NAW interview with Ketaki Datta

NAW- When did your literary journey begin? At what age did you discover that you wanted to write?

Ketaki Datta- I had fallen in love with the world of words when I was just a toddler. As I was reared up by my grandmother, a brilliant storyteller, I used to see imaginary pictures in front of my eyes, which later found veritable shapes and identities in my writings. My first love was the “Ladybird Classics”, which came to hit the stands in our childhood days, with colourful left-hand pages while the stories were printed on the right-side leaves. The pictures and the story ran simultaneously, transporting me to the realm of dreams. I could visualize the incidents and this enriched the world of my imagination. When I was almost eight years of age, I began to read classics and write in a diary whatever I did every day. I still remember, when my mother asked me and my brother to write on a sojourn to Victoria Memorial in our own words, how I went on writing for six pages on it. My mother patted me on my back and encouraged both of us to read more and more along with writing. On each birthday, I used to get almost a dozen books as gift from my grandmother and mother and got down to read them just the day after, keeping all other assignments aside.

At the age of twelve, I discovered that, writing was my sole passion. I remember till date the sprawling campus of my school, St. John’s Diocesan Girls’ Higher Secondary School, Kolkata. The green meadows in the school had immense appeal to my mind and inspired me to talk to the white page of the writing pad and bring it to life. Each evening, I kept aside Maths and Physical Science and sat with my diary to pour down the inmost feelings which died for an expression. When a tree was felled down in our locality, I cried bitterly and wrote a short story which scraped a space into the School Magazine, that year.

NAW- Do you write fiction only or delve into other genres also?

Ketaki Datta- Initially, I used to write only short stories and later, when I entered the teaching profession, I scooped out a little time to sit before the computer and type out whatever I felt like, for some hours, each evening.  In 2004, my mother was diagnosed with CRF [chronic renal failure] and it was a total blackout in front of my eyes. My father died of myocardial infarction in 2001 when I was posted in North Bengal, 700 km. off Kolkata. I learnt CAPD and began to give her dialysis on my own, staying awake all night. At the dead of night, I sat with pen and paper and wrote the chapters of my debut novel “ A Bird Alone” and more than fifty poems and quite a few short stories, which later got published in various journals and magazines like Literary Criterion, Brian Wrixon anthology of Short Stories and Poems, The Statesman, International Journal on Multicultural Literature, Indian Literature[ Sahitya Akademi, N. Delhi]so on, so forth.  Later, I translated two Bengali novels into English, one of which was published by Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, and a handful of short stories, later published in Indian Literatur. Across the Blue Horizon is a collection of seventy poems of mine, which is in press.

NAW- Do you draw inspirations for your stories from real life events or is it completely a product of your imagination?

Ketaki Datta- Real-life events, quite often, inspire me to write stories and poems. Of course, I draw inspiration from daily events of my life. For example, the second novel “One Year for Mourning”, which I am penning now, is a direct derivation from my daily interaction with life, immediately after my mother’s demise. “Raped in the Evening” is a poem which engendered from a direct witnessing of a situation, which could not be stalled as I was alone on the street besides the slum-dweller girl, who was the victim. I ran to inform the police, hoodwinking the beasts who were having a feast over the flesh! This poem got published in one of Brian Wrixon books, in 2012. Imagination is an ingrained ‘propeller’ in me, which goads me to write.

NAW- What are you reading right now? Are there any authors that you would name as influences?

Ketaki Datta- I love to read at least two books simultaneously, each day. Right now, I am going through Atonement by Ian McEwan and The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing.

NAW- Did you face any difficulties in getting published? How did A Bird Alone get its publisher?

Ketaki Datta- Oh yes, of course! That was the most troublesome part of my writing career. I finished “A Bird Alone” in 2006. I sent to at least five publishers of repute in India and all of them politely rejected my plea signing their rejection letters with “At present, this doesn’t fit into our publishing requirements. Better luck elsewhere”. What an irony! Later, I sent a few chapters of my novel along with a synopsis to Dorrance Publishing Co., St Pittsburgh, U.S.A and they gave a positive response. And, that was the turning point in my writing career.  However, instead of accepting their ‘subsidy publishing ‘ offer, I approached  Sarup Book Publishers, a New-Delhi-based publisher of repute and they agreed to publish, only if I allowed them to publish the review from Dorrance on the fly-leaf of the book. And, thus,” A Bird Alone” got published. Later on, it won rave reviews, here and abroad. I had been interviewed by  Prof. Elisabetta Marino, University of Tor Vergata, Italy, which she published in an Indian daily of repute and later she translated it into Italian and got it published in a reputed journal of Rome.

NAW- Tell us about the research you did for your novel?

Ketaki Datta- “ A Bird Alone” is an assimilation of my experiences  during my stay in North Bengal for 25 years. I went to Darjeeling several times, met an old lady there, got the brunt of Darjeeling unrest in the 1987-’88, the old lady narrated her story during  a journey I made with her in the train. I had many friends in the University of North Bengal campus in Siliguri and my sister is staying in Singapore and my maternal uncle is in America, since the 1950s. Thus, multicultural setting in the novel owes much to these experiences, some lived and some heard-of. And, for bettering my narrative technique, I used to read Dickens and W. Somerset Maugham extensively.

NAW- What was your inspiration for A Bird Alone?

Ketaki Datta- The old lady I journeyed with in a train, while coming to Kolkata from Darjeeling and the romantic ambience of North Bengal and its vicinity were my inspirations .  My late mother, a voracious reader, helped me a lot while drafting the novel. She was a Renal –failure patient by then, yet, she used to ask me to read out the lines to her and her suggestions were appropriate and wise and I followed them blindly. She inspired me to write every day, though, I felt like missing one or two sessions on the pretext of being dog-tired or too lazy to do anything. I owe my mother a lot for inspiring me to write this debut novel. During night, I felt like writing pages after pages and I did so.

NAW- Writing is not looked upon as a full time vocation in many countries, were you aware that making a living out of writing is difficult when you first started out?

Ketaki Datta- Fortunately, I landed on a job of college-teaching in 1996, when I was writing and teaching as well. I think all writers should think of an alternative profession along with writing. Making a living out of writing is quite risky. And again, name and fame can hardly be guaranteed in writing. I love to write, hence I write.

NAW- NAW receives a lot of queries from writers who have no idea how to edit. In fact, some even say that writing is the easy part, editing is difficult. How do you edit your novels? Do you take help from friends, family for feedback?

Ketaki Datta- Yes, editing, of course, is quite important. After finishing a chapter of the novel, I read it minutely for any errors. Once done, I pass it on to my friends for their opinions. Naturally, umpteen remarks follow and it helps me sift the necessary ones from the extraneous. Again, finally, I have to go through the novel as a whole and edit it in the best possible fashion. It is really a strenuous part immediately after writing.

NAW- What (in your opinion) is the most difficult part of a book publishing process- the writing, editing or to hunt for a publisher?

Ketaki Datta- In my opinion, hunting for a publisher is the most difficult part of book publishing process for a new and unpublished writer. And, then of course, comes editing. Writing is the prime requisite, the base on which the publishing process stands.

NAW- Please name your 5 favourite books.

Ketaki Datta- They are as follows:  Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Leo Tolstoy’s  The Resurrection,  W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Margaret Mitchell’s  Gone with the Wind,  Ian McEwan’s  Amsterdam.

NAW- What are your upcoming projects?

Ketaki Datta- I am writing my second novel One Year for Mourning and planning to write a book on the late film-director, Rituparno Ghosh. And, of course, I am waiting to correct the proof of my debut poetry collection, Across the Blue Horizon.

Dr. Ketaki DattaDr. Ketaki Datta is an Associate Professor of English, Bidhannagar College, Kolkata. She is a novelist, short story writer, critic and a translator. Her debut novel “A Bird Alone” has won rave reviews in India and abroad. Her poems have been published in anthologies published by Brian Wrixon, Canada. She has been to Lisbon on an invitation from IFTR [Ireland chapter] to read out a paper titled “Human Values and Modern Bengali Drama”, which got published in the Festival Issue of The Statesman in India. “Indo-Anglian Literature: Past to Present” [Booksway, 2008], “New Literatures in English: Fresh Perspectives”[Book World, 2011],  “Selected Short Stories of Rabindranath Tagore in Translation”[Avenel, 2013], “ The Black and Nonblack Shades of Tennessee Williams”[ Book World, 2012] , “The Last Salute” [Sahitya Akademi, 2013] are a few of her notable publications.

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