NAW Interview with Chitrangada Mukherjee

Picture Credit: Fingerprint

Picture Credit: Fingerprint

Chitrangada Mukherjee was born and raised in the scenic north-eastern state of Tripura. She post graduated in History from the Presidency College in Kolkata, a city which made her a thinker. A love affair resulting in marriage brought her to the south of India, where she worked as a tele-caller, teacher, news reader, soft skills trainer, quiz show hostess, and content writer. Five years ago she decided to leave her cushy IT job and embrace motherhood. While at home, she started to introspect about her true calling. She found it in writing. For her writing is akin to exercising–if she doesn’t write for a day, she ends up releasing negative hormones in her body. Apart from writing and reading, she loves listening to music on her headphones, grass walking, and gazing at the ocean. Chennai is her home now, where she lives with her seven-year-old daughter and husband. Secret Diary of an Incurable Romantic is her second novel.

NAW-Tell us about your book,Secret Diary of an Incurable Romantic. How did you get the idea for it?
Secret Diary of an Incurable is the story of a 30-year old widow Madhubala Ray (Madhu), who lives with her seventy-year old mother in law in Chennai; teaches Social Science in a school and in order to cope with her grief secretly drinks alcohol. This novel written in a diary format humorously captures the challenges she faces, the men she meets and how she tackles life, one day at a time.
I was deeply inspired by Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Marian Keyes work and I longed to create a Jones’s-like character from India. Someone who is flawed, vulnerable and fun. However, I knew that my influences and experiences would make the lead character very different. Also I didn’t want to stick to romance and comedy in a Bridget Jones’s way (which I find a bit unrealistic) hence, I had to find a way of incorporating sadness (and make it more life-like) so I made Madhubala a widow. It took me a week or so to create Madhu and her entourage and the plot.

NAW- The novel is full of contrasting characters and is also ultimately about loss/belonging and love (again contrasting themes). Did you plan the novel in this manner from the very beginning trying to contrast the character of the protagonist and the mother in law and in the process contrast themes as well?
Yes, it was planned and deliberate. I have these multiple voices in my head, which speak simultaneously, whenever I write or think. It helps immensely when I’m constructing personas. From a very young age, I’ve been torn between different points of view and have found truth in all of them so I strongly believe in contrast, contradiction and dissent. This adds a touch of unpredictability too to the characters I create.
Madhubala as you correctly pointed out represents a modern Indian woman; as against her mother in law who upholds tradition. In the end, interestingly, the mother in law does a three sixty degrees.

Picture Credit: Fingerprint

Picture Credit: Fingerprint

NAW- Madhu is the quintessential urban Indian woman. How did you research for the character?
I took into consideration what an urban Indian woman does, thinks and feels. I readnewspapers, blogs, books by female writers (mostly from the UK and US though), talked to friends and strangers, observed and eavesdropped into conversations and trusted my gut to flesh out Madhu’s character.

NAW- While Secret Diary of an Incurable Romantic is a fantastic work, it is also somewhat niche and would appeal largely to people who have lived in metro cities. So how would you market this book to a rural or suburban reader?
Secret Diary is about love and loss; modernity and tradition; alienation and belonging; struggle and survival.It’s an honest account of a young woman who is trying to deal with tragedy in the best (or worst) possible way.It’s a story of an old woman who is pushed to stay with her daughter in law because she has nowhere else to go. It’s also a tale of women searching for love and hope. And these are universal themes, so I believe anyone who can empathise and take life with a pinch of salt will be able to identify with my book.

NAW: Why writing? How easy or difficult is the writing job compared to other trades that you have dabbled in? What drew you to writing?
Writing comes naturally to me. I choose writing over everything else because it keeps me sane. It makes the world more tolerable and my days brighter. And I believe that my stories are worth telling.
I’ve written website content for organizations and dreamt of writing novels and poems. I’ve taught in schools and wondered: when will I reach home and work on my book? I’m glad that finally, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to. For years, I’ve been an animated book reader, closet critic and an aspirational writer. I guess it is time to tell my kind of stories.

NAW: Please name your favourite authors.
I’ve no favourites. But I do admire Agatha Christie, Gillian Flynn, Kamala Das and OttessaMoshfegh.

NAW- Tell us about your journey as a writer? When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer? How was the publishing journey, were there any hiccups along the way?
In 2013, I left my cushy IT job and embraced motherhood. While at home, when my husband challenged me to stop critiquing books and write one, I took the plunge. Within months, I wrote my first novella, which was a psychological thriller. I had to self-publish my first book as publishers rejected my book based on the marketing plan I had submitted. I’ve no regrets about self-publishing my book as it taught me more than I could bargain for about the publishing business. After writing my first book, which was dark and disturbing, I decided on writing a humorous tale. But then, humour for me is a way to deal with pain or an armour to fight pain and you can see that in Secret Diary.
Within a month of writing Secret Diary of an Incurable Romantic, which I enjoyed writing and love reading whenever I’m having a bad day, I signed a contract with Fingerprint.

NAW- Have you decided what you’ll write next?
Yes, after trashing about 8-10 partially written manuscripts in the past one year, I’ve finally zeroed in on a story which I think is worth telling. Let’s see where it takes me…

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