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Friday, April 21, 2017

Author Interview : Susmita Bagchi, author of ‘Beneath a Rougher Sea’

Susmita Bagchi

Read up, Interview with Susmita Bagchi, Author of 'Beneath a Rougher Sea'. Prior to this, she had written seventeen books in Odia language, and has now written her eighteenth book in English. So basically, my first introduction to her and her work. The simplicity and her language were the two things, which caught my attention beyond anything else. 

She, who believes that 'to make an impact, the writer has to be sincere, work diligently and work with a purpose. If a manuscript has any merit, it will definitely be published' gives all writers, today, a whole new spectrum, Folks...

How did ‘Beneath a Rougher Sea’ happen?
For a long time, I had no idea about mental health issues or more particularly, mental illness. All I knew was that most people were 'normal' and some were not. They were the 'mad' people. 

When I met Subroto and we decided to get married, he told me that there was something I should know: his father had schizophrenia. I had no real idea what that meant. In those pre-internet days, all I knew was that it was probably something serious and scary.

But, as I actually got to know my father-in-law, I was surprised. He was a brilliant, affectionate and kind-hearted, man who spent most of his time with books and newspapers. Soon I realized that his illness was managed: he was under periodic psychiatric care. Most importantly, the family was not in denial; they loved him and supported him. No one hesitated to talk about his medical condition and were always watchful.

Gradually, I became more aware of mental health issues and felt a strong desire to write a book on the subject.

What kind of research did you put into the writing of this book?
Once I decided to write a book on this subject, I spoke to a psychiatrist friend Dr. Vivek Benegal, who is a Professor in NIMHANS. He spent hours explaining the subject and narrating many cases.
The research came after that. I did eighteen months of intensive research. Finally, I was convinced that I was ready to write this book.

What according to you is different about your book?
'Beneath A Rougher Sea' is a work of fiction, like most of my earlier works.
By the way, it is not for me to explain how this book is different. That feedback should come from my readers. I am grateful that most of my readers feel that I choose unusual subjects and write in a non-pretentious language.

How did you come up with the core idea and develop it?
I have read quite a few books on mental illness. Some, like ‘An Unquiet Mind’ which was written by Kay Redfield Jamison; such books were written by people who live through the illness. Then there were some written by caregivers.
I decided that the protagonist in my book would be a psychiatrist. I wanted to explore a wide range of mental illness, which would be possible if the protagonist were a doctor.
So Aditya, the psychiatrist, treats several disorders in a group of patients that is diverse in age and background.

How would you relate the book and its characters to your day to day lives?
We must realise that mental illness is not limited to a particular class, caste or religion. Similarly, one cannot immediately know about another person's mental state just by meeting or talking a few times.
So, among us there are many who suffer quietly. Once I did my research, a lot of things became clear. I realised that some people that I had interacted over the years, were actually suffering from mental illness - most of which could have been managed.

Which particular character did you feel most close to? Why?
As a writer, obviously I have the maximum weakness for my protagonist. That is Aditya, the psychiatrist. But, having said that, I must admit that I admire the character of Jonathan a lot.
He is self-aware, confident and very humane. I also feel that I know Aditya's wife Prachi very well. I see some of my feminine traits in her.

Could you tell the readers about your experiences and how it was related to what you wrote?

I have seen a few incidents that I have written, first hand. But at that time, I did not know that it was part of the spectrum of mental illness. Take for example, the case of nihilistic delusion that I have written. There was someone who went through that and I was a witness to that.
Similarly, I have met someone whose younger brother went through the same path as Deepa's son Raj. Finally, he had to be institutionalised.
I will repeat again that most of the incidents that I have written are not figments of my imagination.

What is the most fulfilling part of writing this book? And what is the most challenging?

Few people reached out to me to get more information on the subject after the book was released. They were ignorant on the subject of mental illness. They had just assumed that their loved ones were difficult to handle. They had no idea that those persons were actually suffering.

But the one time I had tears coming to my eyes was when a seventy year old lady, who would never talk about her mental illness, told me that she was encouraged to talk about her depression publicly, after reading my book and listening to me talk about the subject. She hoped her suffering and ultimate win would help some people at least.

What is the next book that you have planned?
It is a novel on geriatrics. The research part is not yet over. Once that is done, I have to think through the story line, though I already have a rough idea.

Was it difficult to shift from Odisha to English? If so, how would you rate the experience?

'Beneath A Rougher Sea' is my eighteenth book, though the first in English. I am comfortable in both the languages, but having just proficiency in a language is not enough to become a good writer. One needs perseverance and practice. So, I had to put in quite a bit of extra effort. 

But the fact that a book written in English has a wider reach is quite motivating. I hope to continue writing in both the languages.

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

It was my mother, who first got me interested. She was remarkable, in the sense that she never pushed me and motivated me very unobtrusively.
Luckily for me, my father, my in-laws and especially, my husband Subroto have always encouraged me and created the most comfortable environment to hone my skill.

Any advice to writers that would like to be published today? How tough is it to be published?

In our world, books get published very regularly. To make an impact, I feel the writer has to be sincere, work diligently and work with a purpose. If a manuscript has any merit, it will definitely be published.

How was your experience with the publishing house, Leadstart Publishing?

I was very impressed with some of the books published by Leadstart publishing. The quality of printing, the paper, the layout - were impeccable. When I reached out to the CEO Swarup Nanda, I was further impressed with his professionalism. He has a very capable team and overall it was a very pleasant experience.

Harper  Lee
Who are your favourite authors and why?

I have always loved the Classics, which my father, a student of English literature, introduced me to at a very young age. It is very difficult to name a single favourite writer. I have loved Charlotte Bronte, RL Stevenson, Mark Twain, W Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee and many others.

Gopinath Mohanty - from communityodia.com
And I worship Gopinath Mohanty in Odia. His books are honest, heart-wrenching and unique. He chose words and phrases from the day to day speech of ordinary men and women. I love all his works, but what stirred me most, were 'Harijan' and 'Paraja'.

Among the contemporary writers, I love books written by Haruki Murakami, Amitav Ghosh and many others.

What else do you do on a daily basis?

Writing is a full-time job. When I am not writing, I read or think about my writing. 

Then there are some charitable organisations that I am associated with. Three years back, Subroto and I set up White Swan Foundation in association with NIMHANS. White Swan foundation disseminates reliable information on mental health and illness aimed at all stake holders. 

It does that through a multi-lingual, content rich portal and outreach. I am very happy that within a short period of time, it has found its place among the mental health community. I have to devote some time to these. Sometimes I wish the days had a few more hours.

 You can  Read the Review, too and Buy the Book, here as well.

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