Team Kitaab is in conversation with author Sanghamitra Bose where she talks about her latest release Un-belonging (Readomania, 2021), and other aspects of writing.
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This quote came to our mind as we read author Sanghamitra Bose’s works. Her stories make the reader think, question, and analyse a lot of things. That for a writer is a great achievement.
Recently Team Kitaab had the opportunity to speak to her about her latest book, Un-belonging, an anthology published by Readomania. This collection narrates stories of loss, betrayal, and trauma that transform into conflicting emotions of guilt, longing, and sorrow to the extent that the protagonists are forced to re-examine the very foundation of their being. Set against a backdrop of South East Asian communities, their unique nuances are interwoven into the fabric of each story as they explore the concept of emotional displacement brought about by life experiences.
In Un-belonging Sanghamitra brings together her experiences of having travelled and lived across the world. She lives and works in Singapore. An MBA from MS University, Baroda, she has held leadership positions in several industries such as Hospitality, Financial Services, Education and Travel.
Sanghamitra has travelled widely and lived in China, Singapore as well as various cities in India. A lover of history, people, and cultures, Sanghamitra gave wings to her passion for writing in 2015. Her first short story was published in the anthology, Tell Me a Story by Penguin India. Since then her stories have been featured in anthologies such as Defiant Dreams: Tales of Everyday Divas and When They Spoke, both published by Readomania.
Her travels in South East Asia have helped her experience different cultures. Her new collection of short stories, Un-belonging, reflects her deep knowledge of South East Asian communities and her nuanced narration skills.
Let’s know from her, the story behind her stories.
Team Kitaab: As a writer, how do you decide which idea to work upon?
Sanghamitra Bose (SB): I am inspired by situations, people, and events that happen around me. If the interaction motivates a thought process in me, it may lead to a story concept. The decision to develop that into a story depends on what I want to say and whether the story would resonate with readers. The best ideas, I believe are those that spark an independent train of thought in the reader and leave the reader wanting to know more. E.g. my story Aftermath, in the collection, Un-belonging, is based on the Nirbhaya rape incident in India but the story explores what happens after. I want readers to come away thinking of how to heal after a traumatic incident like rape.
Team Kitaab: In some areas, your story ‘A Safe Passage’ has some resemblance with ‘Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini (like the concept of 2 women being under the shelter of the antagonist, against the backdrop of a riot & finally the older one is forced to kill that man, whom she is closely related to, to save the younger one). Was this because of the commonality in women’s condition in every riot/war?
SB: In any situation of war or strife, women suffer in different ways than men. For women, the suffering can sometimes extend to a personal violation- rape or mutilation, which may or may not be the lot of a man. More importantly, in many cases women are marginalised, their opinion about their own safety and future is not asked for. We see that in Khaled Hosseini’s book (humbled by the comparison) but also in the myriad fiction and non-fiction narratives around the Partition of India.
In Safe Passage, the older woman goes through personal violation and is abandoned because of it. But she looks ahead and moves forward in a direction that serves her best interest at the time. In that sense, she is a survivor. However, when she sees her granddaughter being marginalised, she takes control to ensure that her own story is not repeated. So the story is about empowerment that comes through deep personal trauma.
Team Kitaab: Your stories aren’t restricted to a particular region or country. Each story is set in a different milieu. How do you decide or what all factors do you consider in deciding the milieu of a character or a story?
SB: I am fortunate to have lived in different countries, and travelled around the world. This has enabled me to experience different cultures, meet people from different communities, and see unique perspectives. More often, my story comes into being because of cultural nuance and not the other way around. An event may become a story because it occurred in a specific cultural context. Possibly in another culture, this event may have been commonplace and not worthy of a story.
E.g. my story Identity in the collection, Un-belonging, is set in post-WW2 Singapore. The story came to be because of the specific events that happened in Singapore at that time. That story may not have made sense if set in another milieu.
The factors I consider whilst setting a story in a specific cultural context is first, whether the ethos of the story would resonate with readers who don’t live in that culture or community. For this, the emotion or message underpinning the story should be universal.
The other factor would be the degree of authenticity that I can bring into the narrative. I usually would set my characters in a milieu that I am familiar with. I try not to write about cultures and communities that I haven’t experienced myself, since therein lies the danger of stereotyping.
Team Kitaab: As a woman writer, was it a conscious decision to have the central character of most of your stories as women who are dealing with different atrocities of their life?
SB: As a woman writer, I am closer to the emotions that a woman goes through and can write about this with a higher degree of authenticity than about a male character.
However, it is the narrative that drives the character’s gender. E.g. in my story Identity in the collection, Un-belonging, the gender of the protagonist is not clear because it is written in the first person. I built that character as a man in his late 20s. However, most readers thought that the character was a woman. So sometimes it is also about how the reader identifies with the character.
Team Kitaab: From ‘And Then the Planes Came’ to ‘Unbelonging,’ what changes do you think the writer in you had undergone?
SB: I believe that I have evolved as a writer over the years. And Then the Planes Came was my first story and I wrote it in the voice of a child. It, therefore, has a childlike, raw element to it. But as I continued my journey as a writer, I also started analysing everything I read. I learnt how to structure and develop a story and its characters. I believe that Unbelonging demonstrates a better understanding of the craft of storytelling.
Team Kitaab: Can you please share a bit about your next project?
SB: There are a couple of projects in the pipeline. Possibly another fiction as well as a non-fiction work.
Team Kitaab: Do we see you experimenting with genres? If yes, which ones would you be writing soon?
SB: I would absolutely like to explore different genres. Crime and historical fiction are my personal areas of interest, so I would like to be able to write in these genres. Non-fiction genres such as leadership, self-help, history, and travel are also some that I am passionate about. So watch this space.
Team Kitaab: Publishing in India has undergone a huge change in the last decade. What have your experiences been while getting published?
SB: I have had a great publishing experience with Readomania. I admire Readomania’s commitment to quality and the publisher’s savvy marketing skills, both of which are very important for a new writer. My publisher has challenged me to think differently and review my concepts to create a product that can resonate with the target audience without compromising quality.
Readomania also guides me on how to promote my book and facilitates marketing opportunities. I have learnt a lot about the journey that begins after the book is written and am happy to have had Readomania by my side during this journey.
Team Kitaab: In today’s digital world, the definition of plagiarism is becoming hazier. How do you define ‘plagiarism of an idea’? According to you, how far can a creative work be ‘inspired’ by another?
SB: There are many forms of plagiarism, some very clear and others not as much. With ready access to content in the digital world, it is not easy to identify plagiarism. Also when different works are based on the same true-life or a historical event, the themes and stories seem to be similar, but I would not define that as plagiarism.
I believe that one can be inspired by the works of others, however as a writer one needs to be cognizant of that source of inspiration and acknowledge it. Also, it is the ability of the writer to put a fresh spin or perspective on an idea used before, that makes his or her work different.
Team Kitaab: Any tips for aspiring writers aiming to get published?
SB: Keep writing. Don’t let the thought of publishing guide your writing. The most important and the hardest thing is to write and to write well. When you believe that you have written a story that is ready to be told, reach out to publishers.
Be very clear on who your target audience is and what you want your readers to take away from your story. The clearer your proposal is, the better chances you have of being considered.
Use innovative ways of pitching your story- a video, a slide show and even getting someone else to read it out, are some great ways to pitch your story to a publisher.
Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Publishers get thousands of manuscripts and it takes them time to review each.
Persevere through rejections. There may be some publishers that don’t respond and others that politely reject your proposal. It will feel personal because your work is your baby but actually the decision may have been such, because the publisher doesn’t believe that they can market in that segment, or because their business focus is to promote a specific genre.
Continue to review your story. I personally find new nuances in my stories whenever I re-read them. I see the potential to make it better through small tweaks.
And finally, believe in yourself and your story.