Interview with the twin teller of dreams: Rajorshi Chakraborti

The author talks about how the three principal women characters of Shakti demanded that this be the story of their fight and their adventures.
Interview with the twin teller of dreams: Rajorshi Chakraborti

You don’t spend much time in India. Any special reason you chose Kolkata as a backdrop?
Even though I’ve lived away from India for 25 years, contemporary India is still the reality that my imagination most seeks to learn about and understand. And whenever I think about setting a story here, Kolkata, my home town, is a natural entry point, because it is the place where I can most easily picture a wide range of lives and characters. Also, within the context of Shakti, Kolkata and Bengal are important targets for the shadowy powers who are distributing these mysterious ‘Shaktis’ to a number of women.

There is an element of surrealism in the book. Were you always drawn to surrealism?
I’ve always loved using sequences in my books that feel like they could be unfolding in a dream, partly because I love the atmosphere and the unpredictability of dreams. But also because I hope that those sequences create these vivid situations for the characters that make the reader ask different questions about them. My aim is for these sequences to cast a different light on my characters, and add to their mystery.

The book required very careful reading. Almost like someone trying to say something that is hidden under the printed words. Was that deliberate?
Yes, in a sense. I would love the reader to have two or more simultaneous experiences while reading Shakti. The first is to enjoy it as a gripping, magical, supernatural mystery thriller, purely pulled along by the story and the characters. But also, the novel is very much about the India being created around us over the past few years—our transformed and constantly changing political atmosphere and its effects on our everyday lives. I would like that to come through as well.

How did you arrive at the main characters?
Besides it being the story of the struggle to overcome the challenges and temptations thrown at three women by the givers of the mysterious Shaktis, the book is very much a story written post #MeToo. I wanted to honour the courage of the many women worldwide and in India who have done, and sacrificed, so much to transform our understanding of how patriarchal systems work.

Did the book go through much edit and re-drafts?
Well, the first incarnation of Shakti was a very different novel that I completed four years ago, and which was universally rejected by publishers. Ironically, my title for it was The Red Herring. Then I wrote and published another novel before some of the characters from The Red Herring returned to me. Crafting a new story for them, alongside an urgent wish to write about the ways in which India is changing for all of us, led to Shakti.

You have also written short stories. Which form do you enjoy more: novel or short stories?
I do love both for their unique challenges. From short stories I learn so much about crafting individual sections of a novel. But, if pushed, I prefer the greater depth and the more intricate web of connections you can create in a longer form.

Who or what have been your major influences?
I realised one day that the four great influences on my style of storytelling are split very evenly—two women and two men; two from my childhood and two from my adult reading; two Brits and two Czechs. They are Enid Blyton and Richmal Crompton from my childhood, and Franz Kafka and Milan Kundera from adulthood. Other formative influences include the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and so many writers, from RK Narayan to Haruki Murakami and Muriel Spark.

Your views on the Indian literary scene.
It is thriving. One of the aspects that excites me most is the increasing effort to bring to readers works translated from other Indian languages. I also love the wonderful non-fiction material available in India now, in which so many facets of our reality are being explored. On the other hand, speaking as a fiction writer, I found myself pessimistically composing a tweet the other day that I haven’t yet posted, lamenting the slow death of reading. Even for people who used to love to read, the alternatives available to them now are so great and so accessible at all times that they helplessly find themselves reading a lot less.

How does a normal working day look to you?
I’m the parent with a flexible schedule organised around our young daughter’s school day, so I mostly write while she is at school, between about 9.15 am and 2.40 pm every day.


Favourite reading nook:

My spot on our sofa at home in Wellington, New Zealand

One author who is always on top of his reading list:

Haruki Murakami

His writing Kryptonite:

Facial descriptions

Favourite under-appreciated novel:

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

Most unusual writing quirk:

I almost always take a 20-minute walk during which I plan out and visualise the next little bit I’m trying to write.

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The New Indian Express