Lal Salaam’ is a book which has risen from rage. I was part of a television debate 10 years ago about the killings of 76 CRPF personnel in Chattisgarh, in which a panelist nonchalantly said, ‘so what if people in uniform have died — that’s a part of their actual bit of service’.

That enraged me. Are their lives not precious? Is it our democratic right to send them to the front lines where they can be sacrificed?

Don’t they deserve the honour for their sacrifice for the country?

While I was going through this enormous debate in my head, people around me felt that the rage would ebb over a period of time and that I would make my peace with it. But I could never make peace with people who speak against the constitution, who raise arms against my nation-state. The book became an outlet for channeling my rage.

On the name ‘Lal Salaam’

I was very vehement about the name. I picked it for the modicum of intrigue it would create. Once you read the story, you will know why as to why Lal Salaam. I knew and if you read the story, now you know why ‘Lal Salaam’. But, yes, the irony is clear. I am from a nationalist ideology. I do not subscribe to left-wing politics and thus the name intrigued people: Smriti and Lal Salaam? The intrigue that came about because of the title of the book also helped a lot of people reach out and delve into the book.

On the choice of fiction genre for her book

I have always been upfront about what I feel on a particular subject. I am in a constitutional position and hence I do not write non-fiction. So, I chose to write a fictional story.

The book is based on a tragedy that occurred more than ten tears ago. I have had the experience of being on the ground in those Naxal affected areas for close to two decades. That’s two decades of meeting men and women in service, in fact, officers who have served in these positions and dealt with violent people who have taken up arms against the Indian state. There are some officers who are still serving and they find a mention in the acknowledgments in the book.

On wearing so many hats

Women are intrinsically and genetically inclined towards multitasking. I believe many of us are not blessed with ample opportunities to excel or explore our latent creative potential. I have never conformed to the usual journeys that people take.

On what’s next for her

When I was 17, I tried to be a journalist. I failed. That’s when I stopped planning what to do next. I know that sounds not a nice thing for an administrative leader to say. Ask me in terms of policies, what’s next — and I will tell you. If you ask me what’s next as a mother — I will tell you. But if you ask me as a creative entity what’s next, I can’t. The creative process is such, the churn is such that you are always looking to tell a story. You are lucky if you find a medium.

I have been a part of media industry for two and a half decades, which is a very long time. I have evolved from being an actor to a producer and to a writer. I have tried my hand at various mediums of expressions: television, newspaper columns, theatre, films, and now a novel. What’s next? I have many ideas. But what medium? Only time will tell.

Looking back on her initial journey

I am speaking to you from a place from where my house is no more than ten kilometres away. I was born there. My parents had a room over a cowshed, they married out of love much against the wishes of their families and, hence, were left to fend for themselves. My mother was an English teacher who eventually found a job, at Taj Mahal Hotel on Delhi’s Man Singh Road, as a housekeeper.

When I went to Bombay, I just had the last Rs 200, which I used to walk the distance and would look for a job. I was a Femina Miss India finalist in 1998 and I borrowed money to compete and then I had to take on a job just to pay back the money. But what I had in abundance was confidence. When I was ten years old, I used to tell everyone: One day I will become Somebody.

I left my house when I was 17 years old to purse a career in a city that I knew absolutely no one. I do not want to rest on the laurels that I brought to myself in my family through media or through politics. As a politician I have fought one of the most difficult elections in our country and I won in 2014 when I said watch out I’ll win. If you dare to dream and dare to live, you manage to create history.

Her life’s mantra

  • Audacity. I think your ‘audacity’ defines you. What helped me sail through life was sheer audacity — firm belief that I will reach where I wanted to.
  • Ability to take a chance. You need to take a chance to succeed.
  • Acceptance that life will transform itself. You have accept that transformation is a part of your life’s journey. It ensures that you do not stagnate.
  • Finally, success comes from struggle, not from comfort.

Her vision as the minister for women and child development

  • We are working towards raising the marriageable age of women from 18 to 21. I think it’s a much needed step towards right to equality.
  • We now are digitally tracking and serving close to 9 crore female and children beneficiaries across the country on the nutrition programme.
  • We are coming up with an amendment on Juvenile Justice Act where the entire adoption, foster care, sponsorship processes and child care establishments in our country will see a complete overhaul.
  • We also starting new initiatives to make sure that we have more working women hostels. Crèches for working women.
  • We are also giving emphasis on to female related research activities.

On what makes her happy

A nice cup of tea and a good conversation.