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Sagarika Chakraborty - Interview

Sagarika Chakraborty is an upcoming writer who’s just published her first book, a collection of short stories called A Calendar Too Crowded. We talk to her at length about her life, writing and the social problems she addresses in her debut book. 

Q. It’s a pleasure to be interviewing you. We already know a little about you but for the benefit of the readers please tell us something about Sagarika the person?
A.  Thanks, I can proudly say and the pleasure is mutual – I am indeed elated to be a part of this conversation.

The “About Me” part of any form has always boggled my mind. There’s no fixed answer you see which I can provide. I am a true Gemini with two distinct sides (we are not double faced!) and thus when you think you have known me enough I bring on the other side. No! I do not take any pride in being mysterious for I am open about the fact that I am a lawyer, a public policy researcher, a management graduate, a writer, a thinker and enthusiast in all that life can offer.

Q. You studied law, then moved into management and did rather well in both fields. What got you into writing? Is this a sudden move or have you been consciously working towards becoming a writer?

A.  I am one of those people who do not believe that anything in life can happen by chance – thus to all those who say that I smile and say “stop hiding the conscious efforts!” I have been bitten by the love for literature even before I was born I think. Blame it on my mother’s book devouring and story writing habits, thus it wasn’t a shock when she discovered that I loved spinning tales too!

I always wanted to be a lawyer ever since I was 12 and my alma mater gave me the best exposure ever. From moot court competitions to policy research presentations at UNESCO forum I have always been involved in the public policy domain. My B school gave me the glimpse of another world about making a difference. In between I decided to convert my policy research to fiction and hoped to strike chords with similar minded people.

Now onto the book.
Q. How did you come up with the concept for the book? What prompted you to write a book on this particular topic and portray it in such a specific way?
Ans.  I was clear in my head that I wanted to write about social issues and women in particular. My work of fiction need not be one of those easy reads or make the reader wonder if it is the author speaking. Instead it should represent the voice of hundreds and which the reader can easily associate with. However while writing a few stories I noticed that all of the stories almost can be attributed to a particular celebratory day on the calendar and thus I decided on the calendar type theme – each chapter is a month an d the stories in their revolve around the celebratory days of the calendar.

Q. You’ve hinted that there’s an urgent need to look beyond just statistics and numbers to record progress or the improvement in living conditions for women. How do you suggest that we go about doing that? How else can we measure “improvement” now such a wide spread scale?Ans. I do not believe that numbers are the sole and only scale of measurement. Gauging social reactions instead are my way of measuring progress in a lot many cases. Thus, despite numbers showing that there are indeed more rapists being punished in this decade than ever before, to me the society hasn’t progressed if the first question we ask after knowing about a rape is “What was the girl wearing?”

Q. Would you call your book a part of the feminist movement?
Ans. No, instead I would call it to be part of humanist movement. Isn’t the basic of all human rights a call out to survive and let others survive with equal rights and dignity sans the fact that they belong to a different gender?

Q Among the issues you’ve raised through your stories, which one is the closest to you?Ans. I would chose the issue of female foeticide and adoption – both extremely close to my heart and life.

Q. Speaking of the oppression of women, what are your views on how to reduce instances of Dowry? Also what are your thoughts on the misuse of Section 498A of the IPC.
Ans. Till the time every woman raises her son to respect the womankind in general I think the root of the problem cannot be put away. In more than half of the cases it is the in-laws who demand dowry whereas parents should be the flag bearer of a dignified marital life. The outlook that “she should suffer because I did too as a daughter-in-law” is the worst reason ever.

On the flip side my story under the month of November, A double edged sword talks about the misuse of Section 498A while no doubt highlighting the plight of women who are tortured for dowry. Thus the story shows two families one where the girl tries her best to have a happy marital life but then perishes in an “accident” and the groom’s family even after her death blames her for dragging them to court. On the other hand the other side is exposed where the boy tries his best along with his mother to keep the newly wedded wife happy, but then gives into her whims of moving out in order to prevent harassment litigation. Guess, the recent suicide in the country of a man unable to take the plight of litigation by his beloved shows that there is a dark side to the law.

Q. Do you find any smaller scale anti-feminism or male hierarchy happening in less extreme situations like colleges from normal middle-class families or those pretentious teenagers who club weekly?
Ans.  Not really – I think the issues that require our attention affect each class as gravely as the other despite of its social standing. Thus, you would find a high flying corporate giving a talk on the need of a properly aligned male female ratio and then rushing home to attend a prayer hoping that he begets a son this time after 3 daughters. Or you would find a girl in a pub who rushes back home after changing into her demure clothes after party to meet a prospective husband who expects her to bring in dowry and not step out and work.

Q.  Would you condone hitting a woman back if she hit you first and, in this hypothetical scenario, you’re a guy.
Ans. Every reaction demands an equal and opposite reaction – yes however violence cannot be matched. I would prefer a stern talk, however if he raises his hand after she does I think I’ll raise and eyebrow and ask “Who started this in the first place?” When we are talking about gender equality we should also keep in mind that we should not condone the (physically) stronger sex for such acts which are reactions!

Finally if we could have a little bit of your experiences as a writer…

Q. How many attempts did it take for you to get your first book published? How hard was it?
Ans. It took numerous attempts at first to get the MS in place. The early rejections served as an eye opener thus when I ultimately approached Niyogi Books I was hardened and more mature. It was difficult but I had the self belief to not give up.

Q. What inspires you to write?
Ans.  Life and the people around us. I pick up my inspiration from everyday stories that I see around me. Life is the greatest teacher and my stories are nothing but an ode to those lessons.

Q. If you’re stuck in a rut of writing short stories, poems and articles and you really want to write a full- scale book or novel, how’d you go about doing it?
Ans. I think I would at first test my maturity. For a long time now I have been writing stuff that usually fits in 10-20 pages. However for a novel the consistency has to spread around the entire book and the reader should not yawn in the middle. Thus, I would wait to grow as a writer before I test those waters.

Q. Ashwin Sanghi who released your book, first published his book, The Rozbal Line under the pseudonym Shawn Haigins. If you were to adopt a pseudonym what would it be?
Ans. I think I would surprise my readers by showing them my non activist side which only my close group of friends have seen. Thus, I would take up the pseudonym of Drama Queen and do curtsey to a small group of people who would hoot in agreement!

Q. What’s your poison -  cigarettes, coffee or weed?
Ans. I resent getting into addiction – be it habits, things or people. I want to be able to switch off a particular thing when needed, thus stay clear of most things. However, a good cup of freshly brewed coffee whose aroma fills up the house does make my mornings. In fact the smell of coffee from my machine early morning puts on the first smile on my face!


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