She Can. You Can. We Can.

Garima Kushwaha is the author
of the book
Garima Kushwaha, a research scientist and writer, is the author of a powerful new book for people of all ages, called "She Can, You Can." In this interview, Garima tells about her journey working on the book.

From research scientist to author - what a beautiful curve! Can you tell us about your journey into writing?
I have a PhD in Bioinformatics and work full-time as a Scientist at a multinational pharmaceutical company. While I was writing my dissertation, I also took up a journalism internship with Youth Ki Awaaz. This started my journey and discovery of my own viewpoint in the topic of women empowerment. I am really interested in women empowerment in the context of Indian women and have written for platforms like Menstrupedia, Youth Ki Awaaz and Women’s Web. The book “She Can You Can” is a continuation of my efforts in this direction.

How did the book come about? What inspired it?
I grew up hearing the term "Bada Aadmi", a successful man. The implicit belief in this term that men are meant to do great things while women are there to support them, is so flawed. Also, when we talk about role models in the Indian context, most people have just male examples. It gave me the impression that women were never capable of doing great things which I didn’t want to believe. I wanted to find examples of women who were inspiring and have proved their worth.

For that, I came across various books in the west like "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls" and "Women in Science" which highlighting women achievers and break this stereotype very well in western countries. But again, I found myself turning pages to find if they covered any Indian women. They don't present characters that Indian girls and boys can relate to.

So with this book, I want to showcase strong Indian women who have done brilliant things and portray them as female role models for kids growing up in India.  After reading the book ‘She Can You Can’, young girls growing up in India and abroad should believe that they can be whatever they aspire to be and young boys should just not think of girls as prizes to be won, but as doers and thinkers worthy of respect.

That's amazing. You've put together a list of women from A to Z! That's super impressive. How did you go about identifying the women you wanted to write about it?

For this book we had to create two lists parallely. One was a list of women we wanted to write about and the other was a list of fields of work that we wanted to dig into for women achievers. Pleasantly the first one was way bigger list than the second.

Then, we categorized our first list of women achievers two ways, alphabet letter and profession. With this, we found that majority of our Indian names for girls start with the same letters (for example, S, M or P) and few letters that were very uncommon (like W,V,Y). Hence, we ended up with few english alphabets that had no or few names under it and few letters with too many must include candidates. Similarly, few professions had many competing candidate names and few none. We then had to do a second round of search for women with names starting with those remaining letters or professions. Finally, we used these two lists to create our alphabetic list. We wanted to strike a good balance in a variety of aspects like profession, part of country they live in, contemporary v/s historical and I am really happy with the final outcome.

When information in this format appears to be a bit of a "trend," if you will, what do you

believe sets your book apart?
Anastasia Damani illustrated the book
Yes, While the short biography format of books for children is a global trend these days (and rightfully so) starting with “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”; our book “She Can You Can” is unique in several ways.

We start with the format of an alphabet book, introducing one trailblazing woman for each letter of the alphabet. This is a very friendly format for kids and is reminiscent of childhood days of learning and fun for adults as well. Anastasia Damani’s colourful poster-style illustrations is appealing to both children and adults looking for inspiration.

The book is unique in the context of India and our culture as it is an eclectic mix of various new and exciting professions typically unheard of in India. We have featured a variety of new professions from mountain climbers to bikers, comedians to craft activists and many more that kids would be excited to discover. We have really tried with this book to break up the rote thinking of a career being in just Medicine or Engineering in India.

Finally, this might be the first book that will carry stories of children who believe they are role models themselves, giving them the confidence to believe in themselves. With the help of our publisher HarperCollins, We ran a contest inviting young kids to send in their stories. The best of these got featured in the book to reinforce the notion that children can inspire and motivate too. In addition, the activity pages at the end of the book such as the ‘Write your own biography’ page are designed to promote their self-confidence. This will be a book that will let young girls dream, explore and be whatever they want to be.

Can you tell us a bit about what went into the writing and drawing process?

Writing this book, I would say has been the most inspirational time in my life. Finding out iconic Indian women to include in our book involved extensive research. It was immensely satisfying to find so many women who have risen to the top, who overcame all the stereotypes and who broke the glass ceiling in various areas of work. Presenting just 26 seemed impossible at that time.  

Researching on each character involved reading several articles on these women, listening to their talks or interviews on Youtube, watching their performances if they were artists and jotting down their most interesting facts. Writing about each character was an unique experience in itself. Their heroic acts and their determination filled my heart with gratitude and courage.

It involved binge watching Uma devi’s comedy scenes and listening to her songs like ‘Afsaane likh rahi hoon’ in loop. Listening to the Kalpana chawla’s audio recording from space in her last flight gave me goosebumps. and I felt proud seeing M.S. Subbulakshmi representing Indian culture and art in UN. I literally stopped using paper towels for weeks right after writing about Gaura Devi to save trees. There were days when I tried to mimic Yamini Devi’s steps reminding me of my school days.

Bringing these characters to life with their illustrations was a lot of hard but fun work. It was thrilling though due to its visual nature. From Kalpana’s face structure to Uma Devi’s attire, we debated about everything. While digging for various props to fill up the illustration for each character, we learnt so much about them. It’s been a very inspirational journey for myself and all involved in the making of this book and we hope readers feel the same.

What has the response been like so far?
Rajat Mittal is the Cheerleader
and Producer of this project
We have had a positive response to the book and people are really liking it. The book was at two book fairs in Delhi and Kolkata this year and was received very well. We recently concluded an event on Mother’s day as well in Kolkata. It was a live session with our illustrator Anastasia Damani. The kids and their parents all enjoyed it.

Several mothers have reached out to me on social media with positive feedback on how much they like reading the book with their young ones. Receiving photos of parents reading the book with their daughters and sons has been very satisfying.

Outside such activities, we have also received some interest from NGOs interested in using the book to educate children.

What were some of your major challenges? How did you deal with them?
The selection process was the most challenging but rewarding part of the journey. Our A-Z format made it more tricky for us as we got so many interesting characters for the same alphabets. So we prepared an exhaustive list of all candidates we could humanly find first and then carefully had to select them based on various criteria like field of work, region etc. It was really hard to remove a character we really liked for another one but in the end, we are really happy how the final selection turned out as It is a very well balanced list and you can find inspiration in so many diverse areas.