On Saturday 8th Feb, I traveled with my debut book ‘Deal of Death’ to The Saturday Club, Kolkata for an insightful discussion about women writing thrillers. The panel was moderated by Baishali Chatterjee Dutt and had prolific authors like Kiran Manral, Sharmistha Gooptu, and Damyanti Biswas along with me speaking on how ‘thriller’ was an umbrella genre comprising of various sub-categories. We focussed on the stereotyping that women writers face while writing books in a genre predominantly occupied by writers of the opposite gender. In an engaging and thought-provoking session, we shared our experiences of becoming writers in this genre and the way forward.
Sharing a couple of pictures and bits of my opinion recorded live.
The media coverage in the form of an article on the event is available here.
The full recording of the event is available on the FB page of Shethepeople.tv here.
Originally written in Bengali, the stories/novels of Byomkesh were published in the form of a collection titled ‘Byomkesh Samagra’ in 1995. Most of these stories have been translated into English recently. The author’s sudden demise left the last story ‘Bishupal Badh’ in the Byomkesh series incomplete.
About the detective –
Byomkesh was introduced to the literary world as a private investigator on a mission to bust a drug racquet in colonial India. He appeared in disguise under the pseudo-name of Atul Chandra Sen in the novel ‘Satyaneshwi’. The plot was set in 1924-25. This is where he is shown to meet his future housemate, friend, and novelist, Ajit who eventually decides to pen down Byomkesh’s cases in the form of stories. This dhoti-kurta clad resident of Harrison road in Kolkata has his man Friday named Putiram and abhors the term private investigator or detective. Instead, he prefers to call himself as Satyanweshi (the one in search of the truth). Byomkesh belongs to that rare breed of detectives in literature who gets married and starts a family. He meets his future wife Satyaboti during one of the investigations where her brother is considered a suspect. Eventually, they get married and have a kid who’s known to the world as Khokha.
As we race towards the finishing line of the A2Z challenge now, I thought of touching upon a different topic related to the admission frenzy. I have often spoken about my anxiety and stress related to the process in the initial days, especially when Tuneer faced a problem of the language or before his first interview. While Sr. T seemed unfazed on the surface, I am quite sure that I had successfully managed to pass on a bundle of my worries to him. Tuneer was trying to balance his preschool life while riding on the roller coaster wave of admissions. Just before the winter break arrived, all three of us were physically and mentally exhausted beyond the limit (kind of what most of the A2Z participants feel now).
By the time the holidays started, the kid had already faced two interviews and one rejection. We were sure that the only thing that could lift our spirits up was a family holiday. In the X post of my last year’s A2Z challenge, I had written about the way all of Kolkata comes together to celebrate Christmas in a grand way. X’mas, as the city still prefers to call Christmas is about midnight mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral, eating cake from Nahoum’s, trying out street food delicacies on Park Street and visiting Bow Barracks on December 25th. We have done all of these for the past two years and it wasn’t meant to be any different this time as well. But a desperate need for a mini break landed us at my in-laws’ house in Berhampore this December end.
During one of our classes in B-school, I was introduced to the concept of 5Ws and 1H. While creating a blue draft of an entrepreneurial idea, we had to come up with a solution to the questions related to why, when, where, who, what and how. I was so fascinated by this streamlined process of questioning that any conversation related to the most inane of things had me asking queries in the format of 5W and 1H.
For instance, when the college canteen had managed to churn out yet another bland meal on yet another regular day, I walked up to the canteen manager and thought of bringing a direction to my pattern of questioning. So I asked,
“Who prepared this food?”
“Why is the canteen food always tasteless?”
“When was the last time that you served a meal that didn’t deserve to be trashed?”
“What will make you feel that it is essential to serve an edible meal?”
“Where do you see yourself next year, if the quality doesn’t improve and we refuse to let the management renew your contract?”
“How many more complaints do you need to take an action?”
The man was too stunned to even consider a reply. Before I could unleash another layer of 5W and 1H on him, my friends had dragged me away from the canteen. Needless to say, the canteen served an equally bland meal the next day. Just that the man at the counter went missing after spotting me entering the canteen.
This went on for a few more days before I found my next subject of interest in the form of SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis. Life eventually moved on from those classrooms to office boardrooms. The questions turned more relevant and job oriented.
It was only after Tuneer started talking that I was reminded of 5W and 1H once again. From blabbering gibberish to uttering first monosyllables and then broken sentences, the boy picked up communication very fast. Like I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, this verbose nature was reserved only for the house. For the world outside these four walls, he was a very shy and quiet child.
After a thought-provoking post yesterday, I thought of getting back to recollecting a few more hilariously unavoidable misadventures in the admission season. As we draw near to the finishing line in this challenge. I am often left baffled at the thought of the next topic in this series. Today I was wondering if there was anything more I could write about that has already not been mentioned in any of my earlier posts. I suddenly remembered those scary sleepless nights that became a part of my life for the first quarter of this year and brought my writing to a standstill.
The admission season, as mentioned in my first post started in September 2018 and was officially declared closed only in March 2019. The first three months of this season were all about standing in queues to pick up forms, submit them and then attend the interviews held in this duration at a couple of schools. I would say that we managed to sail through this period despite the turbulence the boy managed to create through his resistance towards the process initially. His preschool had declared winter break from December 25th until January 4th.
In the second week of January, Tuneer returned from his preschool with a sore throat. Ever since he had started preschool, it had become a routine for the boy to fall sick at least twice every alternate month. If I ever brought up my concern of his poor immunity (I was of the opinion that his resistance towards diseases was getting lower because of falling sick so frequently), both the medico husband and the kid’s pediatrician enlightened me with their knowledge about the boy’s developing immune system. I had somehow managed to keep the boy fit and fine enough to glide through the months of November and December but all my efforts went in vain as he developed his first viral infection of this year in January.
From a sore throat, he went on to develop pharyngitis, cold and cough and high fever. This was his usual pattern of falling sick, step by step. Before I went back to calling the pediatrician seeking his appointment yet again, my heart skipped a beat as I thought of the interview scheduled the next week. The following week passed by in taking care of the sick child, giving in to all his demands as I struggled to feed him a single bite of food. We survived the week and went on to face the interview next week.
I grew up in the eighties when life was much simpler. The options for entertainment had more to do with people communicating with each other in person than staying hooked on to their mobiles. All the nine houses on the street (para in Bengali) that we stayed at had neighbors who knew each other well, visited each other’s houses frequently and celebrated festivals together. My closest friend in the neighborhood came from a family where both her parents were working. Her father, Uncle K was also my father’s close friend and colleague. Despite the fact that they had full-time help to take care of her and her elder brother. I don’t remember an afternoon where she wasn’t having lunch or taking a nap at my place.
I studied in a primary school for four months before my parents applied for admission to the only Convent school in my home town. Unlike Tuneer, I loved going to school. In the first primary school, a few of the teachers happened to be the wives of my father’s colleagues. Because of their occasional visits to our house and vice versa, I was already familiar with the aunties that school never felt any different after I saw them in the classrooms.
My life at the Convent school started amidst turbulence. On the night before the scheduled date of interaction, my paternal grandfather passed away. As per his last wish, his dead body was taken to his native village for cremation and my father had to go for the last rites. The rules of the admission process had clearly mentioned that both the parents had to attend the interaction session along with the kid. Ma had lost all hopes of getting permission for attending the interview alone with me. But Uncle K took it upon himself to go to the school and explain the situation to the authorities. My friend and I both had our separate interaction sessions after Uncle K convinced the authorities that I deserved a chance. For him, I could never be his daughter’s competitor but her best friend.
Both of us studied in the same school but in different sections until she moved on to a different institution for high school. While we went ahead and made many more friends in school, I don’t remember any of us crying beyond the first day because we had each other. While there was competition in academics and extracurriculars, it was never reason enough to cut ties or devise strategies to beat so-called ‘friends turned into opponents’. My interaction with my core circle of friends went beyond the school boundary walls because their parents always made me feel welcome at home. A couple of months back, when I went to the birthday celebration of the daughter of one of my best friends from school, it never felt like we were meeting after two decades.
When I look back at my own childhood, I see a girl who always made her parents proud on the day of the final term results. Though my parents never pressurized me for studies (honestly, they never needed to!), my Professor father often spoke about how a good academic record acted as a catalyst in getting through reputed institutions and eventually helped in settling down professionally. I took his words to heart and went on scaling milestones until I did my first post-graduation from Delhi. The city taught me to live on my own since I knew my father couldn’t make those monthly trips anymore.
Two years later when I shifted to Bangalore for my doctorate program from one of India’s topmost institutes, I had finally unleashed the nomad in me. It took me eight months only to realize that I neither had the attitude nor aptitude to do research. My supervisor almost lost his mind wondering how I could manage to be so bad at even basic research. But the best thing about such a devastating incident (for my supervisor, not me) was that I dived into the corporate world with a job in a Market Research firm (without an iota of understanding what MR really was).
I worked for two years before the bug of MBA bit me and I went back to academics again. This was when I had turned twenty-six and my father was due to retire in two years. Life at corporate world post-B-school was supposed to be about savings, investments and settling down. But I was busy quitting, changing jobs or moving cities while the husband was busy studying further and doing his M.D. We lived our lives convincing each other that ‘Darr ke age jeet hai’(don’t even ask why!)
My father and father-in-law neither understand nor appreciate my whimsical nature. But my husband who probably believes in the importance of stability as much as these two defended every move of mine saying ‘creative people are never satisfied.’ After we moved back to Kolkata, our families had hoped that they would finally see us settling down. But luck has a strange way of playing spoilsport. Sr. T was posted far away from the Kolkata. And in 2017, I decided to go the solopreneur route to start this blog and take up writing as a profession with a two-year-old in tow. To cut the story short, we have successfully lost the plot to settle down.
It feels overwhelming to accept that I survived the A2Z challenge until today and reached the alphabet R. Last week Tuneer’s new school brought in a complete change of schedule for all of us. And then we had Satyanarayana Pooja at home last morning keeping me on my toes the whole day. the fatigue gave rise to a strong urge to skip writing for the day. But this series has become so much fun that I couldn’t resist myself from writing this last post for the week.
For more two and a half decades of my life, I had really not known what rejection meant both in personal and professional lives. Two numbers in my life have always been high – the digits on the weighing scale and my marks in most of the examinations. The former ensured that I never have any kind of distraction in the form of affairs until I went to college and the latter gave me the confidence to face those who tried to body shame me. When I faced the first rejection in academics, my skills to handle the same were underdeveloped. With experience, this has improved though I must say that I am still quite wary of any kind of rejection for the simple fact that I don’t know how to deal with it.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Sr. T. This man seems unfazed by both selection or rejection. For him, there’s always a way out and everything is predestined. Now how does one argue with someone who starts quoting verses from Gita at the slightest of opportunities? For Tuneer to be brought up by two such radically different people speaks about the kind of contradictory situations that the boy often finds himself in!
In every school class, there’s exists one kid who is always caught by the teacher for either talking loudly or laughing too much. Most of the time, the sarcastic comment that follows from the teacher is, “What’s the joke? Why don’t you share it with all of us here so that we can all laugh with you.”. The next step is usually to reach out for the diary to write a complaint. In my circle of friends, that kid happens to be me. Fortunately, I was saved from an overdose of complaints by my good academic track records. However, that didn’t spare me from Ma’s wrath when she kept hearing about the same talkative nature and laughing syndrome repeatedly at every parents-teachers meeting.
Baba, of course, was empathetic. My mother was a soft-spoken lady and it was the era when girls were expected to limit their laughter to a smile only. But my dearest father possessed one of the loudest voices in our family (also, he proudly attributes it to be a virtue befitting a Professor). So, for the two of us, there was hardly any occasion when we didn’t display our happiness or power of the vocal cord by going ha, ha or lol as the millennials call it now.
Though I drew criticism from certain people, my kind of laughter stayed hale and hearty in a way that my intestines hurt. People remembered me for that special kind of laugh. Once in B-school, the juniors were asked to describe one senior in just a single line during the fresher’ party in the girls’ hostel. To them, I was “the one who synonymous with the word laughter.”
We spoke about unsolicited advice yesterday. After the first school admission notice came out in September this year, suddenly my state of mind seemed to be in a state of permanent chaos. Amidst several other concerns related to the preparation for interviews, one factor that suddenly became a priority item on our agenda was to work on his ‘fluency’ in English.
In a typical middle-class Bengali household residing in Bengal, the usual mode of communication is in Bengali or Bangla, as we prefer to call it. Tuneer had started speaking quite earlier than usual and by the time he had turned three, his ability to communicate in clear sentences often led us in highly embarrassing situations for he often disclosed things that were only meant to be kept private. He spoke so much that often it would remind me of my late mother’s statement about how I was such a talkative child both at home and school. With Sr. T staying away from the city five-six days a week, my father and in-laws try to work out a schedule that ensures at least one of them being available in Kolkata at any given point.
Even if my convent education poked me to make an attempt to teach this boy a couple of important sentences in English, his Bengali-medium educated Doctor father kept laughing it off. With a retired Maths Professor as his maternal grandfather and a paternal grandfather whose knowledge on technology and current affairs always turns out to be superior to us, I was fighting a lost battle. If I ever even tried to teach him the answer to a simple question like “What is your name?” as “My name is Tuneer Banerjee.”, it would be met with protests about how I was creating unnecessary pressure on the child. Their preferred answer was always his full name only since no child was expected to answer in sentences. Though I had the sympathy of the paternal grandmother, the maternal grandmother had no way of communicating her opinion from her heavenly abode.