Hoots of appreciation echo from the buzzing crowd as Durjoy Datta, Sumrit Shahi, Novoneel Chakraborty and Preeti Shenoy take the stage. Four of India’s most successful young authors settle down to discuss the challenges of storytelling in today’s India.
Moderator Amrita Mukherjee opens the discussion by asking the writers about their most moving fan experiences. While Preeti mentions an 85-year-old fan, and Novoneel an encounter with a childhood friend’s father, Durjoy’s most memorable is that of being given a key ring from Game of Thrones at the launch of his latest book! Amrita points out that the writings of these four have always challenged perceptions: they are very modern and very bold. How did they think people would react to their writing?
Durjoy says he doesn’t find his writings shocking: writing about a woman having periods is as normal for him as writing about a guy “who sweats too much.” It is only when other people expressed shock that he realised they could be perceived very differently. But he has no regrets: he stands by his right to write.
Preeti emphasises research: a non-fiction book on relationships that deals with the idea of casual sex is sure to have raised some eyebrows. But Preeti and Novoneel both agree that nothing in a book should be taboo.
How does a man create a female protagonist? How does he enter her mind? I would argue that he doesn’t, but Novoneel thinks the writer is androgynous. He does not write from the point of view of a man viewing a woman, but of a woman viewing herself. “I have met some very strong women,” he says. “My woman connects to every woman because in some ways she does represent every woman out there.”
Sumrit talks about growing up being surrounded by women and watching their emotional dynamics in a relationship. Writing from a female point of view allows him to express emotions that a boy is not allowed to do in society: a “guilty pleasure”. I will not deny that I cringe a little- using female characters as a vehicle to purge rather than to oppose patriarchal norms directly, isn’t my style. But he has touched on a pertinent issue.
Durjoy talks about the problems of comfort zones: having identified the “college love story” formula in his books, he then changed it completely in “Till The Last Breath…”. Novoneel brings up rejection: publishers are now more comfortable with contemporary Indian writers. Sumrit says that before he was published, he used to send fan mails to Durjoy and Novoneel! And no wonder: Durjoy is wonderfully interactive with his fans, hurling questions at them from the dias and listening to the chorus of responses with a grin.
Now we come to the part that interests me: Preeti is asked about the transition from blogging to books! “It doesn’t get any easier after the first book,” she says- she got rejected 39 times, both in India and the UK! But it is better to be a blogger. “You already have a body of work behind you, samples to give,” she says. “If anybody in the audience are bloggers, keep blogging. You make wonderful friends too.” Her favourite marketing technique is to take pictures with Durjoy and post them on Facebook!
The only part of the marketing that Durjoy actually likes is the book launch, where he gets to meet fans. “I love coming to Kolkata,” he adds, flashing a dazzling smile at the audience, who roar back. “That’s marketing!” quips Novoneel.
The audience interaction is cheerful and lively, and the session comes to an end as fans rush outside to meet their favourite authors. I stay behind, wondering if the internet and the new generation will once again propel authors to the kind of stardom Dickens once enjoyed.
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