In Conversation with Nandini Sardesai

Mrs. Nandini Sardesai is an educator, social activist and a proud feminist. She is also on the Film Certification Board of India and on the advisory board of Kashish, Mumbai’s International Queer Film Festival. Listing all that she does is a task that's close to impossible.

How would you describe what you do to someone you’ve just met?
I’ve been teaching for the last 35 years, or maybe even more, to the point where teaching is no longer a vocation for me; it’s a passion. And although I retired 10 years ago, I continue to be a visiting faculty in several colleges. I like to believe my students are my lifeline to sanity, even though they can, and do drive me insane. But at the end of the day, being with young people keeps my grey cells ticking and I think that’s a source of rejuvenation.

If you had to choose from all your lines of work, what would you choose?
I’d like to continue teaching, and also wouldn’t compromise on my job as a homemaker.

What do you keep an eye out for while censoring a film?
We are required to follow certain guidelines that have been given to us. We’re guided by the Cinematograph Act, 1952, although it is quite outdated, and at times, even obsolete. However, in keeping with the changes in the Indian society, we try to take decisions that are more contextual, keeping in mind the changes, for instance, kissing in films was unacceptable ten years ago. It was considered vulgar or titillating, but it’s a given element of a film now. Not all people think alike, and since it’s always a collective decision, clashes of opinions often take place, where some people want to take a very rigid stance and term something as obscene, so we have to debate it out to reach a conclusion. Even then, you may not always get your way.

If this were to be your last breathing moment, would you be okay with that?
No! (shakes head) I have lots of things to do, so many more things I can do, and so many things that are unfinished- even mundane things like who will start the washing machine once I’m gone. Even the day-to-day things are very important to me.

How would like to describe your life as a teenager?
I was a very academically oriented, and not very adventurous. My father was in the police force and he was transferred a lot, so one thing I did learn was how to adjust in constantly changing surroundings. I was popular with my friends and the change never unsettled me, probably because I was very secure at home, with my parents always being there for me.

What are your views on the Gen Y?
One word I always use for the current generation is that they’re ‘irreverent’. They think they can have access to anything and everything, which makes them a little smug, and that smugness leads to a bit of irreverence. Apart from that, I admire how quickly they adapt to changing times.

What are your views on the latest technology? Are you a tech-savvy person?
Not at all. That has been the greatest struggle in my life. In fact, I’m getting my room renovated and when the mason asked me to click a picture of the ceiling and I said I couldn’t, he was shocked. For me, it’s been a slow way of learning- right from getting the hang of the mobile, then the e-mail, and even the iPhone now. I’m still learning, not completely confident, and I think the people who’ve have helped me the most in such times of distress are my students.

As a social activist, what is one issue that is closest to your heart?
It has to be the status of women in India- the ordinary woman, she could be a working woman, and the degree of acceptance she finds at home. It pains me that a lot of women I know wouldn’t mind taking a slap from their husband or getting abused by him, they take it as a part of their lives and it makes me feel that they’re not liberated in the true sense of the term. They’re not independent entities in their own right.

Would you call yourself a feminist? Why?
I’d like to, and I’d also like to call myself a rationalist because I like to reason things out. I like to make my own decisions, and have my own way for which I may come off as rather aggressive. It’s a part of me I can’t change. I can’t do yoga, or turn to complete spirituality, which a lot of people even younger than me are doing. I like to be my own person, and that is why I’m a feminist.

What are your interests apart from your various lines of work?
I’m into sports; I like watching football. I like to read. In fact, one of my grievances against myself is that I do not get enough time to read what I’d like to- a lot of fiction, murder mysteries or novels with a historical background.

Which one person would you like to meet before you die?
I’ve been fascinated with people who’ve had very eventful lives, and have then catapulted to the top, like Fidel Castro, for instance. I admire people who have done things on their own. Also, a large number of film actors who I had a crush on as a teenager. It has to be somebody with a touch of glamour.

What does a person need to be able to do what you’re doing?
A lot of motivation and courage, I’d say. Life has not always been happy or rosy or devoid of problems. One puts up a façade. I think one needs to be very tough, determined and resolute in life, with a certain discipline. People need to develop in themselves what we call in sociology the ‘Deferred Gratification Syndrome’.

What has sociology taught you?
Sociology, as a subject, is most closely aligned to psychology, and the subject is such that it has made me a more cosmopolitan, a more tolerant person.

If not this, what?
If I wasn’t a teacher, I would’ve liked to be in charge at a hotel and micromanage things, because I like everything to be perfect. That’s a life I would’ve liked to live, with free food, and all those little perks. I’m quite happy to stay put in one place and be in charge.

Do you ever plan to ‘retire’?
Till my grey cells are ticking and my memory is intact, I’d like to continue doing all my work. The day I feel my memory is fading, I’d give it all up on my own.

What is the most valuable lesson life has taught you?
Never take anything, be it people or things, for granted.

What drives you to get out of bed every day?
Oh, there’s so much to do! I HAVE to get up; so many things have to be done before the doorbell starts ringing in the morning. I don’t remember ever getting up and saying I’ve nothing to do now. There’s always something to be done.

What would the concluding line of your autobiography be?
While most people would like to conclude their autobiography with ‘a life well-led’, I would like to take a critical view of myself- many things I wish I could change, many mistakes I shouldn’t have made, many things that didn’t go the way they should have- and say, ‘It could have been better’.

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