Damyanti Biswas in Conversation
Book Title : "You Beneath Your Skin"
1. “Sometimes, we do not get a chance to thank each one who has helped us in our Journey.” Let the readers get a chance to know about all the important people who have played a part in this Author Journey of Yours.
In my journey of writing, the formative role has been that of my husband, who first encouraged me to write, and carted me around from one creative writing workshop to another. He continues to make time and space for me to write and listens to me rant about my lack of talent/ inspiration/ what-have-you. So many writing teachers and peers have helped me along and it would take a page to name all of them, but my first was Sharon Bakar, and it was in her classes in Malaysia that I gave myself permission to write. The Forge writing group has also been wonderful in the peer reviews and advice I have received over the years.
2. You have chosen such a sensitive topic for your book ‘You Beneath Your Skin’. Was there any incident which compelled your thoughts to come up with this book? Can you share a few lines from your book and maybe give a bit of background?
I did not choose the topic, it chose me. The novel started from Anjali Morgan’s character, a single mother coping with her profession, mothering an autistic son, and a long-term illicit affair she feels guilty about but is powerless to break away from.
Hospitals were supposed to be quiet, but each time Anjali stepped into any of the lobbies of the Safdarjung Hospital, it seemed like a marketplace or a railway station with its deluge of signboards, noise, people.
India’s poor flocked here for treatment by qualified doctors, offered free of charge, but like all government hospitals in the country, its infrastructure didn’t compare with that of those in the private sector. Families accompanying patients spread blankets on the floor, and if they couldn’t find a spot in the hospital corridors, they set up tiny camps in the open and burned small fires to keep warm. This evening, at the main exit, Anjali came across security guards warming their hands over one such fire, exchanging paan, beedi, jokes, their raucous laughter mingling with honks from cars and buses on the busy road just outside the hospital walls. From the lobby behind her came a tang of air freshener, disinfectant, and the low hum of desperation and grief.
Eighteen days to Christmas. The air flicked at her collar with chill fingers. Though Delhi would never see snow, it matched a number of other cities in terms of the cold, and the smog that now crawled in from all directions shrouded the hospital in its breath. Anjali felt a twinge of misgiving about reaching her car parked at the back of the hospital. Since her trip to the morgue two weeks ago, her workplace didn’t feel as secure.
I wrote Anjali in the background of her work as a psychologist, and in the background of New Delhi. Passages like the one above came to me in various writing exercises, and I stitched them together.
3. Who is the favourite character from your book and why?
I don’t know if I have a favourite, but I could mention Jatin, because his was the most challenging character to write. He’s a grey character. There are things about him to dislike, and things to like—because though he’s deeply patriarchal, there are shades of emotion, sensitivity and softness in him.
- Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
I’m working on a literary thriller set in Mumbai about a police inspector and a bar dancer who finds that several of her colleagues have gone missing after they were all sent on mysterious assignments.
1. Favorite Place, Person, Food, beverage….
Home, Husband, Lentils, Water
2. Your other Talents….
3. Your First Love….
4. Favorite Quote…..
“Live Frugally on Surprise”—Alice Walker
5. Favorite Character from a book…
Sydney Carton from a Tale of Two Cities, because of how much I cried over his death as a twelve-year old.
What if Round.
1. What if you had to live with only three things all your life, what would the three things be?
A tab with a stylus for all my reading and writing.
2. What if you were given the power to change one thing from this world, what would you change?
I’d change the hearts of all leaders in this world—corporate, religious, political—fill them with compassion.
3. What if you had all the money in this world, what would you do first?
Spend my life finding ways to give it all away.
- According to you which are the 5 books, everyone should read and also who are your top 3 Authors and what impact they had in your journey as a writer??
I don’t know if I can recommend ‘should-reads.’ The beauty of books is that there’s a book for every kind of reader, and a reader for every kind of book. My top books and authors keep changing as I grow as a person and a writer, and my perspective changes.
I’ve loved Hemingway’s Old man and the Sea, and it is a love that has stood the test of time. I like books by Kate Atkinson, the work of Amy Hempel, Margaret Atwood, and so many many more. I love Manto and Tagore, and Rohinton Mistry. It is very hard to limit myself to three authors or five books. My reading is very varied, and in some ways, indiscriminate—I read literary fiction, fantasy, crime, some romance, non-fiction. I’m yet to come into myself as a writer, and cannot trace influences other than to say that because I read both literary and genre, my writing tends to be a blend of both, which leads me to difficult places while trying to get a story down on paper.
- Tell us a bit about your family, likes and dislikes as a person .
My husband, his family, my parents—all of them hard-working, honest folk who have built their own lives from scratch. This is perhaps why I respect hard work, compassion, loyalty, and integrity. My dislikes have to be the opposites of these. I love sunny days, lonely beaches, and greenery, and have been accused of getting along better with plants and animals than humans.
- Could you share few tips for Young Authors?
- When you start writing, figure out why—whether it is for yourself, because you want to earn a name and money, or want to achieve the appreciation of peers. Once your goals are clear, you will be saved disappointments, and can plan your priorities better. Most writers aim for all three, and are disappointed because they can’t have them all—most successful authors achieve two of these. Not many achieve all three.
- Reading leads to writing. If you’re a reader you learn a lot through osmosis. If you don’t read, it will show in your work.
- It is good at the initial stages to try and write like the writers you admire, but only as an exercise in craft. Try to be as honest as possible to yourself.
- Always write the first draft for yourself and no one else. Find good sources of feedback, but only send something for feedback after you’ve let it rest for a while, and written a second draft. Rarely does a first draft convey everything you’re trying to say, and letting it alone for a while will give you the objectivity to improve it.
- Take advice from authors, but do not expect all of it to work for you. Choose what works for you and apply that to your craft and your writing life. That’s the journey—each writer figures out what his or her priorities and processes are. Same goes for all the points above—all of this is one writer’s opinion. Mine. Use only what speaks to you.
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