I was interviewed by Pitamber Kaushik for Counter Current, an award winning renowned progressive media platform with an international audience. Most of the questions posed at me gave me an imposter syndrome as I don’t really consider myself so important and successful. But I guess some people see me in that light. So, anyway, you can read the interview here or below.

Ms. Sanjukta Basu is a writer, photographer, analyst, blogger, fervent microblogger, freelance journalist, commentator, academic, an avid traveler, a social crusader, and a feminist scholar. She’s a TED Fellow and Founder of Samyukta Media, a pioneering social media dissemination, and outreach organisation. She’s one of the first women in India to extensively write on politics, and avant-garde issues, both in press media as well as social media. TEDx Speaker Write on politics & culture. She has written for, amongst other platforms, dailyo and Firstpost.

  1. You’ve had a vibrant career. What’s the secret to succeeding utmost, at such a vast multitude of things? What impels this dynamism? What gives you the requisite confidence for such transience?

When I hear such words for myself, I feel very uncomfortable. Honestly, I don’t see myself in such a big imagery. I thought that is important to mention. If you think of success, I can’t claim to be very successful (in the conventional sense). Success is attainment of the highest echelon, becoming the head of a company in corporate sector, or in Art and Cinema, winning prestigious awards and so on. I have got none of them.

Society sees success as a linear and a vertical ladder, that is constantly scaled. I, on the other hand, have been jumping on various boats in the ocean and I keep switching boats. I do great on each field, I have a natural talent to pick up things quickly, but I don’t stay long enough in one boat, to be able to become ‘the’ most significant factor on that boat or career path or field so to speak.

For instance, as a social media strategist, I started my own venture, by the name of “Samyukta Media” way back in 2011 when people were not even ready to pay for social media because people did not know its power. I was quite ahead of my time. I was talking of things like live tweets, live blogs in 2011, but people were not really ready to pay me for it. So I was like, oh, you know, this is not working, I want to be a photographer. And then I became a photographer.

Today, I’m a political writer. I started my career as a lawyer, then went on to being a photographer. So that’s the thing, I have done a lot of things that’ve excited me but I don’t stick. I think I was able to do that, because, I was never afraid to take the risk. I was never afraid to quit one job, take up another job, or quit one interest, take up another interest.

  1. Please tell us about your writing career. What are your pointers to aspiring writers and journalists?

I didn’t study journalism, I studied law, and then, recently, I completed my Masters in ‘Women and General Studies’, in which I’m currently pursuing my PhD. I’ve put my hands in a lot of things over the last two decades, real estate lawyer, corporate lawyer, women’s NGOs, social media and digital communication, photography etc. Only thing that remained constant was writing or blogging to be precise.

As a teenager, I used to write on my diaries keeping in mind an audience which would someday read them. Then in in the early 2000s blogging posed itself as a writing media. The writing which was once in private diaries, went public without inhibitions. The audience was faceless and I didn’t care if they judged me. Although, today when I write something, I do care, I want people to read my columns and I care about my recognition, and acknowledgement, and all that. But when I started blogging I had no such expectations. I think that gave me a strong base, which once granted, you can aspire for higher things. At the initial stage, you have no fear for loss, you can only get better; Absolute fearlessness of writing is immensely powerful.

So, My writing career took flight with the advent of blogging. I received lots of positive feedback and overwhelming emails and comments. Most of them were from women. Women could connect with my writing because my early writing was all about a women’s everyday living, including things that are otherwise commonly subverted. About my day-to-day struggles, that of a typical late 20s or 30s single woman: It was about longing, desire, love, sex, relationships, partners. As more people read and I candidly connected with more people, both online and offline, I learnt more, and that interpersonal experience sharpened my writing: I wrote about women around me, their respective life narratives, for instance that of my mother or that of a female friend, all from the heart.

So, honesty is the only thing I’d give as a pointer for writing. Be passionate and frank about what you write. I think people could connect and relate with my writing so well because it was raw, visceral, pure emotion. It was honest. I spoke my heart out. There’s no second way about being an excellent writer than being honest.

3. Do you think various aspects and parts of your career exert a mutually pro-active influence? 

I don’t quite understand that question, but I guess having a multiple interests makes your very thinking multidimensional and layered. It influences on who I am, impacts my leadership qualities, how I interact with people in my day-to-day life. I’m a jack of all, master of none, but that’s a good thing. I believe that being very knowledgeable in exclusively one field and clueless about the rest of the world makes one narrow minded.

  1. What inspires you? What drives you to write, mobilise and crusade? 

I think I’m my own inspiration. I’m 42 year old, single, having had a wide range of interests, activities, dreams and aspirations, a combination of all of these has furnished me a very interesting life: Not a perfect life, but an interesting (emphatically) life. I feel that just by merely looking back at my own life and trying to understand it, inspires me to do more, write more and explore further. I have always had this obsession about documenting every single aspect of life. I document everything, whatever I encounter, interact with, and watch and observe in my life, from the most mundane to the most crucial things: movie goings, feelings, travel, and so on. That drives me to write.

As I said, even as a teenager I wrote my diaries intended as a document for the world to read someday. I used to always think that someday I would be famous and they will read my diaries to know me more. Now at 42, having studied feminist movements and feminist life narratives, I leant that I was not being naïve then, thinking that writing about my life makes sense. Women’s life narrative are in fact an import tool of empowerment even if you’re a woman no one knows about.

Thenceforth, writing gave me audience, audience gave me issues, causes and curiosity. Everything I know about the world today is owed to my writing because I am always reading more to write more. Had I up took a 9 to 5 job, lived a conventional life with family and kids I would not have had this wide insight. Writing makes me feel confident, impels me to do things that I believe are important for humanity.

What does Intersectionality mean to you? 

I learnt the term during my academic discourse, while pursuing my Masters in Women and Gender Studies. Intersectionality is basically accepting the fact that, both in the physical and metaphysical sense, we live in a world that is full of complex relationships, ideas and values. It is usually referred to intersectional identities such as Muslim women, Dalit women but can be applied to our overall understanding of the society. Intersectionality means placing yourself amidst the chaos and then figuring out both the world and yourself. No matter who you are, your life’s meaning, value systems and priorities have to be understood in the web of other values and systems and not look at things in the flat, simple binaries. Intersectionality emerged as a tool of the subaltern, because certain narratives and experiences weren’t popularized by the mainstream but that doesn’t mean the subaltern’s view of things is the only way to consider. Intersectionality would mean, to place everyone at the same intersection of all the myriad narratives and lived experiences, each of us understanding everyone else’s multiple realities and differing points of views.

  1. What all does your expression of freedom entail?

Expression is my oxygen; I’ll still probably survive if my food supply is cut off, but if my internet access, which I use to publish myself, is severed, I won’t survive a moment, subjected to that (laughs).

It is my day-to-day living. I live through my words. I “live” via my expression. Every act that I do is an exercise-in-expression. Without expression I would be as good as a walking dead.

I should be able express every single experience and detail of my life (indiscriminately) without worrying about fear or shame. My habit of expressing whatever I feel has cost me relationships, friends, partners, kith and kin, including my sister. But I have strived with people, trying to convey them that they cannot command or control what I express, quantitatively or qualitatively. It is (subject to) my own (sense of) good judgement, or bad judgement, as to how much I talk about some (whatsoever) subject: in public, or in private. It may include my views on other people, politics, sex, love religion, God,… everything. I draw my own lines. It is my own good judgement which determines as per the situation, what I express. No one else should control that.

  1. How has your writing played a role in changemaking? How can one translate one’s intellectual crusade to a social one? 

There’s no formula as such. You need to have an intent and then it will happen. From my personal experience, the more I come to know, the more I share. I don’t know how I would have shared if there was no social media and what my life would have been without it. Having an avenue to publish my mind made all the difference. Through social media I share knowledge I gather from my own learning; To bring my intellectual capacity and learning to the masses that’s my attempt. Knowledge is power, It brings social change. I’ve disseminated to, influenced, and inspired tens of thousands of people, with knowledge I gained. I have received responses, remarks, comments, testimonies and feedback from women, who’ve been inspired, empowered, impelled to shed their inhibitions, relate to exactly how they felt, realize their potentials. Women have sent me testimonies that I have inadvertently voiced their feelings, and driven them to proclaim their vocality.

I speak freely on every topic; I guess that’s the only role I’ve played in being a changemaker. In the Indian context, I give out a message by mere virtue of ‘being’ a single 42 year old woman, who is not celibate, open and vocal about her personal life, relationships, sexuality. I am also trolling the trolls, talking on both personal issues, feminist issues and electoral politics which is sort of rare in feminist circles. Don’t get me wrong, there are notable scholars and political analysts, many great inspirational feminists, but the thing is they are on journals, not on social media, not on twitter. Indian women still don’t occupy popular public spaces for conversations. Communication, Sharing knowledge Unorthodoxy, unabashed outspokenness and leading an unapologetic life, that is how I believe I am acting as a changemaker.

  1. What does your attachment to the grassroots mean to you? How do you manage to reconcile such an illustrious material and intellectual career in multiple mainstream fields, with a strong connect to the the land and its people?

I don’t think I have an illustrious career. I travel on budget; I’ve not been on a regular job for years, of my own choice and volition. I made choices as such, as money never meant anything to me. Whenever I was confronted with the dilemma of choosing between monetary opportunities and staying linked to the ground and following my passion, I chose the latter. It was a conscious choice to not have any liabilities and therefore not be materialistic. I’m living on my savings and don’t possess any significant material assets. I don’t have any liabilities so I can freely follow my interests and social work. When I get published I do make a small renumeration but it is not the objective. I do things because my heart wants me to do them. That has helped me stay attached to the ground.

  1. You’re a photographer as well. Broadly, What is your sense of aesthetic, that you quest, and strive to capture?

Photography is a low-barrier-to-entry profession. There too many photographers and I’m just a small fish. So, how do I carve out my niche, leave my impression, find my space? That’s my quest: To make my name, my distinct identity in this competitive world. It led me to projects and themes that nobody has thought of. Like, the Gender and Public Spaces Tour in which I travelled to 5 Indian metro cities to observe how women use urban public spaces. How many women are there at the bus stop? Or the public park. Are they with children? What are they doing? Are they engrossed in the cellphones? What’s their body language, are they relaxed or constricted? And thus, I became a feminist photographer.

Then the Women With Tattoos project. I got a tattoo for myself which has a lot of stories behind it; So I thought other women too must be having a lot of undocumented stories behind their tattoos. I wanted to document them. Tattooed women are (narrowly) stereotyped: connotated as outgoing, provocative, sexy, an easy-to-bed woman and so on but the stories behind the tattoos could be empowering inspirational. I wanted to break the stereotype that’s through my words and camera. That’s how that project came about.

Most of the things I do is an extension of what I feel and then comparing notes with other women building a collective narrative.

Another project “Rural Women with Intellect” is to break the stereotype of rural Indian women. Traditionally, all the great photographers have documented either the very oriental exotic beauty or the vulnerability of women in non-progressed societies. I shot portraits that capture the intellect of women; that depict that she’s a critical thinking woman. A woman who’d question and not simply accept power and authority. Some of these photos (inadvertently) do become aesthetically nice. But aesthetic is not the purpose I pursue (per se). What matters to me is the theme that I follow. I follow a feminist theme.

But I do all kinds of photography from Abstract to Weddings and in those I admire stark, impressionist colours. My aesthetic sense involves a lot of symmetry. I try to keep a sense of bright colours, symmetry, balance, shape, and minimalism. My frames do not have too many things, I strive to maintain that. Minimalism is something I emulate in my everyday life. I have learnt to present myself in the way that I like myself. Despite having a lot of body issues ever since my childhood, and not conforming to conventional societal beauty standards, not fitting the populist idea or narrative of beauty, As long as I look into the mirror and am liking my own image, I feel, I have achieved my aesthetic. I love myself.

Pitamber Kaushik is a journalist, columnist, amateur researcher, activist, and writer, having previously written for The Telegraph, The Gulf News, The Sunday Independent, and The New Delhi Times, amongst numerous other national and international newspapers and outlets.