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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Author Interview : Saheli Mitra, author of 'Lost Words'

Saheli Mitra
Saheli Mitra gives us a hard look into what she went through while putting 'Lost Words' together. Right from her journalism days to her courtship, to her own life and travails of it. Her mother's illness and the society around... all of them find a place in the book. 

She gives us a good idea of it, and how she managed to put the whole thing together are all a part of this Interview. You can also Buy this Book, right here and Read  my Review here, too.

How did ‘Lost Words’ happen? Could you describe the journey?

Being into journalism for the past 15 years, writing articles on law and consumer issues, previously on hobby and women pages, was something that I did quite often. Wrote short stories as well, in Bengali that got published in leading magazines.

But if you ask me about writing a book, it was always a dream that I thought I would try to achieve once I got into retirement. If you speak of ideas, there are many, other than the central theme of ‘Lost Words’ that has always been very close to my heart.

So, whenever I get a chance I sit and jot down characters, I come across on my travels in a small diary or on my netbook. I take vacations a lot, a sort of shared passion of me, my husband and our son and deliberately move about India instead of going abroad. We travel not to the so-called tourist destinations, just to get a feel of this vibrant country and the various shades of characters.

India can be a fantastic seat of imagination for any writer for that matter, for where would you find so many varied kinds of emotions playing? It’s like a kaleidoscope, such contrasts… and for one thing Indians display their emotions quite openly. That helps any keen observer to catch on those emotions and weave a story partly through imagination and partly through real-life experience.

As for ‘Lost Words’, my mother got quite ill suddenly after a trek to the Himalayas in 2012. I stay with her and as her ailments went undiagnosed, there were nights when I had to keep myself awake to help her if she needed me. Keeping awake at nights without doing anything can take a toll on your emotional and physical balance, especially, when one has to get up early in the morning for the son’s school preparations.

Also, being particularly close to my mother, it was quite frustrating to see her ailing. I just couldn’t communicate with anyone, couldn’t even tell my husband what I was feeling right then, how low I was. Memories of my only brother passing away, years back at the age of twelve from a two-day undiagnosed fever was haunting me too. It was like will that experience again come back, will I be losing a dear one again?

But I had to come out of this negativity and what better way than to concentrate on writing, something that I have always enjoyed. That’s how ‘Lost Words’ was born, one can say out of an emotional void and a necessity to become positive amid the trying times.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
How did the story, especially Geet’s come about? Did you have personal experiences to go with it?

Yes, definitely. Born into a very liberal and illustrious Bengali family of Kolkata, I have enjoyed complete freedom since childhood. My parents have been very modern in their outlook and both of them read books, wrote poetry and there was a sort of environment that inculcated the feeling that I am not a girl or a woman but I am a human being.

I never felt that feminism need be imposed as it came quite naturally to us. Like my mom never used sindoor or wore anything to prove she is married, she went to parties, she had many male followers, but I never found dad jealous about it. They shared a perfect romantic relationship. Mom also runs a school of her own and when dad returned from High Court after picking me from school, she was always there to crack jokes with dad over a cup of tea.

A very intriguing part was they sharing a cigarette together. Even my maternal grandparents were so outgoing, they raised four daughters including my mom just like sons, despite having a son of their own.

But once I was in college and came across girls from different states, I made friends with two Punjabi girls whose parents were doctors, they were doing MSc with me, quite good students too. But the minute they gave their final exams, they were married off, started having kids and that too sons. When I met them again after many years, they told me how much they are suffering at their in-laws’ place and how they had to abort twice for bearing female foetus.

It was terribly shocking for me, as I have never known that a male and a female child can bring different emotions to a parent, even to a mother. This was my first experience of how women are actually treated in India, and over the years I realised the way I was brought up was indeed a rarity.

Thus I thought of Geet’s character as a rebel to all things set and done.  

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it? 

Frankly, the story unfurled, as I started writing. I gave a twist to it and left the end open because I did not like imposing an end on the readers, but allowed them to their own course of thought about what Geet and Jai would do.  

Many readers readers got back to me with different conclusion. Some said they should marry and not have kids, some said marry and adopt kids, while some others were left wondering as to why I made them siblings, else they could have made a great match. I thus realised that the characters of Geet and Jai have truly appealed to the romantic readers, as well as to the socially alert readers.

I wanted to write romantic thriller for light reading yet put in an element of the social abuses that women face in every strata of the Indian family life.

What according to you is different about your book?

Romance, Thrill, Society and a strong message, all in one. It’s an easy read that will appeal to all ages and to readers who read different genre.

How would you relate the lives of characters to the lives today? Any similarities? 

'Lost Words is particularly an urban drama and hence most characters are based on what I see around. Geet and Jai are the typically modern kids, who are ambitious and quite open about their relationship and its needs. While Jayanto is a typical middle class Bengali, who believes only achievement at the workplace, earning loads, providing luxury to the family and wife is a man's goal. I have seen men in my life, one of whom is my husband. Sort of married to work. 

And Shuvangi, of course is someone any modern urban woman can relate to.While Veer is the typical north Indian male chauvinist. The only character born out of just imagination is Deep.

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?

Geet. I have lots of Geet in me, including the subject she studies and the subject matter of her PhD thesis and even her courtship days (that I enjoyed with my husband, Subho... we were classmates and have known each other since we were 16).

What was the most challenging part about writing ‘Lost Words’?

How to place the letters. Again, letter writing is a dying art today. But I have a huge love for writing letters. I still wish to write, only I can’t find senders as everyone is so used to emails. I found it particularly challenging to frame the letters and I had to imagine myself as Shuvangi and Veer to bring out the emotions and reactions to those emotions, while writing the letters.

Have been very keen to make the whole thing a visual treat and believe have been somewhat successful in doing so, as many readers and critics even have pointed out that ‘Lost Words’ would make a very good movie or drama.

Who was it that told you that you could become the author, you are today?

The two people I have dedicated the book to...

When will you next book be out?

Am currently working on a series of Children’s stories. If they come out, well will send them to publishers. I have kept in mind my son Chitrak, while writing them, just finished the first. 

He is a huge fan of Geronimo Stilton (the mouse detective) and makes me read those books. So, I thought of creating our own Indian style Stilton.

Which book are you currently reading?

'Jorasanko' by Aruna Chakravarty.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I have a whole lot. Who to name? Bengali authors like Sarat Chandra
Rabindranath Tagore
, Rabindranath Tagore, Saradindu Bandopadhyay and Satyajit Ray are my great favourites. And then of course, Jane Austen. I love period dramas a lot and stories that reflect them mingled with the old world charm are a true favourite of mine. 

Even Amit Chaudhuri has that style. Just love it. Simple words yet so lyrical. I liked Khaled Hosseini's  ‘The Kite Runner’ too but not those that followed. And Agatha Christie is my all time favourite for Hercule Poirot has the perfect style of delving into characters. I love that interplay of relationships and the complexity of emotions that a human mind is capable of displaying.

What else do you do on a daily basis? 

Work (at The Telegraph), raising an adolescent son, travelling, 
reading books is a must, every day and even when I am in the city
I try to spend my day off just walking down the streets of Kolkata to
get into the charms of streets that have been trodden for centuries.

Infact that love for the city gets reflected in ‘Lost Words’ as well.

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