An Author and a Poet Speaks
By profession she is an Associate Professor of English in Post Graduate Government College, Chandigarh,but by passion she is a poet, short story writer, essayist, critic and a novelist -- all rolled into one ! Recently she was conferred Honour of “Sahitya Sree” by Kafla Inter Continental in Writers’ Meet at Udaipur. More remarkably, Professor Anuradha Bhattacharyya has bagged the Chandigarh Sahitya Akademi Award for Best Book in English ( Novel ) 2016, for her novel, One Word, announced in March this year.
Journalist Samir Majumdar interviewed Professor Anuradha Bhattacharyya. Excerpts from the interview:
Samir Majumdar : How did you feel receiving the award for your novel One Word?
Anuradha Bhattacharyya : Humbled and honoured’ is what people usually say on receiving an award. I am perhaps the only one who is brazenly expressing joy and being in a ‘party mood’. There’s reason for this. I had made up my mind that I would not succumb to dictates by any publishing house to change anything that I express.
Secondly, as I set about looking for a publisher, way back in 2013-14, I discovered many distasteful truths about the business. I finally found Col Chadha, an ex-military man who sincerely liked my novels and published them without asking for money. So, I compromised on ‘distribution’.
This award is a great achievement for me in view of my otherwise weak situation. All I know is that 3 readers have unanimously agreed that the book has substance beyond mere story-telling for entertainment or quick fame. The Akademi’s motto is to see if an author can ‘look beyond one’s immediate experience’.
Q : When did you realize that you could try your hand in writing fiction ? We have learned that you began writing poems first, then you started writing short stories. In which branch of literature do you feel comfortable? You are an Assistant Professor of English literature in a post graduate college. You are a poet, short story writer, literary critic, essayist and a mother of a child … in short you are a multifaceted personality. Could you tell us how you could manage to do all these ?
A :You can call me a workaholic. Apart from my syllabus, I was always reading and writing. Initially I wrote a diary. Then came poems, stories, even my letters to my mother used to be very long. I never set out to be a writer. My colleagues tell me that I make observations and ask questions which ‘make us think’. In fact, each story has been born out of a real life incident, either mine or some friend’s or something I read about, so I have been writing ‘on the go’. I believe it is a gift.
Q : How many books of poems have you got published till date? When did you first begin writing poems ?
A : I started writing poems at the age of 13 years, inspired by my class teacher Mrs. Gouri Sharma. I have published 3 books and a 4th one called My Dadu is coming soon. My Dadu is a set of poems written in view of the towering presence of my grandfather who incidentally is a Padma Shri awardee this year. Another set of 80 poems is ready but it is actually a collection of all my poems that have been published in various journals and anthologies, so I am not in a hurry to publish it.
Q : You contributed to a number of journals both in India and abroad. Please name some of the journals you felt comfortable in contributing to.
A : In 2014-15 I was constantly sending poems to The Camel Saloon. Afterwards, I sent poems to whoever asked me to contribute. The most remarkable is Lucidity. It is a 30 year old poetry magazine published by Ted Badger, who is now 94 years old. He contacted me personally. There’s School Shiksha from Gwalior where I sent my story I Love Your Eyes, which is about glaucoma. Indian Review has published it too. Little Hands is a lovely magazine from Thiruvananthapuram. It is for children and I sent them The Story of a Banana Tree, a serious story. Most of my stories are in Indian Review and The Bactrian Room.
Q : Do you edit a journal?
A : The College administration has appointed me Chief Editor of Worldereader, an academic e-journal of language and literature. I also edit the English section of the students’ multi-lingual magazine The Vikas.
Q : One Word is your second novel. Which is the other novel of yours and what sort of response have you received from your readers earlier?
A : My first novel called The Road Taken was published in 2015. My publisher sold 150 copies and was so excited over it that within 6 months he published One Word. Many of my readers talked with me for hours about their emotional as well as intellectual reactions during their reading of the novel. A Sri Lankan scholar who also has worked on Jacques Lacan called it ‘a powerful novel’.
Q : Who and what is the source of your inspiration ?
A : When I was in college, I came across a name: Sigmund Freud. I was also introduced to Karl Marx in my third year. But I grew more interested in Freud. And, as luck would have it, during my MA, I was introduced to Jacques Lacan. I owe much to these fundamental studies. In my mind, philosophers, psychoanalysts, religious preachings, linguistics and literature, the Discovery and Animal Planet channels, all these fruits of knowledge are like a ‘fruit salad’.
For One Word, I remember a visit to the Le Corbusier Centre in Chandigarh in 2013. One of the quotes displayed there said, roughly, the use of brick and concrete is ‘beauty’ but in the process, the relationship of man with man as workers is ‘good’. The thought reached deep in my heart.
Q : Who are your favourite authors, poets and especially novelists ?
A : Hemmingway and Albert Camus have been my favourites; Hemmingway for dialogues, Camus for brevity. Among poets, I have followed Browning’s habit of composing dramatic monologues. It gives me scope to write from different perspectives, both women and men.
Q : Have you started writing any other fiction or non fiction book ? Or, what are you writing these days ? Can you share with us ?
A :I have written the bulk of 2 more novels. Recently, I have committed myself to writing one story per month for Songsoptok, The Writers’ Blog whose publisher has created a column in my name called Anuradhasphere. In it, Manasa, a 21 year old girl is the constant presence.
Q : Are you an Atheist ? Or, a believer in God ?
A : I don’t spend time in prayers like my mother does. But I visit temples like a tourist. I also accompany my family in Hindu sacred rituals. I believe that the body is an organism and dies like a rotten fruit. And for that matter, we need not fight over religion.
Q : As you are a Bengali by birth. It is most likely that you have read Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Do you have any influence of Tagore on you ?
A : I am a non-resident Bengali and I learned Hindi in school. But my mother has been an ardent reader of Bengali literature and she taught me to read and write in Bangla. I was most impressed by a professor’s research work on Tagore in IIT Kharagpur, where I did my PhD. From him I learned one important attitude towards authorship: one must not publish any write-up unless one is fully satisfied with it. I never publish anything without reflection and revision. And I also trash many things I write.
Q : Finally, could you let us know what your novel, One Word is all about ? You once said your novel will teach your readers something which is rather important. Will you please let us know what lesson you were talking about ?
A : I’d love to tell my readers that you must form your own impression about the contents of my book. You are under no compulsion to be guided by any synopsis or review. I always write to communicate a serious thought. In fact, The Road Taken offers a bigger lesson, that of responsibility, to almost everyone old and young, male or female and unfortunately, I never submitted it for any award. All my stories have messages. Some are quite clear and some are camouflaged. I do believe that my novel One Word tells the story of everyone in my country at present, particularly the professional women. It is meaningfully dedicated to “all my sisters”. However, I leave it to the readers to decide whether they like my views.