Kolkata author Baisali Chatterjee Dutt on her new book and wordsmanship
Siliguri, India: Kolkata-based author Baisali Chatterjee Dutt just recently debuted her 'novella in verse' called 'Three is a lonely number.'
Dutt, although is an accomplished author joins the wave of literature flooding in the COVID-era.
Like during every other mass crisis in the past, literature continued to flow unbarred, capturing life in its incomprehensible nitty-gritty.
It has been a year since the pandemic began and in the meantime, countless books have been published.
For instance, J.K Rowling pulled out some unfinished manuscripts from her attic, bought them together into what became the uber-popular The Eckabog.
In the same way, several books were partially written in the year of lockdown. Dutt's work, although not intentionally started or finished in the pandemic, nonetheless is largely inspired from the same.
Baisali speaks to We The World Magazine, about her foray into 'novella in verse' with her book launch 'Three is a Lonely Number' on Amazon kindle and in general what has it been like being an author.
1. Baisali, you're already a seasoned writer with quite a portfolio like co-compiling the Indian franchise of the international bestseller 'Chicken Soup for the Soul'. You've also biographed the ace designer Sharbari Dutta. 'Three is a lonely number' seems like your first foray into poetry or 'Novella in verse.’ Was the recent work your 'spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,' (as Wordsworth defined poetry to be) that led to this, or were you preparing for the same for long?
Baisali: How this book came about is quite a story in itself. I never set out to write this book. April is known as GloPoWriMo — Global Poetry Writing Month.
Last year, it also coincided with the beginning of the lockdown so I decided I would participate. It’s basically a way to keep yourself motivated.
Now lots of writer’s circles and poetry groups give out prompts to help with inspiration. I started following four such groups on social media; one was on Facebook called Aurea Writing Circle.
They did something interesting — they came up with the A-Z challenge, in that their daily prompts were words starting with different letters of the alphabet -- one word for one day. So, you had ‘A’ for ‘ambiguity’, ‘B’ for ‘beauty, ‘C’ for coping, and so on.
Now, my first two poems, just happened to be about two people — a coincidence, I assure you. Someone in the group commented, “Is there a story unfolding here?”
And I thought to myself, “Why not? Let me see if I can turn this into a story in verse!” And somehow, I was able to!
After April was over, one of the administrators of the page got in touch with all the poets and told us they were part of a newly launched publishing house, Ratio Auream Publishing and that they were going to select some of the poems for their first publication, an anthology of lockdown poetry. The collection is called, “Isolation”.
They got in touch with me separately and said that apart from a few of my poems for the anthology, they were interested in publishing the story series separately, and would I be interested? Well, we all know my answer to that question :D
2. In your 'Three is a Lonely Number' themes range from grief to domestic tension and even love, passion, sadness and, so on. How were you inspired to narrate these characters?
Baisali: As I mentioned above, I had never actually set out to write this story, it just happened. I was discovering little things about them myself each day because I would have to use the prompt to fashion the poem.
One thing that certainly helped is that we got a week’s worth of prompts in one go. So based on the words, I would think about how to move my story forward.
I think by the 10th/12th of the month, I had a concrete idea for the story. Now it was just a matter of crafting the story around the prompt words.
One thing I need to mention here is that another part of Aurea Writing Circle’s instructions to us was that the poems had to feature the pandemic in one way or another.
So, my story had to play out in these times that we just lived through and are still living through. I guess one can say that this is partly a story of our times.
Going back to my characters, it was actually during the editing process that I really got to know them well. I understood who they were and their motivations. This helped me edit the poems and bring out the essence of who they are.
3. With your debut in poetry with a 'novella in verse' do you find yourself further chasing this particular genre than any other?
Baisali: I have to admit, I really am tempted to try this again, but I have a lot of unpublished poetry that I'd like to bring out sometime. So we’ll have to wait and watch which comes first.
4. Who are your biggest influence in poetry?
Baisali: The list is endless! But currently, Sumana Roy, Tishani Doshi, Sharanya Manivannan, Arundhati Subramaniam, Sampurna Chattarji. Longtime favorites are Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Leonard Cohen, T. S. Eliot...
5. A quick assessment of your work history reflects synchrony in patterns of values. From the ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul’ to Sharbari Dutta’s biography and now your recent novella. They have the essence of life in common. They’re centered around actual human experiences or crude life. Is it by choice or just how they’ve been? Please tell our readers what is life for you in brief.
Baisali: It was all happenstance, really. The ‘Chicken Soup’ series and Sharbari Datta’s biography, were commissioned works.
“Three is a Lonely Number” is something that is truly mine, it came from me...like a baby. And yet, it wasn’t something that I dreamed up on my own. It's something that happened.
As for the essence of life...what is life? On different days, you’ll get different answers. However, on most days, my answer is mostly this: Life is a river...it just keeps flowing.
6. Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Baisali: Haha — only in my head and heart!
7. You’ve compiled ‘Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul.’ The franchise being an international bestseller, millions have read some of the other installments of the books. Tell us, what was your experience like, while compiling the stories?
Baisali: The “Chicken Soul” commission came to me at a time when I was going through one of the worst periods of my life. I had recently lost my father and I was absolutely devastated.
Reading those stories, writing my own, putting the two compilations together, and watching them take shape, bit by bit, well...it saved me.
8. What do you think is the role of a writer (poet) in the present day?
Baisali: I think there are two types of writers: those who are the chroniclers of history and our lived experiences, and those who seek to entertain.
Poets, I think, are mainly chroniclers. Whether it's a response to a political event, a social event or a personal feeling, they record their responses for all posterity so that others may re-see or re-live that particular moment or event or feeling. They are a witness to a heart's beating, a gut's reaction, a brain's response.
9. When you wrote ‘Three is a Lonely Number’ did you have any reader’s persona in your mind? Who is the ideal reader of your works?
Baisali: I mostly had my friends in mind and other poets from poetry circles and reading groups.
I think the ideal person is someone who would read this book twice — the first time in lightning speed to find out what happens, and the second time to savor the language.
1o. Who are your favorite authors, your favorite reads so far?
Baisali: I love anything by Sharanya Manivannan and Sumana Roy. Saikat Majumdar is also a big favorite.
My top five favorite reads would have to be:
‘The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
‘The Firebird’, by Saikat Majumdar
‘Pride and Prejudice’, by Jane Austen
‘The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling
‘Shei Shomoy’, by Sunil Gangopadhyay (although I have to confess I read it in translation).
I also looooove reading plays — anything by Neil Simon, Tennessee Williams, and Mahesh Dattani.
11. How has the pandemic been for you thus far? A boon or a bane?
Baisali: A mix of both, really. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, “Three is a Lonely Number” would never have been written. Also, I took this time to sign up for many online courses, to upgrade my craft.
I got to learn from people I’ve admired for a long time and whom I never thought I’d be able to learn from, because of geography. But all that changed thanks to the magic of Zoom and Google Meet!
But the emotional upheavals...well, they are, were, quite heavy.
12. What do you feel about modern-day poetry in India and the world over? Any favorites? ‘
Baisali: I’m a huge fan. And I think from my answers above, you can tell.
13. You're a teacher. What is your students' reaction after knowing their teacher is also an author?
Baisali: One of absolute surprise and awe! It’s adorable!
I really would like to write for children. That’s been a longtime dream.
15. What do you advise modern-day students when it comes to literature?
Baisali: It’s great to have a favorite genre, but don’t deprive yourself of the wonderful variety that exists. Just because you like chocolate ice-cream, does that mean you’ll never experience a salted caramel or a roasted almond? If you don’t try, how will you know?
And the biggest advice is, if you can read in more than one language, then you simply must read the literature in that language too.
Read translations. Please. India alone has so many languages, each with formidable literature. And then of course there’s the world...
It’s true you know...so many books, so little time.
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