Suparna Chatterjee tells Sravasti Datta she loves to write simple stories thatare, at their core, very Bengali
With her doll-like face, large eyes and the red bindi on her forehead, Suparna Chatterjee looks every bit the quintessential Bengali. In fact so strong is her sense of roots — despite having lived in three different continents — that it's one of her strengths as a writer. Her debut novel “The All Bengali Crime Detectives” (Rupa, Rs. 150) provides a word picture of the sights and scenes of Kolkata, Chatterjee's birth place. Chatterjee, though settled in Bangalore, still remembers her childhood days growing up in the City of Joy. “This novel is a release of nostalgia I felt for home.”
The Chemistry graduate's sojourns in the United States, France and Singapore made her think of home like she never did before. “Staying away from home gave me a different perspective. The sheer charm of it became more apparent.”
Suparna has crafted endearing stories of individual characters around the central story. Four recently retired men turn detectives when a robbery, involving them, occurs in their otherwise peaceful and friendly neighbourhood. While the four try to solve the case, other issues crop up: finding a perfect match for a dusky-complexioned girl and rivalry over organising Durga Puja are some of them.
“I was sure I didn't want to write a stereotypical detective novel. I chose retired, middle class men as my main characters and not a smart, savvy detective.” A slight pause later, Suparna breaks into smiles. “The unlikeliest detective I could think of was my father. He has an eccentric sense of humour. His group of friends — incidentally all of them are avid bridge players — are equally interesting. I knew that by basing my characters on them, it would open up comic possibilities of epic proportions.”
Suparna believes that Bangaloreans will be able to relate easily to her novel. “Many readers in Bangalore told me they loved the book, much to my surprise. They said that even though they hadn't visited Kolkata, the book transported them there.”
Endings are comforting
Some of the stories in the novel have no conclusion. Most readers are waiting for the sequel to “The All Bengali Crime Detectives”. Suparna offers another explanation. “We look for logical endings because it's comforting. But life as we know it has no finite end. Each incident or event is complete in itself.”
Indeed, Suparna tells profound stories through a simple style. I ask her how she achieves this. “Writing comes to me naturally. It's effortless.” On further probing, I learn that she has learned the sitar for ten years. She likes Indian and Western classical music. “And a bit of Pink Floyd,” she adds with effect.
Writing, for Suparna, was initially a hobby. She enjoyed writing short stories, poems and plays. By and by, Suparna's writing got recognised. Her play “Anand and Benaifer” is another feather in her cap. “I am part of the Art of Living Foundation. I was asked to write a play for their ‘Yes plus' programme within ten days! It was a challenging production. It was a musical with 40 characters.” The play was well received. Suparna recounts: “The play is about Anand, a Tamil Brahmin, and Benaifer, a Parsi girl, who fall in love and decide to get married. I remember watching the play, flanked on my left by Tamilians and on my right by Parsis who alternately kept breaking out into peals of laughter.”
Apart from the writings of Amitava Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri and J.K. Rowling, Suparna is inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the Bhagavad Gita. The stories written in ancient Indian literature are simple and startlingly philosophical. “‘Matrix' and ‘Inception' are all inspired by Indian literature. We have a vast bank of such stories, we must never forget them.”
Suparna admires the way culture and language has been preserved in South India. “The North can learn so much from the people here.”