Unmagazine: The 25 Under 25 Issue; March 2016

14 May 2016

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Unmagazine, the Biannual Magazine by Campus Diaries, features the 25 Under 25 Writing finalist, Rohit Chakraborty. The Magazine features the author’s words on his literary aesthetic and what he hopes to achieve with his writing. To read EndPapers: A Gallery of Strangers’ Missives from which the featured excerpt is taken, click here. The complete interview is as follows:

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CD: What kind of a writer do you think you are right now? And what kind of a writer do you want to be remembered as?

RC: If I read what I am writing presently, months from now, I will realise how grandiose I am with my prose and my ideas, how subtlety and elegance are traits that are wanting in my works. My sentences are very, very long. But I think I am a hard worker and I’ll get better if I persevere. I like to think I am a descriptive writer and I can build vivid images for the reader, unless, of course, I cross the line and bore the reader, instead.

I’m not sure I can control how I am remembered. But I would like to be deemed observant and profound when my prose is read.

CD: Did you have any particular role models while growing up?

RC: As a child, Mary Pope Osborne truly kindled my love for the written word. We were allowed forty minutes in a week to go to the library and loan a book. I always went for the shelf which had The Magic Tree House books. I remember watching one of her interviews a few weeks ago where she spoke of how there were not many words in her books and how a grown-up who had read Magic Tree House as a child would realise that the maximum effort in the manufacture of the adventures there was done by the reader itself. It truly taught me never to make the reader feel ignorant or bereft, to let in the reader in the story rather than just tell the story. Which is probably why being a storyteller and being a writer are completely distinct. There is a standoffish stance in one and a collaborative one in the other.

Recently, I have been taken with Julian Barnes’ short fiction. Stylish, witty, aphoristic; when you read him, you understand that he knows what he is doing. Pulse is one of my favourite anthologies by Barnes. I tried reading Jhumpa Lahiri when I was fourteen; unfortunately, it was a disappointing endeavour. Then, at nineteen, I picked up The Interpreter of Maladies again, and it proved to be a yardstick for my sensibilities; it made more sense to read her now than before. When I’m middle-aged, perhaps, the stories will unravel further for me. People complain that she is underwhelming. That is a very superficial judgement, one which I had made when I was fourteen. You really need to wait it out to read some authors, especially with their short fiction, or read them again after a few years if your first tryst with them has been unsatisfactory. Rohinton Mistry is someone I revere, because his style is so akin to mine. He is very descriptive, which is what I am with my prose. Tales from Firozsha Baag, I was worried, was going to be an alienating experience but any such doubts were allayed for there is a true sense of community, universality, and geniality in those stories.

CDHow do you want to impact other people’s life through your work? How do you want to do justice to being a change maker?

RC: As a writer, all I can sincerely hope for is resonance with the readers. It’s a little early to think of any impact I want to have on readers. I aspire to offer perspectives that are prismatic for them, and most certainly for myself. The kind of stories that I wished were available to me as a child or as an adolescent, the breed of characters I wanted to read about are what I attempt to write now, so it is very much a selfish endeavour. In my short stories, I attempt to record certain events in my life by liberally fictionalising them; so, they are quite like blurry literary Polaroids. I hope that when someone reads them, there is a parallelism where they can don my clothes and walk in my shoes and be comfortable in that ensemble.

“Changemaker” is a lofty term and I think being a changemaker is partly brought about by rubbishing the trite and the tired. You have to learn to say no to a few things, to fiercely champion what you deem best, and to try and be nice to every one. As a writer, it is essential that you understand that you take dictation from no one, yet be heedful to editors, teachers, and mentors, thereby striking a balance. But, when you create, you have to please yourself. I always think “Do I like it?” when I am reading my own work. There is always an editor at the end to sandpaper your work to perfection but I always strive to satisfy my interests first.

CD: How do you plan your day or week or month around your work? Do you have set rules for yourself?

RC: My schedule is as haphazard as my desk. The only constant is my university routine. I write a little in the morning before I leave for university and have found that it is then when I am most productive, when I am in a hurry. I write at the end of the day and in the evenings in the weekend. But I try and write every day. I cannot write in public places.

CD: What are the different ways you want to keep making your mark? What lies in the future for you as an individual?

RC: By keeping at writing, for it is the only thing I am half decent at. I might foray into screenwriting but I am not very sure about that. I do love cinema but I am not sure if I can write a film.

I am working on the sequel to The Mug of Melancholy and some short stories. And I hope to make it to a good Creative Writing Programme in the future.

CD: What are your thoughts on being part of the 25 Under 25 community? Do you believe in co-creating and collaborating with your peers can help create better work as an artist?

RC: It is truly an honour to be a part of the 25 Under 25 community. I hadn’t expected to read my name with the list of people whose profiles I visited and was intimidated by instantly. There are young women and men on the list who have a long list of achievements and mine pales in comparison. And their work is so varied and individualistic; it was refreshing to peruse their portfolios. Every one is fantastic at what they do and what each does is distinct from the next.

I absolutely believe in collaboration especially when it comes to constructive journalism or its off-shoots. My deficiencies will be filled in by the expertise of the other as I am sure I will be able to help them with theirs. More than that, it is very exciting to exchange methods, ethics, et cetera. It’s a masterclass in itself. Moreover, I think the multiplicity of the categories is fantastic and it would be exciting to collaborate with a designer or a visual artist or a photographer.

CD: Are there any specific achievements or awards or accolades other than being a part of 25 Under 25, that you would like to mention and elaborate on?

RC: I was signed by the Red Ink Literary Agency in 2012, when I was sixteen, and my children’s novel The Mug of Melancholy was published by Tara Press in 2015. I am working very hard on the sequel at present. I also had my first short story, “Ella’s Song”, published in Kindle Magazine in February of this year. It is one of the Magazines I had always wished writing for, besides Granta and The Caravan, and they were very kind to accept my work.

CD: What do you like writing about?

RC: People talking interest me — their inflections, oft used phrases, mannerisms, deportment, and how they negotiate English with their regional languages — which is why it’s always fun to write dialogue. I have an affinity for descriptive writing, and I enjoy writing about dinners, and lunches, Peter Carey is very enthusiastic about lunches, as well. Of late, I have been reading a lot of folklore from Assam, where I was born and lived for the first nine years of my life; I am working on inculcating the cadence and eccentricities of these folktales into the sequel to The Mug of Melancholy.

CD: What about writing do you like most?

RC: The thrill upon conceiving an idea is when I find myself forced to put it down instantly. Obviously, first drafts are always undesirable. Despite the drudgery that it is, rewriting and revising always pulls out new passages and enriches the story; it is as if you are digging with the nib of your pen to chance upon a trinket the characters have buried for you. While there is no novelty in working on the same collection of words over and over again and that you have to cancel passages that took you months to write isn’t inviting either, if I see that I have distilled my stories, that I haven’t spelled it all out for the readers, that I have been economic with my words, I am satisfied. It’s not instantaneous. You have to work and be patient for months on end to please yourself with your writing. But it is the only thing I am good at and I thoroughly enjoy it.

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