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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Q&A with Kunal Sen: Author of Left From Dhakeshwari

When I read the first page of the boo“Left from Dhakeshwari”  I was completely drawn into it by the way it was written, as I read each story it left me thinking, by the time I reached the end I was sure, I had in my hands the work of an author who certainly will make great contribution to Indian writing. So I thank the author with an original writing style, who leaves a lot of open ends in his writings, who keeps you thinking....Kunal Sen for an insight into his life and work, which is here:

Q. When did you begin writing?
A: I only began writing at the age of twenty: rhyme poems on tablecloths and a half-finished mystery-adventure in the spirit of ‘The Hardy Boys’. I look back on those days with unmitigated embarrassment. I grew out of that phase though, things changed.

Q. What is your motivation behind the same?
A: Now I write not to find myself but to keep whatever I know and have and that’s enough.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your journey into writing, especially roadblocks if any?
A: I discovered my voice relatively early and I don’t know if it is any good but I know that I have one. So that part was simpler. What was difficult was finding time since I had, and inexplicably still have, a daytime job.

Q. Tell us something about your recent book “Left from Dhakeshwari”?
A: ‘Left from Dhakeshwari’ is a book of short stories about some sad, mad, sadomasochistic people who talk in ciphers and search for a place like home.

Q. Your book “Left from Dhakeshwari” had all sad stories. Why so?
A: Tragedy moves and inspires me. It rescues me and feels like home. Hence.

Q. What was the idea behind writing a collection of short sad stories? Also each story had a lot of scope to be an entire novel; still you chose a short story collection?
A: I think a novel calls for filling of gaps and using language, in great lengths, as just a functional tool. The short story form fascinates me more for its inherent potential for showcasing the unsaid. My stories aren’t abridged versions of an all-encompassing novel anyway, but a momentary, keyhole view of something odder. If I were to write a novel one day, it would be a fragmented, episodic one with a multitude of voices and demons. At the moment though, I’m happy writing short stories. They are getting longer and darker.

Q. Your characters though real life are intense and stories unusual, are these real life or work of fiction?
A: The book takes roots from close, closed things. Having said that, there were often moments when characters transcended their brief with utter insubordination. ‘Salt Lake’, for example, was meant to be Farinoush’s story throughout. I didn’t have a male lead in mind until Farzaan came to me. It happened a few other times as well. At those moments, I felt like a conduit and a medium, a magician’s assistant and an innkeeper of lost souls. I felt fulfilled. But most of the times, I beat them into doing what I wanted them to do and then they were the marionettes and the malady was mine and that was also pretty great.

Q. Your writing style in this book has been peculiar: A snapshot of a moment & then a zoom into the story and characters. Is this because you are a film maker too and you visualize the story like that?
A: I’m a failed filmmaker who happened to direct two disasters a long time ago. Yes, a part of the first feature picked up a nomination in one of those pretentious film festivals the same thousand people keep going to. That does not absolve. In fact, I started writing fiction, seriously, when I was editing my second film and it looked like hell and wasn’t going anywhere. I was angry and disillusioned and writing came as a great healer. Even back then, I never enjoyed shooting and post-production as much as I loved screenwriting. It is impossible for my writing today to not be influenced by and germinate from my stint in films. And yes, that’s why the stories have the five act structures and that’s why the passages are written out like scenes and that’s where the characters get their poetic hyperrealism from.

Q. How has your book been received by the readers in India and abroad?
A: So far, the reviews have been largely favourable, both here and there. I had expected more divisive reactions, so the early praise has been a little unsettling. It can never be a bestseller and that does not matter to me. I look forward to strangers picking it up in libraries or thrift stores years from now and getting rooted and uprooted by it.

Q. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
A: Fundamentally, I’m a writer and not a storyteller. So when I get an idea that screams for a lot of plot narration, I find it difficult to deal with and often start out by writing a lot of sentences, but end up using only their shadows because the implied interests me more. I take away the causative hinges of a story until I’m left with an amorphous core and rambling asides. I suppose this must make my work exacting and cryptic for many readers. The fact that most of them are set in esoteric milieus doesn’t help matters.

Q. What is the best and worst part about being an author in your opinion?
A: The best part is that it helps you orchestrate all the things that threaten to drive you insane. The worst part is that it is often too painful and feels like rehab.

Q. Did you ever get “The Writers Block”? How did you overcome it?
A: Yes, I do spend interludes writing precious nothing. I work on multiple stories at any one time so when I’m stuck on something, I try switching stories, to wade through the apocalypse.  

Q. Who are your favorite authors and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
A: Salinger was the master at combining obsession with compassion. His works were distant, yet munificent. My favourite poet is Richard Siken. I love quite a bit of Murakami and his fantastic calmness, and Jhumpa Lahiri remains one of the greatest interpreters of maladies.

Q. What books have most influenced your life most?
A: ‘Nine Stories’ (J.D. Salinger)

Q. What are you reading currently?
A: I’m in the last third of Indrajit Hazra’s interesting first novel, ‘The Burnt Forehead of Max Saul’.

Q. Broadly what are your next projects?
A: My next book is a collection of long short stories that border on the carnal and the sinister. It opens with a map and ends with a locked room murder. There are adulteresses and kidnappers, prostitutes and runaways, who are so much more than those stereotypes. Debjani, Farzaan and the ‘Zugzwang’ quartet from my first book feature again in the next one and we get to learn and unlearn things about them.

Q. What is your opinion about writing as a career?
A: It doesn’t exist.

Q. What do you think about the current trend of writing in India? Is the current lineage of Indian authors ready for an international audience/market?
A: I write from an inoculated cocoon so I don’t know much about trends. But I’ve heard that frothy, twenty-something romances are doing well and everyone is grudging them their success. To be fair to those writers, there is also a whole lot of underwhelming work that’s going around as literary fiction nowadays. The clutter of mediocrity cuts across categories. As bigger labels react to smaller successful assembly lines, the original voices are getting lost somewhere but maybe that is also an opportunity.

Q. How do you manage your profession and writing together?
A: I work during days and write at nights.

Q. Any advice for budding writers?
A: Believe.

Q. Any message for your readers?
A: I’m indebted that you gave my book a home, that you allowed it to live with you, as you, in you for as long as you did.


  1. Q. What is your opinion about writing as a career?
    A: It doesn’t exist.

    Whoa! Never read such a straightforward reply before!

    1. Yeah most authors seldom speak the truth about writing.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This guy is incredibly pretentious. Check out his website. The most empty pronouncements decorated with their own smugness and shows no investment in the world around, just an obvious indulgence of his own vapid entitlements. His reviews are even more idiotic.