Monday, September 19, 2016


The realist, yet magical writer

A writer whose stories don't seem like stories, rather they seem like real life happenings. That is the power of her pen, she pens stories that are so realistic and close to your heart that they will live with you forever. An author, poet and publishing consultant, Sutapa Basu also dabbles in art and trains trainers and is a compulsive bookworm. During a thirty-year old professional career as teacher, editor, and publisher, she travelled the Indian subcontinent, Nepal and Bhutan. She has visited UK, USA, Dubai and Singapore while working with Oxford University Press, India and Encyclopædia Britannica, South Asia until 2013 when she decided to start writing seriously. Recently, her short story was awarded the First Prize in the Times of India’s nation-wide WriteIndia Contest, under author, Amish Tripathi.

The author gets talking:

Sanchita: When and how did the seed of Dangle get planted in you?

Sutapa: It’s difficult to pinpoint when the seed of ‘Dangle’ was planted. After shunting around the country and beyond it for about 20 odd years as an army spouse, I finally took root in Delhi. Here, my work, travel and interactions with people gave me the opportunity to observe many urban neuroses. It set me thinking and wondering why such intelligent and obviously talented people gave in to their own devils or remained dangling, strangled by their own indecisions. But they were not the only ones. I also met people who had decided to come to the big city to find their destiny. Many of them had come from small towns and adjusting to the demands and restrictions of the city was overwhelming for them. Many had to deal with barriers of an unfamiliar language and unprovoked dissonance so typical of Delhi. Yet they stayed, worked and found their feet. As I had attempted to look under the surface, I found in them the strength of determination, undaunted tenacity and unwavering faith in themselves. I wanted to bring all these different and often contradictory elements together on one stage. Gradually, the seed of ‘Dangle’ began to grow until it took over all my waking and sleeping moments. So in 2014 when I sat down to write this novel, I was putting into words a multitude of thoughts that had been fermenting inside me for a while. Drafting it was like a catharsis for me. Often I would be at my laptop well into the wee hours and sometimes I would get up in the middle of the night as a phrase or an idea would occur to me. I would key it in before it passed from my memory. So it was not ‘Dangle’ that was planted in me. It was I who was planted into ‘Dangle’!

Sanchita: While character sketching your lead female protagonist who was your inspiration?

Sutapa: Several smart, gorgeous, independent and outspoken people were role models for my lead female protagonist. As I mentioned, many of them were women I interacted with in my daily life at home, on the street and in my work place. Still there were others…personalities who left me with indelible impressions such as my sister Sanghamitra Bose who I saw growing from a toddler to a highly successful international corporate honcho and yet remain grounded as a wife, mother and friend. Debarati Sengupta, a colleague and friend, proved to me now you can build edifices from nothing. My daughter, Priyatna Basu who never fails to remind me that the world can be improved through a little compassion and my niece, Ipshita Bose who is just learning to fly her nest. My vignettes of life in the army and much of the protagonist’s emotions about the life in Manipur and its trauma of insurgency are from my own experiences in the Forces as a child and being the woman behind my soldier husband.

Sanchita: I always like the layers that you add to the characters in your stories, gives that realistic touch. The characters are not all black or all white. Is it a conscious effort or it just happens in the flow?

Sutapa: I seriously believe that Literature reflects Life. So during my own readings, book characters that appealed most to me were have ones who were like real people. And living, breathing people are never black or white. Whenever I write, I consciously make my characters grey. While aspects of their personality could be inspiring, the flaws must be there. How else will readers identify with them? I love it when my readers say, ‘I felt I was reading my own story.’ And this is true for all stories I write not just for ‘Dangle’. Also I don’t stop at this perspective. I always throw the gauntlet at myself. Can I make the character, despite his/her flaws, appealing to my reader? Can I arouse empathy in the heart for a character who may have gone against established norms, ideologies or social boundaries? And when I succeed in doing that, I congratulate myself. I go over and over my drafts until I believe I have been able to create the layers that need to make my characters 3D (three dimensional).

Sanchita: Which is your favourite genre, be it reading, writing or watching?

Sutapa: Relationship dramas played by realistic characters. The stories could be placed in any setting, historical, contemporary, satirical or fantastical but the ones that I love are those that prove that relationships are complex, intriguing and human whatever the story, whichever the period.

Sanchita: How did fiction writing happen to you? Where do you trace the beginning of it?

Sutapa: That’s a difficult question to answer because I wrote my first drama/story when I was around 8 years old. I believe I wrote plays those days because acting plays was a game I played with my brother and friends and we needed scripts to act out. So I just sat down and wrote them in old school notebooks. My mother found them flying around the room when we finished with our games and preserved them for posterity. Ever since, all through my school and college days, my jaunting around with my husband, raising children, working at teaching, training and publishing I have been writing fiction, poetry and features. A lot of school textbooks that I designed, developed and published at Oxford University Press and Encyclopaedia Britannica, South Asia carry my stories and poems. I would write them on the spur of the moment when we could not find suitable stories for the textbooks to teach English language to students. It was 2013 when I decided that now I cannot but listen to all those voices chattering in my head and focus on giving birth to their stories.

Sanchita: When not writing, what do you love doing?

Sutapa: When I am not writing, I am usually reading. Other than that, I love travelling. Seeing new places gives me great pleasure and I always discover people, tales, art, places in nooks and corners that are not the usual touristy stuff. Eventually, they become part of my stories. Music, especially Tagore stimulates, inspires and calms me. I often go to sleep with a CD softly playing in my room. Designing interiors is also a hobby I indulge in whenever I get the opportunity.

Sanchita: Who is your favourite author and why?

Sutapa: There are so many favourites but if I name a few, they would be Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Divakaruni, Indu Sundaresan, Thomas Hardy, Margaret Mitchell, Irving Wallace, Harper Lee, Phillipa Gregory and Michel Moran. Their writing absorbs me because their characters are alive and whatever may be the context, they live lives that have inspired me immensely.

Sanchita: A sneak peek into your next project?

Sutapa: My next project is a long fiction whose protagonist believes she is so strong that she can fly without wings. That is all that I can say right now.

Rapid fire: The first thought that comes to mind when you hear the following words

a. Emotions: make the world go around

b. Stories: make you soar to reach the stars or collapse in a storm of tears

c. Ambience: necessary as it makes all the difference

d. Air: my son, daughter and my grandson. I need them to breathe

e. Dangle: never…I refuse to sit on the fence

Sutapa Basu's book 'Dangle' is available at:

About the interviewer Sanchita Sen:
Sanchita Sen is a journalist who has worked with several leading national dailies in India. Currently she is finding her space in the world of authors and has co-authored two anthologies named 'Crossed & Knotted' and 'Rudraksha'.

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