Koral Dasgupta is the author of Fall Winter Collections and Power of a Common Man. She is an academic, teaching marketing management studies in colleges. Her columns spread across websites and magazines explore art, education, parenting, mythology, travel, women’s issues, books, films and others. She is an advisory member for Central Board of Film Certification, Mumbai.
Vinita Kinra: Welcome to Global Asian Times, Koral. Share with us your journey as a writer.
Koral Dasgupta: Writing for me has been a soul searching exercise, and I guess it is the same for everyone who writes. You pick up issues you deeply feel and stand for; you create characters, all of whom are basically you in various metaphorical capacities; you conspire occasions that are convincing enough for your characters to emote; and through all these elements you present the basic statement you wanted to make right from the beginning. It is an enriching journey which makes you grow with every word you put on paper. Being a comparatively new author, only two books old, every moment has been a learning exercise. I learnt observing people and listening to them with patience. I learnt to respect a reverse point of view. I learnt to accept criticism. And most importantly, I learnt that there can be different angles to the same story—the angle you pick up creates all the difference.
Vinita Kinra: Why did you choose Shantiniketan as a backdrop for your book, Fall Winter Collections?
Koral Dasgupta: After completing my graduation from Viswa Bharati, Shantiniketan, I moved on to pursue my academic goals. But I guess the place didn’t leave me. I missed being there. I missed the ambience of country roads, red soil, the mentors, the huge library, the nature, art, music and poetry that were embedded deep in its culture. I designed the basic premises of the book, Fall Winter Collections, when I was a student there. Friends often asked me what I was busy scribbling in my diary. I was actually hallucinating and writing them down haphazardly. It was only imperative that someday that diary would become a book and see daylight.
Vinita Kinra: Who has been your biggest mentor?
Koral Dasgupta: My editors: Karthik Venkatesh (Westland books) for my first book titled Power of a Common Man and Gita Rajan (Niyogi Books) for my second book titled Fall Winter Collections. For me they were the first audience, and their reactions as a neutral reader taught me a lot. Teaming up with them not only helped me redesign my content more relevantly, but I also learnt to let go of my emotional baggage and possessiveness with words, as an author. Karthik and Gita helped me pick up that appropriate angle of storytelling, which made my story appear far more appealing and engaging.
Vinita Kinra: What comes to your rescue when you are faced with the notorious “Writer’s Block”?
Koral Dasgupta: I don’t believe there is anything called writer’s block. The term is over-rated and adds glamour to the author’s profile. When Virat Kohli is out of form for a season, you don’t call it a cricketer’s block! Writer’s block is nothing but a few bad days at work when ideas don’t flow well. It happens with every creative person, not just authors. With me, I feel the first draft of my fiction often suffers the hangover of the time I spend reading and writing non-fiction. It isn’t a block. It is a limitation which can easily be overcome with some reworks. When I am stuck, I just close the files and go to sleep.
Vinita Kinra: Which is the one character from your book that you enjoyed creating the most and why?
Koral Dasgupta: Aniruddh Jain Solanki from Fall Winter Collections is dearest to me because in more ways than one, I wanted to be that character myself. He is a sculptor whose work is inspired by real life women. I always found it very fascinating to study and understand how the mind of an artist works. Beautiful ideas emerge from their depths and they express those with their language of art: cracking an artist’s intelligence, drawing up his source of inspiration, creating the path that lead to his brilliance, explaining his dilemmas, has been an extremely satisfying process.
Vinita Kinra: If you were marooned on an island with just one book, which would it be and why?
Koral Dasgupta: If I was in an island with just one book, it would be Rabindranath Tagore’s autobiography, Jeeban Smriti. The life of the poet and novelist, written with sharp humour and ruthless honesty, is something you can never get bored of. Every time you read it, you will have traced something new. A philosophy you missed out last time or a subtle joke that you didn’t capture or a profound meaning that titillates and tests your maturity!
Vinita Kinra: In your perspective, what is the key ingredient to succeed as a writer?
Koral Dasgupta: Great hold over language, clear understanding of what the writer wants to convey through the story, some friends – made, inherited or hired – who are ready to spread the word, and a publisher whose literary vision matches that of the author.
Vinita Kinra: Talk to us about your publishing journey. Was it smooth sailing or bumpy?
Koral Dasgupta: When I look back, I find my journey as an author has been quite smooth. My first book, Power of a Common Man, is an academic biography of actor Shah Rukh Khan. It talks about his marketing genius which is often a step ahead of his contemporaries. I didn’t have to wait for even three months after finishing the manuscript. For Fall Winter Collections, I was looking for a publisher who would understand and echo my passion for art. Also in this book, the place (Shantiniketan) plays a very active role. Having published many books on art, artists and landscape photography, Niyogi Books could relate with my thoughts and I could safely park my manuscript with them.
Vinita Kinra: In your opinion, is writing about escaping reality or embracing it?
Koral Dasgupta: Writing is about creating your own reality and weaving that web around you. I consciously chose to write about art and artists in my books and columns. My fiction (Fall Winter Collections and more that I plan to write) experiences life through protagonists who are art professionals. That’s the world I want to see around myself, and that’s the world I believe I belong to. I am trying to sell beauty in a space dominated by crime and politics and that’s my vision, my reality.
Vinita Kinra: Do you feel satiated by your life journey so far, or do you yearn to accomplish more goals?
Koral Dasgupta: Art and craft still gets very passive treatment from the world. Give out some controversies or bloodshed stories and people will lap them up more readily. Art has been restricted to the status of a hobby, a pass-time; it is not a natural way of life. Not yet. My goal is to engage more people and draw their attention towards the beauty that artists relentlessly create. The two books I have written may have done well for my personal branding, but my larger goal is still a few light years away. As an individual, I am too powerless to contribute significantly, but I will try with all my spirits.
Vinita Kinra: What is your life philosophy?
Koral Dasgupta: My philosophy is to worship the Lord that makes, not the one that breaks; and to walk the path with a collective agenda even if I have to walk alone. I believe, if you introduce beauty to youth, they would stay away from nasty things because their system would reject them! That’s what I am trying to achieve for my child and his generation, in my limited capacity.
Vinita Kinra: Our readers would like to sample an excerpt from your book, Fall Winter Collections.
Narration by Aniruddh Jain Solanki,
Unmindfully a question pops aloud from within me and I regret the moment I pronounce it. ‘What more do you know about Sanghamitra?’
His eyes glow as he talks about her. ‘She loves tea, can gulp it in gallons if you can capture her in an interesting conversation. But more often than not, she’s not listening to you though she’s with you. I have seen her do this with people. She doesn’t like visitors at home. She worships books and loves music. In fact, she’s trained in Indian classical music. She’s also into yoga. Her opinions are strong and logic-bound. She’s not closed to an argument though. She’s fiercely independent. And she is fascinated with Shiva.’
A statement comes out once again, before I control my tongue. ‘She is not the religious type.’
‘Show her a composition on Shiva, Aniruddh da, and see her reaction.’ He smiles and reflects, ‘You should see her during rains. That is the time she sheds all masks. A headstrong woman otherwise, unarms herself of the tough shield and comes out in raw sensuality. Just that you have to be lucky enough to spot her walking in the rains unguarded, and you’ll know what I mean. She looks like poetry then.’
The problem with men is that, when they see something like what Sagnik has detailed out, they appreciate the aesthetics of it. But when they hear, they experience the deprivation of not seeing, and start visualising unfair details. I have started visualising the back of a woman walking in the rains, draped in sari which she doesn’t try to discipline. The cloth clings on to her body, as does her wet hair. She’s walking aimlessly, as if her journey matters more than the destination. She looks up to face the sky, and the rains, with eyes closed, asking for more. Water droplets sensuously flow down her neck. She expresses a thirst that might not be quenched by this downpour, but she smiles in satisfaction, happy with less, because it gives her the scope of repeated consumption. I am not sure whether the woman I saw is Sanghamitra; but she was a part of the rain-washed greenery, as much as the Economics professor was a part of Khoai the other day.
I jerk back to my senses realising that I had been doing something inappropriate. I am visualising sensuality out of a dignified lady, who has not given me any reason to do so.
I look at Sagnik, he’s been watching me. There’s something in his eyes that makes me feel uncomfortable.
‘You just saw her, right?’
Vinita Kinra is a Toronto-based author, editor, speaker and activist, best known for her short story collection, Pavitra in Paris, launched to critical acclaim in 2013. She is also a contributor for India’s largest English daily, The Times of India.