08 November, 2016

#Interview with Bhaskar Chattopadhaya, #Author of Penumbra

About the Author:

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay is a writer and translator. Bhaskar's novels include 'Penumbra' (Fingerprint 2016) and 'Patang' (Hachette 2016). His translations include '14: Stories That Inspired Satyajit Ray' (Harper 2014), 'Shiva' (Penguin 2016), 'The House By The Lake' (Scholastic 2014), '12 Stories by Hasan Azizul Huq' (Bengal Light Books 2015) and 'No Child's Play' (Harper 2013). Bhaskar lives and works in Bangalore, India.

Interview with the Author:

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I have been writing short stories, articles and poems ever since I was in school. I remember I wrote my first short story – a science fiction story – when I was in Standard 7. When I joined college, I took up Science, but I always preferred the literature classes – those were the classes that I never bunked! I used to walk around the city a lot, observing people, shops, buildings, vehicles, parks – everything. I wrote a diary; in which I wrote these little character sketches of random people I’d meet on the street. I was never too fond of academics, I was always fascinated by books and films. I’ve always, always been a daydreamer, and have been particularly finicky about what I could pay attention to. In 2012, I was working with an IT firm, when the project I was in suddenly ended and I had nothing to do for a few weeks. It was then that I did a translation of an adventure novella that I had read and liked as a child. I had no intentions of getting it published or taking it seriously, but one of my friends suggested I send it to publishers. Much to my surprise, HarperCollins made an offer on that book. It was then that I realized that perhaps I could be a writer.

What inspires you to write?
You know, when I was a child, most of my vacation time used to be spent in first reading a story myself, and then running around my mother and retelling the story to her, even as she went about doing her work around the house. The need to share a good story, is a very potent urge, I suppose, at least for me. If there’s a story in my head which fascinates me, I like telling it to my friends and family members. It’s a wonderful feeling if they see in it what I have. It always gives you a high. This is how I came into translations. And after a few translation projects, I realized that I had my own stories to tell. That was when I started writing original fiction.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
My latest novel Penumbra is a mystery novel, and is a result of a lifelong dream of mine to create a detective of my own – like Holmes or Poirot, or our very own Feluda or Byomkesh Bakshy. I have been die-hard fan of the adventures of these sleuths, and one of my favourite pastimes was to dissect the stories to see how they have been so perfectly crafted. While the obvious focus was on the solution of the problem, my mind always wanted to study the problem itself. I often used to think – how did the writer create this baffling mystery? When I decided to write Penumbra, I crafted an ‘impossible puzzle’ and then set out to solve it.

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Funny you should ask that, you know. No, come to think of it, I don’t think so. Everything I have ever written has been published.

Tell us about your writing process.
It varies, from one story to another. Some stories come very naturally to you. My debut novel Patang is one such example. You just start writing one fine day, and do not stop till it ends. Everything seems to flow out naturally, effortlessly. But with Penumbra, for instance, a certain amount of planning is required. I have to sit down and draw a ‘sketch’ of the problem, with timelines, characters and incidents. In case of translations, on the other hand, I read the story once in a leisurely manner, and then once again very carefully, and try to imbibe the essence of the story, try to make it my own – you see? Then I start translating. So, as I said, each book calls for its own writing process.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
The big revelation in the end is my favourite ‘scene’ from Penumbra. It took me quite some time to get it right, but when I did, I was very satisfied with it. It seemed logical, it addressed the denouement rationally and clearly, and managed to define the spirit of the story. It also answered all the questions that the reader might have had.

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?
Some of my favourite authors are Jim Corbett, O. Henry, Agatha Christie and Satyajit Ray. Corbett’s descriptions, O. Henry’s storytelling, Christie’s 360 degree view of a commonplace problem and Ray’s ‘visual’ writing have had a deep influence on my own writing. There’s a bit of all these great writers in my works.

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
If I were to be perfectly honest, I have never received any advice from anyone regarding my writing. I think this is perhaps because I’m a pretty private man, so to speak. I’ve never been to any writing workshops, I’m not a member of any writing groups or clubs. I just read and write.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Well, I’m starting out myself, and I see a number of very intelligent young men and women out there who are aspiring writers – I don’t think they either need or should ask for advice from anyone, least of all writers. But there’s one thing I have seen quite often, and it sort of bothers me. I see aspiring writers do everything else other than write. They would plan, set up their desks, buy software, sit at cafes with their laptops, duel in their minds about giving up or retaining their day jobs – but they would not do the one simple thing that would truly define what they want to do so badly – write! Perhaps that’s a trait that one could try and avoid. Writing, like everything else, calls for discipline.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?
I love going on long walks by myself. It clears my head and gives me ideas, gives me time to think. Whenever I go to a new place, I always explore the locale on foot. It helps me in taking mental notes. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as taking a nice, long, quiet walk.

Can you share with us something off your bucket list?
Africa! I’ve always wanted to spend a month or two in the wilds in Africa. I’m fascinated by that land. I think it’s one of the last surviving truly remote location on this planet.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
- Different people consume different things to get their creative juices flowing – I thrive on chocolates! I’m a big chocoholic, and a foodie, in general.
- I have triskaidekaphobia. I’m very uncomfortable around the number 13! 
- I watch at least one movie a day.

What do you have in store next for your readers?
My next novel is a sequel to Penumbra. It’s a mystery whodunit, and I plan to create a series with the detective. It comes out early next year. Before that, in October this year, comes Shiva – my translation of two Boxing novellas by veteran Bengali writer Moti Nandy. Next year, readers can expect two more books – my novelization of Satyajit Ray’s famous film Nayak, and my translation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Bengali novel Aranyak. Other than these, there will also be a series of ten short stories and another urban thriller soon.

About the Book:
In the middle of one of the worst storms to hit the city, a mysterious letter arrives for Prakash Ray, an out-of-luck journalist, inviting him to a quaint, suburban bungalow, to celebrate the 60th birthday of an uncle he has never heard of . . . 

As Prakash reaches the venue, he is introduced to a motley group of people, all gathered there for the old man’s big day: his son, his reticent brother, a dignified middle-aged lady who once owned the bungalow, a listless lawyer who manages his legal affairs, a mild-mannered young man who works as his secretary, his beautiful, young biographer, and his mysterious friend, who has never lost a game of chess to him. As the storm lashes on through the night, one of the people in the bungalow is murdered! In a game of cat and mouse that follows, Prakash soon finds out that under the surface of apparent warmth and friendliness, nothing is as it seems and that the bungalow holds one shocking secret after another! 

In a bid to save his own life, Prakash hunts for the truth, which lies in a mysterious penumbra of shadows and lights, covered in a sheath of deceit and guile, only to realize that the worst is yet to come!

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