Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.
Photo: special arrangement
ANUMEHA YADAV-Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, whose debut novel has been shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2014, talks to Anumeha Yadav about how his work as a physician influences his writing.
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, is remarkable for a deep and masterful observation of lives and descriptions of a tribal village. The author, a doctor with the government of Jharkhand, lives in Pakur along the border with West Bengal. With the book being shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2014, Shekhar talks about how his work as a doctor influences his writing. Excerpts:
What does being shortlisted for The Hindu Prize 2014 mean to you?
I think it means that something good is being expected of me. So I should try to work harder and write better books.
How did your closeness, or distance, from the lives of the people you have described affect your writing?
The Santhal village I have shown in my novel is how I see my village Kishoripur — where I revised Rupi Baskey — and my hometown, Ghatsila — where I wrote the book — are just 40 km apart. We were always at our village every 10-15 days. Sometimes I would be at Kishoripur in the morning and return to Ghatsila in the evening. There was no question of being close or distant here. I was both. What I have written in Rupi Baskey is from my own life.
How do you compare being observant as a doctor to being observant as a writer? When I was a house surgeon in Jamshedpur, my colleagues and I saw a very fair young lady in a ward. Our immediate response was: Is this lady really this fair or is she anaemic? You won’t get such a response from ordinary people; only from medicos. Doctors pay attention to the minutiae, the finer details. That is, I think, the beauty of being a doctor.
While writing Rupi Baskey, though, I felt neither a doctor nor a writer. I used my experience as a doctor in writing the childbirth scene in Chapter 1, but never tried to consciously put my knowledge of medical sciences into the book. I was not comfortable thinking of myself as a writer then. In fact, I am still not comfortable being called a writer. What you read in this book is more a person telling another person’s story. And no, I never felt like diagnosing Rupi’s ailment. There would have been no mystery then.
What is your writing routine like? What about the process of publication?
The less said about my writing and revising routine the better. I am not a disciplined writer. Although, while writing Rupi Baskey, I was a bit more focused than I normally am. Now, however, I have returned to my lazy ways. I don’t know when my next book or short story is going to come. I write only when I have something to write.
As for how the book was published, well, I sent the usual synopsis and first 50 pages to various agents and publishers, including Aleph. My package was addressed to David Davidar. Two months later, I received an e-mail from Ravi Singh — then the publishing director of Aleph — saying that Rupi Baskey had been accepted. And I lost sleep after that.
Did you write the short story ‘Adivasis Will Not Dance’ in The Dhauli Review earlier this year before or after Rupi Baskey?
I wrote that in 2013 after there the foundation stone was laid for a thermal power project in Jharkhand. I thought: ‘thermal power projects located in other states take their coal from Jharkhand; hydroelectric power projects have their dams in Jharkhand; but people in Jharkhand do not have electricity’. I find this tremendously unfair.
Do you have any other interests apart from writing?
My favourite activities are sleeping and eating. I sleep a lot; I can fall asleep in buses, trains, anywhere. I am a glutton. I find eating therapeutic. If I am happy, I eat; if I am upset, I eat. At 1.00 a.m., when people are tucked into their beds, you will find me munching on kaju barfi, chocolate, or potato chips, or stirring a glass of nimboo paani.
I love watching films. I want to learn how to knit; but all I have done so far is to buy a ball of yarn (the end of which I could not find, so I cut the yarn at a random point) and a pair of no. 10 knitting needles, and save knitting videos on my YouTube. I think I need to stop being so lazy.
The Hindu Prize 2014 will be awarded on January 17, 2015, during The Hindu Lit for Life (January 16, 17 & 18, 2015.)Courtesy:TheHindu.