1. How did the idea of this book come to you?
I grew up in the 70s and 80s, decades that witnessed issues that impacted the nation then and continue till now – Emergency, Punjab insurgency, Ram Janambhoomi movement, Mandal Commission, etc. In my view these were not necessarily results of any social discord and differences but driven by political compulsions and greed. Each of this had strong impact on the common man, and mostly adverse. I began writing this book to depict how common men, who had a lot of faith in the political system, gradually became disillusioned with the same system as they became direct or indirect victims of these events. However in its final form, after rounds of editing, the book emerged as a story around partition of Bengal, the journey of a woman through it, endurance of pain and also all of what I have explained above – and through a common thread a representation of how things haven’t changed all these years.
2. What kind of research did you do for this book?
In terms of subjects dealt, my book can be broadly divided into two parts – Pre 1971 Bangladesh and undivided Bengal; and Post 1971 India till Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. For the first part I read ‘History of Bangladesh by Willem van Schendel’, ‘1971 – A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh by Srinath Raghavan’ and ‘My People Uprooted – An Exodus of Hindus from East Pakistan and Bangladesh by Tathagata Roy’. I bought Mr. Roy’s book after I finished writing, but found a lot of excerpts available on web as part of articles and commentaries. For the second part I read ‘India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha’, ‘The Sanjay Story by Vinod Mehta’ and ‘Emergency Retold by Kuldip Nayar’. Also, I did a lot of reading on Wikipedia and web for the second part. Having closely watched and experienced the events in the second part, it was not completely alien to me.
3. It’s an inspiring tale and equally moving as well with a strong woman character. How did you sketch such a character?
While writing I realized that it is not easy to comprehensively portray faith in political system, it is easier to illustrate it through faith in a politician who could be a strong symbol of the system. The politician obviously had to be Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I needed a character who had strong reasons to have complete trust in Mrs. Gandhi so that the disillusionment came out strong, and though a common man he or she should not pale in front of Mrs. Gandhi’s strong character. I decided to use Bangladesh independence as a reason for the character’s deep regards and allegiance to Mrs. Gandhi. As I took the story back to show why Bangladesh formation meant so much to the character and in my effort to build a character who wouldn’t pale in front of Mrs. Gandhi emerged Damyanti, the protagonist. All through my attempt was to show a strong and humane person, who could falter but rise from there.
4. The book is an allegorical work, was it the real thought behind this book? You wanted it to be allegorical? Because it certainly reminded me of Rajmohan’s Wife.
It surely is and that might be evident from what I have mentioned earlier. Like many of my generation, I have very strong views on events described in the book. These influenced and altered the course of our nation. How much was right or wrong is a separate debate. But the intentions were mostly not right and especially the way these were carried out. Then, that is my view and the book reflects that. The events, characters and incidents are all representative of issues that we continue to grapple with. A consistent theme in the book is that ‘borders don’t define outsiders’.
5. How long did it take for you to pen this novel and how many edits did it go through?
It took me two years to finish writing. I was advised to submit my manuscript to literary agents and not directly to publishers and was given names of two leading ones. I submitted to Red Ink and decided to wait for some time before sending it to the other. Fortunately, Red Ink liked my work and expressed interest to work with me. I worked with Sharvani at Red Ink for more than a year and a half editing the manuscript. My original manuscript was almost one third more than what you see the book as, and that was largely history, real events detailed more elaborately and at times my own analysis. The team felt that I should reduce all of that and just focus on the journey of Damyanti, as too much detail and analyses were killing a beautiful underlying story. In order to get another view, the manuscript was handed to Aanchal, who had just finished a successful book on partition – ‘Remnants of a Separation’. I had an hour long call with her and she reemphasized that the history and detail would take the reader away from the story. So, I spent a lot of time redoing the book after removing those details and at times reducing pages into paragraphs. Also, my initial manuscript started with the 1971 war, went into flashback, came back to 1971 and progressed. The editors felt that the opening was so strong that in the mind of the reader the book might finish midway when the story comes back to 1971. I redid the whole book as a complete flashback from Babri Masjid demolition. It took another six months of editing with Stuti of TARA after they decided to publish. In total it took me almost five years from the start to publishing.
6. Are there more historical fictions in pipeline for hungry readers like me?
I have submitted a manuscript for evaluation and am awaiting feedback. I have tried writing through a story the limited relevance that religion and most importantly the preachers should have in our lives. The story is against the backdrop of history, showcasing events of the past.
7. Did you face hassles while pitching your book to the publishers?
Since Red Ink has signed me as an author with them, finding a publisher was their responsibility. I am sure there were hassles, but I was not exposed to that. It was handled by Anuj Bahri.
8. What’s the one writing and marketing advice you would like to give the newbie or aspiring writers?
Oh! I am the wrong person to give advice to newbies. They are all so young and smarter. I wrote ‘Everything and Nothing’ with twenty five years of corporate life behind me. My challenges, anxieties are bound to be different. Probably, I write from a more secure zone. As one of my editors told me, I’d like to tell the aspiring writers that they should write for themselves, something that makes them happy, and not keeping an audience in mind. Also, they should enjoy the journey of creating something. On marketing – I have twenty five years of sales experience in the Information Technology Industry, but funnily I fail to understand how book marketing works. I am trying to unravel that.
9. What are the 5 things you can’t leave your house without?
Mobile phone, wallet, handkerchief, a bit of confidence and a lot of positivity.
10. Name the authors who inspire you.
It is very difficult for me to answer that. I have rarely read a book for its author, and I include management books in that. I have always read a book for the subject dealt or the outline of the story. Many of the books that I have really enjoyed have been first person accounts of nondescript people. An all-time favourite has been ‘Roots by Alex Haley’, but doesn’t mean I would pick another book if he had written one.
11. An author you would like to go out on a dinner date with?
If it was possible I would have loved to go out for dinner with Lee Falk, the creator of Phantom comic books. It is a childhood fascination. I had the entire collection with me, sadly I lost all of them to rats.
12. If the book is adapted for screen who is apt to play the role of Damyanti according to you? And who should direct the film?
Maybe Vidya Balan as Damyanti with Sanjay Leela Bhansali as the Director.
To read the book review click – Everything and Nothing by Nilotpal Kumar Dutta
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