Chennai author Atrayee Bhattacharya copes with pandemic worries through satire, in ‘Life with a Pinch of Salt’

The book is an anthology inspired by the real-life experiences of the autho

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Life with a Pinch of Salt is Atrayee’s third book. She started working on it during the initial days of the lockdown. “It took me one- and-a-half years to finish. I had a few stories ready and a few ideas in my head when I started. I used my characters to express my worries caused by the pandemic. It was a cathartic experience for me,” she says.

Excerpts from an email interview

How did you find your love for storytelling?

If there is anything that keeps me sane and happy behind the façade of this work-life balance, it is writing fiction. In 1994, my father was transferred to Jodhpur from Kolkata. In the fear of a child forgetting her roots, my maternal uncle handed me a bundle of Bengali storybooks. Thakurmar Jhuli, Sunil Gangophadhay’s anthologies for children and Shibram Chakraborty’s satirical tales started my reading habit. And gradually, when English became my mother tongue (in disguise), I fell in love with Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. Once my reading journey was on track, I found my knack for writing too. Life has been good, bad and sometimes even ugly. My job makes me interact with a motley of humans and their emotions. I observe. I analyse. And then whenever I get bogged down, I take a slice of reality and dip it into the sauce of my imagination.

Tell us about the characters in your book.

In Life with a Pinch Of Salt, every character is cocooned inside their version of what is moral or immoral. We always think that a human goes into fright or flight mode in case of an emergency. However, we often overlook the human ability to accept the unforeseen and unkind offerings of life, and carve a befitting reply.

Hollowed wallets, futile desires, fickle beliefs; we all are basking in our insecurities and this book is going to hold a mirror to the hypocrisy we all reap daily.

Can you explain your creative process? What inspires you to write?

There is no bigger inspiration than life. One of my habits (for good or bad) is observing people and their behaviours very keenly. On a lighter note, there were times when people mistook me for a stalker or something similar maybe.

But seriously, I try to make all my characters relatable. Common. Unknown or disregarded faces in the crowd of a common man, all trying to interpret life with a pinch of salt. For example, Nandu, the protagonist of my opening story, A Pursuit of Paithani, took birth during my sister-in-law’s wedding. A woman, always belittled by her peers, goes to an unimagined extreme just for a beautiful Paithani saree. The character Purushottam represents the irony of fate. P.S. You Won’t Die is influenced by the present COVID-19 situation.

What were the major challenges you faced in the process?

Writing is not a challenge as such. Crafting a relatable storyline forms the crux of satire and I am happy to take that challenge time and again. On the same note, publishing in today’s market becomes the biggest challenge. One tends to get swept by the so-called ‘best publishing house’ proclamation. Choosing a more transparent publisher remains the key.

Recent favourite books?

Oh, there are so many. My recent favourite is A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. When I closed the book, I felt like closing a human, made of flesh and blood. The second would be All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It is the most beautiful story I’ve read about the Second World War timeline.

What is in the pipeline?

I am thinking of writing a character similar to a current actress in the news — dripping with narcissism, loud and apparent in pulling everybody down. Jokes apart, another crime fiction is in the making. But not sure, satire can draw me to it anytime!

Source – The Hindu

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