- Tell us about yourself (this if for the readers, who have not read your work)
I have been born and brought up in Kolkata, studied in Loreto House, majoring in History from Jadavpur University. I always wanted to become an Egyptologist and forsake the temptation of Pharaohs and saffron sand dunes for the love of writing. Taking up my first job in The Asian Age in Delhi, merely ten days of completing my Masters. What started as a premature craving finally graduated into a full blown career as I became an Editor at the age of 25 and travelled and worked all over India, with some of the leading publications as a Lifestyle Editor. Then once again, after more than a decade of being a scribe, I took a detour into Public Relations, heading one of the Media Strategy Divisions of a leading PR organization based in New Delhi. PR was challenging and a different high, but writing took a backseat and once again I found myself hungry for another journey. To go back to the start. As I embarked on a two month long vacation to Australia for my God-daughter’s christening. On the way back from there, on a long journey I took a rather impulsive decision of quitting my job and telling this one story that had been swimming in my head for years now… the story of a famous writer Piya Choudhury. On her way home. After years. Piya’s story, in many ways my own began my sojourn as a full-fledged novelist. Ofcourse I had no idea then that I would finish writing four novels in the course of one and half years of taking the plunge.
- Have you taken any creative writing course? (here you can talk about your graduation, etc.,)
No I have not. Writing I believe is an internalized dialogue and no one can teach you how to write. It’s an intimate space. The way you see the world and I feel writing courses may hone your already existing skills, but they can’t turn a non writer into one. Probably here, my years as a scribe have been my training ground. My first Editor in The Asian Age, Rupa Sarkar has been a monumental influence on my life – the way she allowed me a free expression, the same way my English teacher at Loreto House, Mrs. Kaveri Dutt taught me the craft of good language and the powerful tapestry of words.
- Your first attempt at creative writing? (here you can talk about the first book / poem, that you wrote, which was well received)
The first attempt at creative writing was the poems I composed in the shade of my jacqueranda tree in my balcony, lying on my stomach on balmy summer afternoons. Or the letters I wrote to imaginary friends in the slim shadow of the crescent in my childhood study in Kolkata.
- What made you attempt a full-blown novel?
My first novel was an organic process really and perhaps the one that readers will find closest to the trajectory of my own life path. The novel is based on the soul-searching sojourn of a celebrated writer, Piya Choudhury as she returns to her roots after years of living away from the city of her birth, Kolkata. The novel was born out of my own experiences, the various rebirths I took as I switched professional grabs and changed personal addresses, the myriad people I met in that tenure, their unfinished memoirs, Faraway Music interspersed memory with method. A strange place tucked away between imagination and introspection.
- Who were the first ones to read? (family / friends / etc.,)
My Editor at Hachette, Nandita Aggarwal. I am fiercely possessive about my words. And thankfully my mother is superstitious about reading my manuscripts before they transform into books. Apart from Nandita, my sister in Delhi, Mrs. Deepa Dasmunshi. Deepadi has patiently listened to every narration, often sharing a tear or two. She has been my first reader on many occasions.
- How did you approach the publishers?
Like everyone else, concept note, proposal letter, sample chapters. It’s pretty basic really. And I think every writer goes through the same grind at some point, or, at least, at the start of their career.
- How long you have to wait after finishing the manuscript and before hearing from publisher?
Actually things with Hachette just flowed. Nandita called me in after reading what I had sent. I gave her the narration that she liked. Asked for the full MS that she usually takes three-four months to go through and then at the end of that, I was given a contract. It’s been the same way as I have stuck on with Hachette, primarily because of the brilliance she brings, her intensity and the fact that she pushes me like my first Editor in journalism used to. To see my own story as a reader. First.
- Why Erotica as Genre?
The decision to write the first feminist erotica in the country was not really a very conscious one. And to me, even now, I find the hoopla about erotica in India rather ludicrous because as a culture we have always had a very strong erotic leaning, be it in our temple architecture of Khajurao or Konark or in our texts like Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda or Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam.
I carved Mrs. Meera Patel, the hero of Sita’s Curse from my own personal experience of seeing a particular Gujarati housewife, daily, on my way to work at the Times of India office in VT from Mahim where I lived. Sometimes hanging clothes on a flimsy plastic wire, feeding green chilies to a tota in a cheap wrought iron cage or running her hands over her full breasts, the Meera of my imagination almost became a daily obsession – a slow fire, as I soon started conjecturing about her life. Imagining her every single moment. The way she seemed trapped, soulless, sad, sabotaged by the simple irony of her own life. Till the floods of July 26th, 2005 of which I was also a victim, taking three days to reach home, battling a serious viral infection I contracted, being hospitalized…when I resumed work. She was no more. Sita’s Curse is my tribute to that memory. To a life unsung. A woman with the most melancholic eyes – like the color of rain. This is her story. This is her body. Her desires. The premise of the book also being – can desire be drowned? A woman’s desires.
- Which are your favorite authors in the same Genre?
For Sita’s Curse, I read a lot of erotica, not the 50 Shades of Grey types though. I delved into our classical literature, absorbing copious amounts of Kalidasa and Jayadeva’s, divinely mystical Geeta Govinda. Being drawn to Vatsayana and Kamala Das in equal measure. Fired by the fierceness of Chugtai, night after night. Another deep personal influence has been Anais Nin. Her irreverence is a lesson in how to retain one’s own voice, along with the sublime sensuality of Octavio Paz whose sensual poems abound in mysticism transforming erotica to an almost divine experience.
- When do you write? How often do you write?
When I am working on a novel, I work almost fifteen hours in a day, in a closed room, sans a phone or Internet. I need to be completely reclusive and sit at my desk. My only companion being the music plugged into my ears. I write every day and always finish one full chapter.
- Is there any book that you thought you would have written better?
- Which is the best feedback you’ve received from an ordinary reader?
A reader of Faraway Music naming her newborn son Abir, after my leading man. The little band around his wrist and another saying she will name her daughter Meera. It’s a moment. A reaffirmation of the way a book touches our soul.
- Tell us something about your latest book.
Trapped for fifteen years in the stranglehold of a dead marriage and soulless household domesticity, the full-bodied, passionate and sensual Meera Patel depends on her memories and flights of fantasies to soothe the ache that ravage her body, to quieten an unquenchable need. Until one cataclysmic day in Mumbai when she finally breaks free from the shackles. Bold, brazen and defiant, Sita’s Curse examines the hypocrisy of Indian society and tells the compelling story of a middle class housewife’s fierce need for respect, love and sexual gratification.
- Was there a piece of advice or a criticism which kind of changed the way you approached writing?
One of my favorite authors Kunal Basu telling me at a lit fest in Kolkata, of which I was a part, ‘don’t ever lose the existential angst and the arrogance of being a writer. You will be read.’
- Any plans or timelines when are you ready to crossover and write full time?
I am already a full-time novelist.
- Some words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
Don’t get into the best-seller rat race. Remember we are writers, and not rats. We have wings. That of our imagination. Also, don’t let publishers dictate your own voice or style. Blog, self publish, be part of a creative writing workshop. If you are a writer, you will always be one.