Author Interview: Sreelekha Chatterjee

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Interviews are not an exchange of mere words, but ideologies and philosophies of people. On that note, I've resolved to post my candid conversations with celebrated personalities, as well as aspiring amateurs in the various fields.

Today, I have had the privilege of talking to an esteemed writer who has contributed to many anthologies. She's penned down the story 'No Break Routine' in the recent Anthology, 31 Sins. Let's know more about her and the things she shared with us.

So, without further ado, let's get into the details of the interview.

Sreelekha Chatterjee is a writer of short fiction, a researcher, and an editor of scientific/social science books and journals. Her short stories have been published in several national and international anthologies (published by Westland Ltd, Familia Books, First Step Publishing, Cypher Publishers, Gargi Publishers, Numerique Publications), journals and magazines such as Femina, Indian Short Fiction, The Criterion, The Literary Voyage, World of Words, Writer’s Ezine, Estuary and LangLit. She has a postgraduate degree in science from Calcutta University and is also a trained singer with a degree in music (Geeta Bharati). Her short story ‘CNG’, which she read at the Tall Tales Storytelling show in New Delhi in June 2014, received wide acclaim from audience for its unique narrative style and compelling story. She lives in New Delhi.

H: Ma’am, how and when did writing happen?
S: Writing has been an integral part of my life since my childhood days. When I was in school, I felt an instinctive desire to write poems and plays—very influenced by radio drama at the time. I once wrote a poem on Mother Teresa and shared it with her. I consider myself to be extremely fortunate to have received her blessings in a letter that she sent me soon after that. She had asked me to continue writing for giving joy and happiness to people around me. Then for a long time I didn’t write as I got busy with my studies and then eventually with my work. It’s only a few years ago that I felt the urge to start writing once again. On several occasions, my family, friends and colleagues insisted that I shouldn’t give up writing and they all have been my inspiration to keep writing more and more stories. 

H: Tell us about your story in 31 Sins
S: My story ‘No Break in Routine’ is about a young woman—a victim of domestic violence—who is desperate to rid herself of the atrocities committed by her husband but doesn’t know the way out as her courage and self-belief seem to be dismantled, lost in the wilderness of doubt and low self-esteem. She experiences the trauma of having an abusive husband and then one day she feels an unusual provocation to commit a sin. The story is about the unending emotional turmoil of the woman who goes through the trauma of a difficult, failed relationship every single day of her life, which has unfortunately become a part of her daily routine, and it appears as if there wouldn’t be any break from her tortured life.  

H: How did you get inspiration for the story in 31 Sins?
S: ‘No Break in Routine’ is an imaginary story, but it is certainly based on real-life incidents of cruelties faced by women that we often witness ourselves or get to hear from others. An individual doesn’t desire to commit a sin but at times the person may be forced to take a drastic step and indulge in eliminating the creator of atrocious acts. My story is based on this thought and speaks about the unpleasant experiences of women in our society. 

H: How does it feel working with the publisher and rest of the authors of 31 sins?
S: It has been a pleasure working with Numerique Publications and also, interacting with the authors of 31 sins during the entire process of publication of the book. The dedicated and hard-working team at Numerique has not only provided a platform to showcase our stories but also given us comfort, a feel-at-home experience which is rare and exceptional in the professional world. It has been a privilege to contribute a story to the anthology along with other talented and motivated writers. I wish the entire team of Numerique and the authors all the success.
H: How is your experience with 31 Sins different from your other works?
S: I found the concept of 31 sins to be a unique one where the contributors had to narrate something evil. We seldom talk about the dark side of our society and this anthology involved writing about the complex emotions of the human mind—about a horrendous creature that lies in every mind and rises from slumber under certain circumstances, encouraging inexplicable, sinful actions. I thought the theme was a bit challenging though I enjoyed writing the story for the anthology where I could present the obsession of a trauma experienced by a young woman and the after effect of committing a sin. I am so glad that I could be a part of this special anthology.

H: Is there any author or a piece of work that created a deep impact on you or any of your works? If so, how?
S: I have felt the spiritual rhythm in several stories that I have read which inspired me to write. There are several books which have influenced me and it may be difficult to pinpoint a single one that has made a significant impact on me or my work. I have been motivated to write by every single author whose work I have read. Some of my favourite books are Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lamplight by Kankana Basu, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Chromosome 6 by Robin Cook. My favourite authors are Rabindranth Tagore, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Jeffrey Archer, Bruno Schulz, Jhumpa Lahiri, Edith Warton, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alice Munro, Kankana Basu, Tania Hershman, Margaret Atwood, Tessa Hadley (the list doesn’t end here).

H: Which genre do you prefer reading? And why?
S: I love to read all kinds of genre—mythology, horror, thriller, comedy, romance, science fiction, drama. Any piece of good literature casts a spell on me—intrigues me to the core, leaving me awestruck and fascinated by the power of written words—and when that is the case, the genre doesn’t matter.

H: When Sreelekha Ma’am is not working or writing, what does she like to do?
S:  I’d learnt Rabindra Sangeet when I was a kid, and you would often find me singing songs of Tagore when I’m happy or sad. 

H: How is your role as an ‘author’ different from the rest? I mean, what would it be like, to be an author?
S: Every word that an author writes has value, an existence that not only has a meaning but also a soul. I always feel the urge to write something worthy, something that is absolutely necessary to present to the world—be it stories of optimism within us, the grace of our humanitarian values, the constant prick of our conscience, or the cruelties and hypocrisies that exist in our society. 

H: As an author, or for that matter, any person whose work goes to public, it is important to be ready to accept both positive and negative criticism. How do you think an author should take their critics’ comments?
S: One needs to be open to both positive and negative criticism. Writers wish that their stories would reach a large audience who would read, contemplate, comment and in some cases get inspired from their work. In our daily lives, we as individuals are constantly judged and given feedback which aid in our personal and professional growth. Perhaps it is the same in case of a writer who receives feedback from both known and unknown audience. As long as a work is read, debated, criticized and most important, talked about, a writer would never have a problem with that. I believe an artist, a writer, or anybody whose work goes to public, has to be emotionally detached from his or her creation as it helps not to dwell over the past performances and peacefully move on to the next work. 

H: Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on?
S: I’m concentrating on short stories at the moment—the best form of fiction which gives freedom to express one’s thoughts, feelings, experiences within limited words.

H: And last but not the least, is there anything you would like to tell us? Any message that you would like to give your readers, other aspiring writers and authors out there?
S: I’d like to thank all my readers for taking out time and reading my story. My stories are dedicated to my readers who inspire me with their love, support and encouragement, and I value their opinion above everything else. 
I would like to share something with my fellow authors. I believe, as Franz Kafka once said, writing is like a prayer. There may not be any compulsion or necessity to write just like there may not always be a dire need to pray to God. But if one doesn’t write, then there is an inner feeling of discomfort, agony, restlessness which is unavoidable and cannot be articulated in words. Similar to offering prayers, the moment one writes, an incomprehensible happiness and peace of mind are bestowed. So, my dearest author friends, do continue writing and giving joy to yourself and everyone around you.

And guys, we've thus reached the end of an interesting and knowledgeable talk with Sreelekha ma'am.
She can be reached on Twitter @sreelekha001

I'll be before you guys with another post soon.
Until then,

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