Interview number four from the specially curated ‘Interview Series’ that Open Road Review is doing with the ‘Kumaon Literary Festival’ as their ‘Online Literary Magazine Partners’. This interview was conducted over email.
After writing feature articles for various publications, PR firms and companies for nearly two decades, Kanchana Banerjee decided to pursue her long cherished dream – to write a novel. She holds a master’s degree in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She lives in Gurgaon with her husband, son and two dogs, Archie and Casper. A Forgotten Affair is her first novel.
Archita Mittra: Your book tackles complex themes of domestic abuse, amnesia and adultery. Which part of the book was the hardest to write?
Kanchana Banerjee: Honestly, the parts that I struggled to write the most are the scenes of intimacy. I found it a very big challenge to write the sexual bits. They didn't seem to read the way I wanted them to and I re-wrote them many times. I wanted to project a sensuous and beautiful intimacy between Sagarika and Akash and a kind of obsessive lunacy when Rishab is with Deepa. This wasn't easy to write, everything else flowed out easily.
AM: Rishab is the familiar image of the patriarchal husband, who treats his wife as a commodity and curbs her individual freedom and creativity. Did you deliberately decide to create such a character to reflect the situation of domestic cruelty in India or was there a real life encounter that inspired Rishab?
KB: Emotional abuse is very rampant in affluent, so-called educated homes. I have seen it happen to many women. It goes un-noticed because no one expects a foreign educated, suave man earning big bucks to minimize his wife who is equally educated. But unfortunately it happens and in many cases the women just brush it off. I wanted to write about this. But my novel isn’t a social commentary. It’s a work of fiction and so I wove an interesting story around a grim social problem.
AM: It seems that adhering to societal conventions vs pursuing one's own creative freedom is also an underlying theme in your book. Rishab doesn't let Sagarika pursue her artistic interests; Akash is ridiculed for living a nomadic lifestyle as a writer and so on. As a freelance writer and first time novelist yourself, how have you struck a balance between societal expectations and following your heart? Were some elements in your novel autobiographical?
KB: Adhering to societal conventions vs pursuing one's own creative freedom is also an underlying theme in your book' - this wasn’t a deliberate attempt. Just my way of making the characters more interesting. Rishab doesn't have a problem with his wife's art as long as it doesn't interfere with his career plans. No, I haven’t faced any ridicule for following my heart. I have always written and everyone in my family knew that this is my calling. Many things in the novel are autobiographical. This is my first book so my life is bound to be in it. The close friendship that Rika and Roohi share is my tribute to my girl friends who are my soul sisters. A bit of Sagarika is me. She likes very little sugar in her coffee but gulps sugar cubes. That’s me. Her quest to remember her past, her identity is the dramatic representation of my quest to find myself. After turning 40, women often ask themselves: Who am I? What is my identity? Am I just someone's wife, someone's mom...? I have asked these questions to myself too? Sagarika is me and also every-woman.
AM: What is your opinion on the publishing scene in India? Did you face any difficulties to publish your book and if yes, how did you overcome them?
KB: Fortunately, I didn’t face any problem at all. I don’t have stories of scores of rejection like many. I went to Bangalore Lit fest in 2014, pitched my story in an open mic contest and was noticed by Ajitha who is a senior editor from Harper Collins. So, by God's grace I had a very easy run.
AM: Given that romance is always a popular genre, what is your advice to aspiring writers to stand out from the crowd?
KB: Write with your heart and from your heart. Write what you want to read. I am my first reader. If I'm not having fun reading what I write, no one else will. So don’t try hard to stand out or be different. Just be yourself. Write what comes out of heart and soul. It will touch the readers' hearts too.
- A Forgotten Affair by Kanchana Banerjee is available here.