Interview with Shilpa Raj

And many readers would surely be interested in knowing why you named the book The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter? Is there any story behind the title or some hidden message?
I am an elephant chaser’s daughter. After spending years as an illicit liquor brewer, my father took up the job of chasing away wild elephants from the village to protect sugar cane fields and homes. He has narrated to me and my siblings so many stories of his encounters with wild elephants and I admire his courage.
Your memoir gives very much importance to education and we all know by now that your education happened at Shanti Bhavan. I have read that you also teach the kids in your leisure. How much do you think a good education can make real difference to our
Education is the answer. I strongly believe that lack of proper upbringing and poor quality education are the reasons for many of the problems faced by our society and the nation. It is not sufficient that only a few from well-to-do families can avail the opportunity of a good education. We must figure out how the nation as a whole can offer it to everyone.
A good education brings about an enlightened population and productive workers. In turn, it will uplift families, bring about better understanding between different segments of the society, and make economic progress. But most importantly, a quality education with a holistic developmental approach will help raise individuals with a deep value system and a social conscience. They will question the wrongs in our society and bring about positive changes.
Reading the book, I find many daughters, and not just one daughter. I propose it’s a fraternity you are using as a metaphor. It’d be great if you could let the readers know that.
It is true that the Elephant Chaser’s Daughter is not just my story. It is indeed a metaphorical representation of the many young women like me who have undergone hardship in their families and have struggled to overcome gender and social barriers. In the beginning I thought that the story I have narrated in the book is mainly about myself and my sister but over time I realized that it is also about my friends and the many young girls out there who have so much in common with me in their personal struggles. I hope I have given them a voice through my book.
On many instances in your book, you have hinted at issues like untouchability and suppression of women. How do you view these in the Indian society today? Where do you think we fail as a society to teach our generation on what is the right way to dea
Ans. I feel sad that people look down on others based on assumed superiority of caste, gender or economic status. While our country has indeed made economic progress over the past decade or more, there is a long way to go in creating an egalitarian society. But it is encouraging to see people being more outspoken about gender and caste issues.
But I personally believe that the failure of our educational system to develop children as progressive free-thinkers with good values is what keeps us from moving forward with a progressive social conscience.
When you came to know about your family’s past and witnessed what they have being doing for a living, what was your reaction? Even in this modern day world, social discrimination is taking place. Some people react badly towards people they think are
For a long time I felt like an outsider to my own family but after learning their story in such depth and experiencing their sufferings from both a first and second hand perspectives], I grew into someone more than just a witness to their predicament. I realized that their story was a part of mine too, just as their joys and sorrows are. What I learnt about my father’s difficult childhood in a caste-based society only made me respect him more and I stopped judging him as harshly as I used to do when I was a child. I did feel angry that the society saw families like mine as lowly or belonging to the lower caste especially when caste is non-existent in my mind. I think of caste distinction as a way to oppress others.
The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter challenges the status quo of the society. You have directly confronted those orthodox views. Would you like to carry on writing about this in your next books? How challenging is it for you as an author?
As a writer who believes in talking honestly about life and its challenges, I feel strongly about using my voice to talk and reflect on the harsh realities of life. I feel I have a duty as a writer to serve as a voice for those who go unheard and I plan to do so by upholding my social conscience. Authors, journalists and social activists are always at risk of being silenced when they speak for the masses. Many are threatened when the masses gain their rights and voice. I am not blind to the fact that there will always be hurdles but I am determined to never give up my voice. However, I am not keen to attack anyone personally.
What’s your message for the readers? And especially those female readers, Shilpa?
. I have realized through my schooling at Shanti Bhavan and with the publication of my book that there’s nothing more liberating than personal empowerment. I was fortunate that in school, the staff didn’t just focus on teaching me the basic skills of reading and writing but took the time to help me develop my personality and build my self-esteem and self-confidence. I hope other children are also able to benefit from this approach to education. It is a mistake to pressure children to get high scores without emphasising their holistic personal growth and development.
Your memoir has more than 15 chapters. If I ask you which chapter is the closest to your heart, what would be your reply?
Chapter 8, ‘A Walk in the Woods’, is very special to me because it briefly captures the process through which I began to understand my father in a way I had never before. Having grown up physically and emotional distant from him, it bothered me that I knew so little about him other than from the ugly tales that my grandmother and mother used to tell me. I grew up disliking him for all the troubles he had caused my mother.
But in the process of investigating and researching, I began a series of interviews with different family members. My father preferred talking to me in the sanctuary of the woods where he was most comfortable with himself. Every day, we sat there for a few hours as he revealed so much about his childhood and his past. At the end of these interviews, I felt that I had finally gotten to know him a little more and I learnt to accept him for who he is.
You have mentioned in detail about your life at Shanti Bhavan. How do you see your association with the institution today? Please share one or two of your best memories there.
My bond with Shanti Bhavan is lifelong because it was not simply a school for me but also a home. At Shanti Bhavan I found people in their roles of caretakers, teachers and friends, providing me a sense of security and stability that I did not find at home. Having left home at a very young age, I often craved to be a part of a family, and Shanti Bhavan, for the most part, fulfilled those emotional needs.
Today, I work as a part-time English teacher at Shanti Bhavan and the rest of the time I spend working as a counsellor at Spastics Society of Karnataka where I deal with children with autism and other severe neuromuscular disorders. My friends and family members in Shanti Bhavan are constantly supporting and encouraging me to pursue my dream of writing and establishing myself as a skilled counsellor.
One of my best memories of my life at Shanti Bhavan will always be of my first day at the school, back in the year 1997. My parents had just left me there and I was confused as to where I had been brought to. I was given a neat haircut by one of the caretakers and then taken for a bath. I was amazed at seeing water gushing out from the taps, and feeling the smooth touch of white tiles underneath my feet and the bubbles from the soap. I had not previously bathed in a bathroom or used shampoo. I describe those moments in my book very fondly as the first of many great things that were yet to come.
Many readers as well as critics are praising your book. You have done quite well in getting them to talk about the issues you have raised. What was the exact source, if I may ask, of inspiration which led to your writing this book? Do you remember an
The fear of losing Shanti Bhavan to the global financial crisis of 2008 prompted me to document the daily happenings in the school and my own emotions. It was very important to me that the Shanti Bhavan story wouldn’t be lost. As time passed I continued to record my experiences, past and present, which led me to write about my friends and all those who were responsible for my upbringing at Shanti Bhavan. As my writings grew larger, the idea of a book from these notes began to take shape. As a natural process it broadened into my discovering my own family story.
As one who shares in the idea of “reverence” for life, there is no question in my mind that all of us must live as one large family respecting and loving each other. I do realize that this is a Utopian thought, but we can certainly promote this within our immediate community and later on a larger scale.
Published 2017-09-21.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Elephant Chaser's Daughter
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 84,310. Language: English. Published: September 20, 2017. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Autobiographies & Memoirs, Nonfiction » Biography » Woman biographies
When you are a female born into a poor Indian family, the odds are already stacked greatly against you. The human drama captured in this memoir is nothing short of amazing – the struggle between the two worlds of one’s existence. Written with raw honesty and grit, this is a deeply moving memoir of a young woman confronting her ‘untouchable’ status and her aspirations for a good future.