Shuvashree Ghosh’s Across Borders recounts Bangladesh’s war of liberation from the perspective of a young girl. In an email interview with Yogesh Vajpeyi, the debutant novelist talks about writing and shared history of the subcontinent. Excerpts:
When did you decide on the debut novel?
I started writing Across Borders in early 2010, soon after I quit my job. I had a two-decade-long career with various companies, but this novel was a dream that I had been nurturing for a long time, and I pursued it with a single-minded purpose. I believe any job must be done in all sincerity, with focus. I have the satisfaction of having done my best, irrespective of the outcome.
Why choose a past you had not witnessed?
Across Borders is my endeavour to reach out to the world at large with my views...and what better mode to start with, than through the telling of a tale of my roots. My parents are from erstwhile East Pakistan. They both came to India before they met. I have grown up on tales of their struggles, and that of their relatives and friends. All of the characters of my novel are inspired by real people, though not always inter-related. I merely wove their stories into this garland of a novel, in tribute to their struggles, with my personal views and the power of my imagination. Even today there are perhaps a million Mayas in Calcutta alone. By the time I grew up, their troubles were a thing of the past, but you really never get away from the memories of the upheaval and uprooting, if you happen to be living in Kolkata.
Research for the novel
Before I set out to write the novel, I chalked a plan—the number of chapters it would have, their headings, the content of every chapter, the issues I wanted to project and the characters or events. I researched every issue that I wrote about in telling the tale—the diseases that afflict some of the characters, the events around the Bangladesh War and of course the social and cultural issues like polygamy, widow remarriage, religious practices of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, and a host of others. It took me one and a half years of focussed work, about 10 hours a day, to complete the novel.
How do you look at Maya, victim or fighter?
Definitely a fighter. Her sisters’ lives are in contrast to hers, though they too were born and raised in similar circumstances. I have tried to depict the differences between a victim and a fighter.
How do you view the ongoing social conflict in North-East and Bangladesh?
Bangladesh and India have had a long common cultural, economic and political history. West Bengal and Tripura speak Bengali as does Bangladesh. The conflicts are multifarious and justifiable when looked at from either side of the border. When international boundaries are coined out of local tehsil boundaries, not respecting ethnicity and culture, they result in conflicts.
Gabriel García Márquez, Haruki Murakami, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, J M Coetzee, Frank McCourt. The list is slowly growing.
What are you planning next?
I am working on a sequel to Across Borders…I am also planning on writing a memoir of an Indian soldier who was in the frontline during the Bangladesh War.