Dr. Usha Bande is an Indian writer and critic who lives in Shimla. She writes in Marathi, Hindi and English and translates short stories from Marathi into Hindi. She has several research papers and more than a dozen books to her credit including Writing Resistance: A Comparative Study of Women Novelists. Her most recent work is a collection of short stories, A Box of Stolen Moments (Lifi Publications, 2014).
Kitaab recently interviewed her through email.
When did you start writing short stories?
Long back. I was in school when I wrote my first story but it was never published. In fact, I did not know where to send, how to send and all that. I mean tricks of the trade. In 1960s we were not much aware and smart as youngsters today are. Anyway, I wrote a small piece in Hindi for a story writing competition when I was in college; it was published in Navbharat Times and I got a third prize. It motivated me but again there was a gap of several years. My first real story which got published in English was “Painter Sahib”, included in my collection A Box of Stolen Moments. And I like this story as it has a kind of soft touch to it. It is partly real.
Tell us about some of the interesting stories in this collection and what inspired you to write them?
A very relevant question, indeed though a little difficult to answer!
Each story has something interesting hidden in its bosom. But since you have asked a specific question, let me give a specific answer. The first story came to me all by itself as if, beseeching me to write it down. For years during my teaching career, I witnessed and enjoyed numerous dances of Kangra region and I loved their lilting rhythms and haunting tunes. Besides I am fascinated by Dhauladhar, Kangra valley, the people. During one such journey, while crossing the picturesque Palampur, the story came tumbling down my sub-conscious and took shape. I wrote it down as soon as I reached my destination. Some of the women figures are based on the women I knew and interacted with – particularly Jasoda Devi who is a replica of the Tayiji of my friend. This is my favourite story.
Besides, ‘And the General Came’ has an actual incident that happened in one of our NCC Camps when I was under training as an NCC officer. It was hilarious. Another of my favourite stories is ‘My Drumstick Tree’, part fiction part real – short and sweet is how I would like to call it. Laxmi in ‘Liberating Laxmi’ is based on our maid whose feminine argument left me bewildered. I am not a feminist but I do feel for women although I know taking them out of their cocoon is a hard task.
Of course, I can go on and on but let me contain myself here.
You are well-known as an academic and critic. What comes more easily to you: writing an essay or writing a story?
Both, in segments!
Initially, when I started writing short stories in the early 1970s imagination was probably bountiful. Any remark, any incident, any confrontation could take the shape of a story. But when I got into academic writing and started looking at fiction with the eyes of a critic, ‘lady story’ got irritated with me and I could not write – as R.K.Naraya’s story teller (mendicant) forgot how to tell his stories or like Rushdie’s struggling story teller.
Readers would be amused to know that during this period I did try my hand at writing a story but soon discovered that I had started analyzing the characters instead of developing them and letting them reveal themselves. It was then that I stopped writing fiction and concentrated on my academic work which needs a lot of reading, researching, thinking and discussing; the process of writing with appropriate academic standard requires considerable efforts.
I have slowed down now on academic front and am concentrating on fiction. Let me admit that it is relaxing and fulfilling to write stories. Academic writing satisfies your ego, creativity satisfies your urge to craft something original.
How and where do you manage to write? Do you follow a routine?
I write whenever I find time. In Shimla, walking is a way of life — compulsory. Walking uphill is a slow process. The story starts getting shape as you labor up the slope or cautiously climb down, amid greeting acquaintances and friends (a regular social courtesy). On reaching home I just sit at my computer and start typing. Earlier, I used to write in long hand; now I have mastered the art of thinking and typing simultaneously.
No, there is no fixed routine, though write I must, almost regurlarly.
Who are your favourite short story writers? In English and other Indian languages?
A good question and I was waiting for it because I like to admit that my favourite writers are Shashi Deshpande and Anita Desai. I am especially impressed by their grip on their material and their hold on language.
I am also fond of Manohar Malgonkar, R. K. Narayan, Tagore and Ismat Chugtai among Indian writers and O’Henry, Chekov, Guy de Maupassant among the western masters. I read a lot of Marathi and Hindi stories and also translated ones from other languages. Besides, I like to read folk stories as these have the magical element, inherent native humour and afford a peep into the folk psyche.
What kind of stories you are drawn to?
Stories that have strength in them, the power to move, some adventure, some impishness (or say, tit for tat as in Manju Kapur’s story ‘Chocolates) and a lot of sunshine. I am not for sob-stories. Not that I shun reality; only that I like to partake of the joie de vivre. But yes, Mallika Amarshkeh’s Marathi story ‘Khel’ moved me a lot and stayed with me for long. It is a relentlessly hard-hitting story to awaken social consciousness (of course, without being didactic).
What do you plan to write next?
I am in the process of translating stories into English. I am also planning to write stories about women travelers in the hills (real life).