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For more than a decade, from the villages of Uttar Pradesh to the night clubs of Delhi, Shrayana Bhattacharya followed the economic and personal lives of a diverse group of Indian women. Divided by class and community, these women are united in their quest for economic independence, love, fun and actor Shah Rukh Khan. The result is a dazzling new book of non-fiction—Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s Lonely Young Women and the Search for Intimacy and Independence (HarperCollins India in November 2021)—which tells an intimate history of how women, across classes, have experienced post liberalization India through the lens of finance and fandom.
Join us as historian Manu S Pillai and economist Janhavi Nilekani engage Shrayana in a conversation on key themes of her book: How far have Indian women travelled? How has liberalization treated women in the economy and society? How are professional and love lives of women intertwined? And what’s Shah Rukh Khan got to do with it?
Shrayana Bhattacharya trained in development economics at Delhi University and Harvard Kennedy School. Since 2014, in her role as an economist at the World Bank, she has focused on issues related to social policy and jobs. Prior to this, she worked on research projects with the Centre for Policy Research, SEWA Union and Institute of Social Studies Trust. Her writing has appeared in the Indian Express, the Hindustan Times, EPW, Indian Quarterly and The Caravan. She lives in New Delhi.
Dr. Janhavi Nilekani is a public policy practitioner and development economist, with interests in health systems reform, women’s empowerment, environmental challenges, and effective philanthropy. She holds a 2018 PhD in Public Policy from Harvard and a 2010 BA in Economics and International Studies from Yale. Janhavi is the Chairperson and Founder of AastarUrmika Health Systems, a public health non-profit that catalyses health system quality improvement. Janhavi is also the CEO and Founder of AastarUrmika Health Care Pvt Ltd, a healthcare start-up that recently launched Aastrika Midwifery Centre.
Manu S Pillai
Manu S. Pillai is the author of the critically acclaimed The Ivory Throne (2015), Rebel Sultans (2018), The Courtesan, the Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin (2019), and most recently False Allies: India’s Maharajahs in the Age of Ravi Varma (2021). Formerly chief of staff to Shashi Tharoor MP, he is also a winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar (2017). His essays and writings on history have appeared in Mint Lounge, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, Open, New Statesman and other publications. He is currently writing his PhD thesis at King’s College London.