Everything in my life can be traced to my late mother - Kalpana Basu Roy - including my fiction. The long “back story” of my fiction writing has a lot to do with her – with her instilling in me a fascination for sto
ries as a child, sharing with me
her love of literature, music and all things beautiful and bringing me up in a
home whose most prized possession were its books. But more than anything else,
it has to do with her relentless faith in me as a writer and her urging me
never to give up my creative impulse. In this, she had led by example – by
publishing a book of fiction, Mukh-Michhil,
at the age of 70!
Though I have read fiction all my life and dreamt of being an author ever since my college days, I gave priority to my academic ambitions and the business of earning a living in my twenties, starting to write fiction only in 2005. The incentive came in the form of a creative writing workshop with Amitav Ghosh and co-conducted by Prof. Rimi B. Chatterjee at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, which I greatly enjoyed being a part of and learnt a lot from, the principal lesson being that I can write fiction! It was a turning point in my life and I am indebted to that workshop for bringing it about.
Years later, in another life in a different continent, I would do another – with Amal Chatterjee and Jane Draycott in Amsterdam, in 2013. The first had started off my fiction writing; this other gave me the impetus to complete my collection of shorts, Gariahat Junction. In between, thanks to the irrepressible Dipika Mukherjee, I became part of a writing group in Amsterdam (Mezrab, Zolder, Genre Fiction Group and The Write Club being its various avatars), which helped me immensely in writing my fiction.
I am indebted to the members of the groups for their critique, their friendship and solidarity, without which the experience of writing would have been so much harder for me. Eric Asp, Tori Egherman, Anna Heldring, Dina Nayeri, Arturo Desimone, Christopher Saxe, David Lee, Smruthy Sachidanandan, Barbara Austin, Jackie Hatton, Karen Kao, Mark Bruinekreeft - you have each helped me in ways you were not always aware of. I am also very grateful to a small band of loyal readers among my family and friends, whose encouragement has meant a lot to me. I would like to especially mention Nilanjana Ray, Bhagwathi Rao Sandilya, Sanjay Sandilya, Bratati Raybardhan, Gargyee Roy, Srinka Bose, Brototi Das Gupta, Jaya Sarma and Barnita Bagchi.
A special thanks goes to Kunal Basu for being an inspiration and a role-model for me for over a decade.
Gariahat Junction is a collection of ten short stories; its title a symbolic nod at the fact that most of the protagonists in this collection have reached a critical juncture in their lives. I wrote these stories because I felt deeply compelled to write them. They are drawn from my own life and that of women close to me; women I have loved, admired, cherished, been influenced by and empathized with. Words fail to express how grateful I am to them for their generosity in allowing me to write fictional accounts of their lives, for baring their souls to me and trusting me with my renditions of them. I was drawn to the longing and loneliness in their tales, to their poignant failures and un-fulfilments and to their continuing struggle of being torn between the contrary pulls of ambition and tradition in their (postmodern) lives, themes that strongly resonated with my own.
Gariahat Junction is not only about women, but also a place: Kolkata. The city where I was born, brought up, studied, taught, married; the city I had left and have now returned to after a decade, the city that has shaped me and my sensibility to a profound extent. How do you thank a city? Acknowledge its integral presence in your life and your very being? The answer is simple – by writing about it! I am a middle-class Bengali woman from Kolkata and the world that I depict is also (primarily) that of middle-class Bengali women of my generation, in or from Kolkata: even when they live abroad, their stories have an important Kolkata connection. Kolkata itself, thus, becomes a significant character in this collection, one of the threads that hold the stories together.
This slim book took an inordinately long time in the making. That is a story in itself, with too many twists and turns. That it finally managed to have a happy ending is due to Zafar Anjum, who, as Director of Kitaab, has valaintly championed short story collections for many years now and accepted mine as well. I thank him for giving my maiden book of fiction a home. And I am very grateful to Pallavi Narayan, without whom this would not have happened! I owe my final thanks to my friend, Arindam Dasgupta, for designing the cover of the book.
I wrote Gariahat Junction (in fits and starts) in one of the most challenging and eventful decades of my life. Its high points were, thankfully, creative ones – two academic books, and my daughter, Srishti! I am grateful to both: the books for teaching me the discipline that is essential for writing and for boosting my confidence as a writer; and my daughter, for giving me renewed hope and faith in life, and a joy I hadn’t known before. I dedicate this book to her, hoping she will fly with unfettered wings.