Nisha Susan on her collection of short stories and how the internet has impacted authors
Plus why she thought a Harvard conference invitation was an internet scam
As the founder of the feminist website The Ladies Finger and co-originator of the Pink Chaddi Campaign (which involved mailing pink undergarments to a politician’s office in response to moral policing circa 2009), it’s safe to say that Nisha Susan is the feminist shero we need. The prolific editor and columnist made her debut as an author in August this year, with a collection of 12 short stories, The Woman Who Forgot To Invent Facebook and Other Stories.
From a classical musician finding a prince in a chatroom (we can only dream) to a cook’s concern about her daughter’s cellphone conversations, Nisha Susan’s fascinating stories revolve around dating, love, and intimacy, while the eclectic protagonists navigate these realms with the tool for, well, navigating everything in life today – technology. With an emphasis on how technology, more specifically, the internet, has transformed the lives of Indians over the past two decades, her novel is whimsically told, yet brutally honest.
For Nisha Susan, the internet – from dial-up to where it is now – as the novel’s central theme was an obvious choice. Having been intrigued by internet and technology in general, she wanted to explore how we have changed the way we act online over the years, adding that it became an interesting and obvious filter to work through narratives. “I made an email account in 1999 to stay in touch with friends I’d made in different cities through the college festival scene,” says the author, on her earliest memory of using the internet. “That was the beginning. The street parallel to the street I grew up on in Bangalore? I realised suddenly that every second commercial enterprise and every few residences was a cybercafe. The tiny tapri which sold newspapers and bananas and toffees had two computers. So it was somehow miraculous but also normal,” she says.
One of her short stories, The Gentle Reader, revolves around Twitter troll-wars dragging at an author’s peace of mind, and perhaps nothing is more relatable in modern times, where it only takes one tweet for someone to be ‘cancelled’. As someone who is vocal online, for Nisha Susan too, the cesspool that social media can become is overwhelming. “I see the timelines of politically active women or women who are really well-known in their fields and it makes me want to faint. I don’t know how they deal with it. There is an incessant stream of crap, everything from slyness and snideness to conspiracies and rape threats,” says the author.
On the other hand, she believes that her life in comparison is relatively bucolic. “I was once invited to a conference at Harvard about feminism and online violence. The event was kept off the radar because some of the participants were people who had dealt with death threats and murder attempts. I had never felt more like an imposter. When they first invited me, I remember telling the conference organiser that I’d thought it was a Nigerian email scam,” she shares.
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Velu and Ammini from the title story of my book, The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook. As imagined by @indigoranges. I was intrigued to see Ammini in a sari but more intrigued that the fleeting mention of a fleeting encounter got so much sexual tension in Rohit's interpretation.
When it comes to leveraging social media for things like promotions, though, the author believes it definitely helps if you can promote your own book, but admits the experience is subjective. “For some people, social media is annoying and draining. I think authors should do what they feel good at doing. Some people read well at public readings. Some people maintain connections with readers well. Some people are just such charismatic writers or their books take on a kind of momentum that none of that matters. But that’s rare.”