No Excuse!

Jyoti Shekar

Women generally have a strong streak of the independent or rebel blood in them. Yet, because of the conditioning of the society, many of them tend to be totally oblivious to that quality within them. And all that they bring to the fore is their patience, perseverance, and ability to bear the pain.

Since I am a lawyer by profession, I come across many such women around me even today. While I can see so much potential in them if they just lift the veil of societal conformance, they themselves are not able to see beyond it.

At times like these, I use examples of movies and books to drive in my point to these women. While the point may or may not go in all the time, I nevertheless keep on looking for some inspiring movies or books that showcase the strength of a woman and enable her to fight her battles and come out.

And, I believe, we need many more books on women’s journey. Reading about the journey of a woman who has had similar problems as us, if dealt in the right way, is tremendously inspiring and will help many women in distress.

I came across one such novel recently – Louisiana Catch – that appealed to me.

unnamed (2)Written by a US-based, Indian-American author, Sweta Srivastava Vikram, the novel brings out the journey of a woman who turns her life around completely and also embarks on a No Excuse movement – a much-needed aspect in today’s times. Ahana, the protagonist, is like most of us, being protected instead of being taught how to fight her own battles. She faces her own trials and tribulations, but she manages to fight her demons and embarks upon a journey to tell other women that there is No Excuse for either abusing or tolerating abuse.

Louisiana Catch is Sweta’s 12th book, but her debut novel in the US and is already creating a lot of buzz and positive reviews. In fact, the novel is the #1 new release on Amazon under women’s divorce fiction and featured on U.K.’s list of ‘Books to Read in 2018’.

Sweta is a five-times Pushcart Prize nominee, mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified Yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. She writes hopeful stories about multiculturalism and women’s issues with a healthy dose of wellness, reflections, and food. In her spare time, she also teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.

Born in India, Sweta spent her formative years between the Indian Himalayas, North Africa, and the United States collecting and sharing stories. You can find her in these online spaces: Website (www.swetavikram.com), Twitter (@swetavikram), Instagram (@swetavikram) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Words.By.Sweta).

In a one-to-one conversation, Sweta shares her achievements, activities and her take on life:

Jyoti: Sweta, thank you for agreeing to do this interview for Eyra! At the outset, we would love to know about your journey as an author so far.

Sweta: Louisiana Catch, my debut U.S. novel and 12th book, was published by Modern History Press on April 10. I have been writing for as long as I can remember, but the journey of calling myself an author began in 2009-2010. It’s been exciting and nerve-wracking and gratifying. There are good days and some frustrating days, but writing is how I make sense of the world around me. Becoming an author has been life-changing on so many levels. It has taught me about hard work, compassion, resilience, community, emotional sustainability, persistence, possibilities, and the power of stories.

Jyoti: Is life difficult for a woman as an author, in terms of expressing yourself or balancing home life and work life etc.?

Sweta: Running a wellness company while managing home, health, a book launch and family can be a lot. But nothing is impossible if you know what is important, and understand that no one can have everything. Sure, during the book launch and tour phase of Louisiana Catch, life got a little more demanding but mostly, I have my priorities straight and goals chalked out.

For me, anyway, yoga has been instrumental in standing up for my voice and in creating a harmonious balance in my life. When you disconnect from the outside noise, you find true clarity in your beliefs and convictions. You stop relying on outside validation. That does not mean I do not care about reviews and positive coverage of my work. It just means that I am not attached to the outcome and handle rejections well because I am aware they are out of my control. I do not write to please or offend anyone. I write the stories truest to me. Very often, we get caught up with hot trends and hot topics, and feel we must have an opinion and emulate others. I write about identity, multiculturalism and women’s issues and how the different healing modalities can help. The work is gratifying but also intense, so I have to choose wisely who and how I spend my time and energy. I have a strong inner circle that allows me to fail and falter, and stand back up. No pressure to be perfect all the time. My husband is probably my biggest supporter.

Building solid relationships and having hobbies, and life outside of writing is key to sanity and happiness.

Jyoti: Every piece of art needs some inspiration, especially a character like Ahana in Louisiana Catch. What inspired you to write the novel?

unnamed (1)Sweta: Louisiana Catch represents the fragility of human relationships. Honestly, breaking stereotypes surrounding South Asian stories was central to writing of this book. I got tired of others defining what Indian women look like, behave, do, or feel. I could not find stories of my generation and women like myself, so I created Ahana. Mind you, Ahana is nothing like me, emotionally or physically. But she does represent the conflict a section of modern Indian women, including myself face: successful and confident yet unsure and dominated in their own unique ways.

Another reason I wrote Louisiana Catch: to raise awareness about survivors of sexual assault. I teach yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. Every woman who shows up on the yoga mat in my class looks and behaves differently. How can we judge and criticize survivors or what they look like or what clothes they had on at the time of assault? How dare we assume that all survivors fit a certain socio-economic type!

Jyoti: If it is not a spoiler alert for the readers, we would love to know how you came up with the idea of ‘No Excuse‘ campaign in the novel. This is very close to our hearts since Eyra is based on the principle of a woman’s right to choose and right to say no.

Sweta: No Excuse seemed very intuitive and strong as a choice. No excuse for policing or assaulting. No excuse for violating women. No excuse for defining what women want. No excuse for staying quiet. No excuse for tolerating abuse. I felt it covers the entire spectrum of emotions and bucket list of demands.

Jyoti: What is your take on the term ‘Feminism’? How much is not too much?

Sweta: Feminism to me is equal rights and access to opportunities for both men and women. At the same time, I do not believe that all men are animals. My father has taught me to speak up for myself and other women; my husband has my back no matter the situation. Clearly, I do not hate men. Our personal and direct experiences shape our opinions about feminism, so it would be wrong on my part to add parameters for anyone but myself.

Jyoti: Fair enough. You are very active in yoga and holistic healing. We would love to know more about your initiatives and how it can help women in dealing with their lives.

Sweta: I am the CEO-Founder of a holistic wellness company called NimmiLife. It helps people lower their stress and elevate their productivity by using Ayurveda lifestyle counseling and Yoga. This includes nutrition counseling, lifestyle hacks, and productivity tips amongst other things. As I said, I also teach yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence. Research has proven that yoga can help with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

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