The first few of Kunal Basu’s book The Endgame appear to be the story of war correspondent Tejaswini Ray, who is driven by her passion to report the truth from the battlefields of the world. However, as the narrative progresses, it delves deeper into issues plaguing humanity.
The book, a translation of the Bengali original Tejaswini O Shabnam, also touches upon the unexposed, ugly stories thriving in military camps. In a candid chat, the author shared what moved him to write this tale about entangled human lives.
Why did you choose the title to be, The Endgame?
There is a circularity in this novel: the strikes of destiny that set into motion the divergent lives of the two protagonists appears to haunt them till the very end. The question that looms over the story of Tejaswini and Shabnam is: Will their beginning determine the end?
Or will human will succeed in transcending the apparent inevitability of life?
The Endgame as a title seems to capture that journey, adding an extra philosophical tier to the Bangla title – which I love too, especially the phonetic appeal of the two names.
What compelled you to write this story?
A year or so back, a film production company asked me to write a story centred on trafficking for them. I was initially reluctant, as I don’t ‘tailor-make’ stories for cinema. But I wished to get a first-hand glimpse of this murky world and agreed, provided they could arrange for me to meet with survivors of trafficking. I remember the day I set out from Kolkata on an hour-and-a half ride to Sandeshkhali, in the city’s suburbs, to conduct my interviews in the company of an NGO.
I was taken to a ramshackle school to meet about a dozen rescued young girls. I had arrived well-armed with my writer’s toolkit, but when I met these girls – about 15 to 22 years old, I was paralysed. The brutality of their plight hit me in the face. It is one thing to read newspaper stories about trafficking, quite another to meet real humans who’d been treated in the most inhuman way. I was both traumatised and enraged. Politicians of every hue and their governments had failed them.
Traffickers, I learnt, still operate with impunity. Our children have still trafficked to brothels as far away as the Middle East, and we as a society have done absolutely nothing to end this curse. I broke down. A dozen pair of eyes merged together and gave birth to Shabnam.
Who was the protagonist Tejaswini aka Tejo inspired by?
Not a specific individual, but a number of women journalists who have covered conflicts all around the world. They have been the unsung heroes of wars. The stereotype of a gonzo male journalist braving the front has invaded our literary and cinematic imagery for too long. It is about time we recognised that it is the women who have captured and conveyed to us the multiple aspects of conflicts.