NAW Interview with Paulami Dutta Gupta

Paulami DuttaGupta

Paulami DuttaGupta was born in Shillong, India. She read English at St. Edmunds College and began her career with All India Radio Shillong. Having left her day job in 2012, Paulami took up full time writing. Her first novel, “Pinjar” released in early 2012. Her second novel “Unplanned Destiny” released in 2014. Her book Ri Homeland of Uncertainty was adapted from the national award winning Khasi film of the same name. 

NAW- Tell us about your book, Ri Homeland of Uncertainty. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?

The idea of Ri had come up in the course of a discussion with the director of the film. There is a lot about my home state that is almost unknown to mainland India. The idea was to tell a tale that would make people think about the situation there.  Ri goes back to a time when insurgency and terror and destabilized Meghalaya. The story runs of Ri runs for just a few days but it changes the life of my protagonist Manbha forever. Manbha, a terrorist comes face to face with Emika, a victim of terror. Emika chooses reform over revenge and challenges Manbha’s theories on freedom, separatism etc. Then there is Kyndiah, a cop who loves his state and the people living there. His only mission is to end terror in the state.  Sadly many of my friends who stay in other parts of India said they had no idea about this phase in Meghalaya. Here we talk about Kashmir and Naxalites, may be even ULFA, but have overlooked the sufferings or the sacrifice of the people of Meghalaya. My only objective was to reach out to people with this story and when people message me with, “this was a very different book and I didn’t know about this” I feel a sense of calm and fulfilment.

NAW- What drew you to the writing?  

I had written for Radio and newspaper in my earlier days, but most of it was nonfiction.  I started writing fiction only in 2010. I had a day job back then, and to tell you the truth it was pretty boring. I was working with a television channel, looking into research and viewership ratings. I had loads of time at office and just took up to writing stories.  That took a serious turn with my novel’s launch in 2012 and since then I have been writing film scripts, short stories and novels.

NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?

‘Ri- Homeland of Uncertainty’ the book, didn’t take much time to be written down. I had done so many drafts with the script that the story was almost imprinted in my mind. “Ri” means my country/homeland in Khasi and it was just fitting the subject of the story. Hence the title.

NAW- What can a novice reader expect from Ri Homeland of Uncertainty?

For a novice reader I would say, Ri is a story of hope and also about knowing your country. The problems that people face and are so easily overlooked, the root cause of internal terror are some of the subjects they could find engaging.


NAW- How did you carry out research for Ri? Its adapted from a film of the same name, right?

At the scripting level there was a lot of research for every scene. Case studies and news paper clips had helped me to make the story closer to reality. I have also referred to a lot of geography texts to stay closer to the feel of the region. A lot of it is also first person account. Ri is an adaptation of the National Award winning Khasi film by the same name. We had decided to adapt it into a book soon after the release dates were fixed.

NAW- Tell us about the character of Manbha. How did you develop the character?

Manbha represents all those youth of Meghalaya who has once lost their way and taken the path of terrorism. But Manbha is just not another gun totting terrorist. He knows his arguments well and at one point of time he even questions the Central governments apathy for the North eastern region, the racism the people of north east face etc.

In Pirandello’s words, ““When a character is born, he acquires at once such an independence, even of his own author, that he can be imagined by everybody even in many other situations where the author never dreamed of placing him; and so he acquires for himself a meaning which the author never thought of giving him.” This is what Manbha made me do.

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

My first book, ‘Pinjar’ was a romance, but there were also dark shades in the plot. The protagonist was a politician, in charge of rural development and when he gets closer to his jobs there are a lot of skeletons popping up. ‘Unplanned Destiny’ is also a romance, where a misunderstanding brings my protagonist Mahi to Delhi when her game of revenge goes wrong she falls steadfastly for Veer. I have also written for a few anthologies and amongst them ‘Hand that rocks the cradle’ a story about a domestic help, her dreams and her sacrifices is very close to my heart.

NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.

The journey started with writing fan fictions. I had all the time in my day job and as I was living alone at that point of time, I had all the time even back at home. All I did for that one year was writing. I wrote about 53-54 stories and then realized it was time to pen a novel. Pinjar was self published in 2012 and after that a television job was the last thing in my mind. I started looking for options, wrote another script, which is yet to be made into a film and then started working on Ri. And amidst these all are the rejection slips I received. I was pretty heartbroken when I received them, but now I realize how much I deserved them. Those slips have surely made me a better writer.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

When I am not writing I watch movies or read a book. I am basically lazy and a foodie. I also like exploring new places and bolt out at the sight of fundamentals. I am kind of allergic to the stiff upper lip ‘intellectuals’ and uncomfortable around people who give a lot of importance to brands and price tags.

NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?

Jane Austen, Dickens, The Bronte sisters, O Henry, Tolstoy. Then there is also Premchand and, RK Narayan, Mulk Raj Anand –my absolute favourites.  I’ve also loved Sheldon and Sparks.

I’ve been inspired by Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice has remained with me since almost my pre teens.

NAW-What are you currently reading?

Bengal Divided- The unmaking of a nation, by Nitish Sengupta

NAW- What will you be working on next?

I am currently working on my next book titled ‘After a Decade of Solitude’, compiling an anthology titled ‘Marijuana Diaries’ and writing the script of my second movie. It is still untitled and I hope to see it in making by Spring 2015.

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