AMRITA MUKHERJEE always wanted to write, but never imagined that she would actually sit down to write when she lost her elder brother to cancer, gave birth to a baby boy, and quit her job—all at the same time. Writing helped her deal with all these life-changing experiences that hit her like a twister.
She has been a journalist for the last 17 years, having started her career at The Asian Age, Kolkata, in 1998. Subsequently, she worked in The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, and she was Features Editor at ITP Publishing Group in Dubai. Currently, she is a freelance journalist for Indian and international publications and websites. Exit Interview, published by Rupa Publications, is her first attempt at writing fiction.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Amrita. What’s the one word that describes you best and why?
Amrita Mukherjee: Thank you Vinita. “Chilled Out” is the best way to describe me. You will understand why when I tell you that my mom caught me going off to the disco with my friends on the eve of my Master’s degree exams. She was livid, but I convinced her that I would be back soon. I was, and I scored a first class in my Master’s in Sociology from Calcutta University.
Vinita Kinra: The title of your debut novel, Exit Interview, at first instance sounds like non-fiction or a self-help book. Share with us the story behind the choice of this unique yet intriguing title.
Amrita Mukherjee: Like you, the good thing is that most people inevitably ask me why I chose “Exit Interview” for a fiction title; so curiosity is triggered right from the cover itself. My main protagonist and fictional journalist Rasha Roy goes through difficult situations at every workplace, but she is unable to tell the truth during exit interviews, and it is this truth that constitutes the story. That’s why the title.
Vinita Kinra: In your perspective, what hazards do departing employees run by articulating the real reasons behind quitting their job?
Amrita Mukherjee: The general perception is that in the modern world, it is best not to burn bridges by being too truthful at exit interviews. This applies all the more to the field of journalism because here word spreads like wildfire. In any industry, a boss you foul mouth while leaving a job might well become your boss or colleague in another company. So you never know how your exit interview might come back to haunt you.
Vinita Kinra: Exit interviews are mostly optional and supposedly confidential. Why then the dilemma over handling this slippery form?
Amrita Mukherjee: I know of someone who spoke about the sexual harassment she suffered at the hands of her boss during the “supposedly” confidential exit interview. She soon realized that word was out about her unpleasant experience, and she found it difficult to find another job because she had already been labeled a troublemaker by then. Moreover, sometimes I have seen existing employees being harassed by Human Resources for what an outgoing employee wrote about him/her in the exit interview. It’s a nasty and vicious management tool I would say. Yes, you always have the option of not taking an interview or filling up the form. Rasha Roy also chooses that option, but her reasons for doing so are really interesting.
Vinita Kinra: Give us a brief overview of the plot of your book, Exit Interview.
Amrita Mukherjee: It is the story of fictional journalist Rasha Roy, who moves from one job to another, and travels from Kolkata to Dubai to Cairo in the process. From dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, to losing a promotion because of a nasty boss, to landing in serious trouble because of an exposé and landing in the middle of the Egyptian Revolution, Rasha’s life is a plethora of experiences. There are extreme highs and lows in her life as she grapples with her ambitions, inner dilemmas and personal issues.
Vinita Kinra: Did you always want to become a writer, or was this particular story so compelling that you couldn’t stop yourself from sharing it?
Amrita Mukherjee: I always wanted to be a writer and felt that there was a story I wanted to tell. But it wasn’t happening because journalism keeps you in the office for really long hours. I finally quit my job and started writing.
Vinita Kinra: Your manuscript for Exit Interview got accepted by the first publisher you approached. Was that because the majority of working women in urban India can relate to your protagonist’s conflict relating to the subject you tackle in the book?
Amrita Mukherjee: Absolutely. Many working women who have read the book have told me that they sometimes felt Rasha was walking in their shoes. The biggest compliment for me is when an old friend from school or college says, “After reading your book, my wife wants to meet you.” When the book was accepted by Rupa Publications, the commissioning editor told me that it debunks perceptions about people and places which she found intriguing. She said, “I never knew Kolkata had such a vibrant nightlife or a smart, upright editor could fall for a con woman. It’s convincing.”
Vinita Kinra: Besides writing, what are your other passions?
Amrita Mukherjee: I am a blogger and an advocate of alternative journalism. I write on women’s issues in my blog www.amritaspeaks.com. I blog only when I feel there is something worth writing, not because I have to write for regularity. Films, music, dancing, and stitching are some of my other passions, but none of that is happening at the moment because my five-year-old son is keeping me on my toes.
Vinita Kinra: What are your future projects?
Amrita Mukherjee: Most people who have read my book have asked me to write a sequel because they feel that the way the story ends leaves more to tell. I actually had another novel in mind, but have to now decide what I want to do. Meanwhile, I am working on a few short stories.
Excerpt from Exit Interview:
‘Arrogant! You are so bloody arrogant! You think you are the best,’ said Sabrina.
‘I am. Whether you like it or not. I know why you suddenly think I am so bad. You want to prove your sister-in-law is better than me.’
‘She is. She is the best journalist on this floor. That’s what my boss also thinks.’
Rasha started laughing. ‘A journalist with three months experience, who confidently writes “Amitabh Bachchan’s father’s name is Teji Bachchan”. You had also seen it and sent it to press. If I had not corrected it to Harivanshrai Bachchan, it would have been published like that.’
This infuriated Sabrina even more. ‘You are bad at your work and on top of that you wear that I-am-the-best attitude on your sleeve. We have been nice enough not to ever say you can’t even speak proper English. Your diction is not right. It’s…it’s…so Bengali.
Now, I don’t want to take this conversation any further.’
When Rasha went back to her desk, from the terrace, Sabrina had already read her emailed resignation. She quickly sent her the reply:
Hope you are doing great. I am sooooo sad you are leaving the company. I am gonna miss you like anything. With great sadness, I am accepting your resignation, but I respect your decision. Please get in touch with HR for the formalities.
Rasha was trying hard to write her story, but she truly couldn’t give wings to her thoughts. Sabrina tiptoed behind her and asked her to follow her to the cafeteria. She got two mugs of coffee for each of them.
‘I discussed with people higher-up but maybe they did not value you, so they asked me to accept your resignation.’
Rasha’s composure had returned and so had her sense of humour. ‘Really? I am surprised people higher up even know me. I thought only one person brought out Silver Screen and that is Sabrina Kapadia.’
‘You are getting angry, Rasha.’
‘Why are you looking so glum? You should be happy I am leaving. Isn’t that what you wanted?’
‘No! No! Not at all. You are not a bad worker.’
‘You first decide how you want to classify me.’
‘Rasha, you will have the exit interview…’
‘That explains the cups of coffee. You needn’t worry, I will not write anything against you.’
‘Thank you sooooo much. Hugs! Hugs! Hugs!’ She got up to hug Rasha with a radiant smile. Rasha stood up robotically to accept it.
‘You also do me a favour, Sabrina. Don’t bother to give me a farewell party and follow it up with a lavish gift. It will be nice if you can do away with this hypocrisy.’
Amrita Mukherjee can be reached via Twitter: @