“It truly takes a village, a country, a continent, and a galaxy to nurture a writer and poet.”- Rochelle Potkar (Indian fictionist, poet and screenwriter)6 min read
Team Kitaab is in conversation with Indian fictionist, poet and screenwriter Rochelle Potkar as a part of the South Asian Women Writers Feature.
For the whole of March, we will be featuring South Asian Women Writers on Kitaab for the whole of March. You can read the editor’s note to know more about this.
Today, we are featuring Indian fictionist, poet and screenwriter, Rochelle Potkar. Rochelle is an alumna of Iowa’s International Writing Program (2015) and a Charles Wallace Writer’s fellow, University of Stirling (2017). She is the author of Four Degrees of Separation, Paper Asylum, Bombay Hangovers and a co-author of The Coordinates of Us/ सर्व अंशांतून आपण. Her poetry film Skirt showcased on Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland.
Her poetry readings also feature on Disney+ Hotstar/ Shorts-English. Her poems To Daraza won the 2018 Norton Girault Literary Prize UK, and The Girl from Lal Bazaar was shortlisted at the Gregory O’ Donoghue International Poetry Prize, 2018. Her first screenplay ‘A Brown coat’ was a quarterfinalist at the Atlanta Film Festival Screenwriting competition 2020. https://rochellepotkar.com.
Team Kitaab: How did writing happen to you?
Rochelle Potkar: Writing happened like a lightning bolt, one day, when I was wrapped in a corporate job. It happened with a genre I had no awareness of, being a commerce graduate and marketing post-graduate. Literary fiction and the God of Small Things.
And it continues to happen like a wild animal attacking me in the scented woods, a new viral flu that lasts for months and years, like an obsession that thought-worms and thought-worms. When I think I have had enough of poetry (though one can never), literary fiction jumps over me or then screenwriting, or then web series outlining… but there’s always some contagion.
Team Kitaab: If you had to introduce someone to your work/s, which books of yours would you ask them to start with?
Rochelle Potkar: I would surely invite readers to read Bombay Hangovers, that was written over a swathe of time, unplanned, and came into its own organic collation with the city and its citizenry being the common thread.
Paper Asylum – my book of haibun that was shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize 2020 and will bring new readers to this all-embracing form of haibun, that is also now being accepted into mainstream publishing.
And Four Degrees of Separation, my first book of free verse, that has many raw glinting poems that I would never write today in the voice I now have which is more refined and sober and has lost its greenhorn jagged edge for better and for ‘verse’. These books can be found on Amazon or the nearest bookstore.
Team Kitaab: Share five reads you would recommend from your region/ country.
Rochelle Potkar: The list that lingers with me of which 3 are diasporic.
1. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
2. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali
3. The Punch Magazine’s Anthology of New Writing: Select Short Stories by Women Writers (2021), edited by Shireen Quadri
4. Veils, Halos & Shackles — International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women, edited by Smita Sahay
5. Screenplay ‘The Sky is Pink’ by Shonali Bose
6. ‘Scripting Bollywood’ By Anubha Yadav
Team Kitaab: Your thoughts on Women Writing as a genre.
Rochelle Potkar: They say women write kitchen sink stuff or only about smaller orbits: of feminism, domesticity, family, love, and child-rearing and few write on war, famine, inequalities, global climate change, or business. Maybe because people think women inhabit smaller worlds. Detail-specific. Micro-patterned. What they don’t understand is that these ions and iotas make up for the bigger picture. So, the smallest detail is also the biggest narrative.
Microcosm reflects the macrocosm. I have found a default unconscious generic bias toward most women’s writings or themes of women-centricity, but I have also witnessed in equal measure this imbalance tilting each day toward equilibrium.
Team Kitaab: Please talk a bit about your publishing journey. The challenges you faced and the hurdles.
Rochelle Potkar: There are different challenges based on the forms of writing. Poetry and haibun face a different publishing and readership challenge, than say fiction or screenwriting – that I am yet to witness, as my works are in progress with the processes of publication and production. But even at the pitching stage, it’s different.
I take these challenges rather playfully than painfully, loving all my curves, especially my learning curve, which I suspect is exponential for each learner/practitioner.
It truly takes a village, a country, a continent, and a galaxy to nurture a writer and poet. From infectious peers to eager readers, festival curators to passionate publishers, astute book reviewers to inclusive editors to innovative collaborators, there are just too many people to list here. All have helped me reach the point I am at now and to the points, I will further reach.
What is most contagious is this creative nucleus. I have picked up a minimum of one inspiring trait from each of these people. I will also say my so-called detractors have driven me to diversify. Their exclusions instilled a fear of erasure in me, which has propelled me toward more daily productivity. I write more because of them. I should even be grateful to them.
Team Kitaab: How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
Rochelle Potkar: I work on multiple projects simultaneously, sometimes even in different art forms. I also read a lot in the forms I am writing in. So, there is a lot of parallel ingestion, incubation, research, and first drafts that keep at bay writer’s block. I also write whatever the hell I want to write – be it in genres that work in the market or not. That keeps me energized. I follow my creative compulsion, and always forgive my first drafts, calling them ‘forgivable first drafts’ (never! vomit drafts).
It’s about self-messaging and I think on a creative journey it’s a lot about: self-relationship. How you treat yourself along the ups and downs of the journey, which means that while you make time to celebrate each milestone, every day, you also don’t get bogged down with the gamut of setbacks, rejections, delays, ennui, gaps between two published books, bad timing, naysayers, and absurd roadhouses along the way.
Disclaimer: All pictures of the author used are credited to Suhit Bombaywala.
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