Debalina Haldar talks about her debut novel, based on a traumatic personal experience.
Debalina Haldar has been writing poems and short stories since she was in Std. II. She transitioned into an author during the last year of her engineering course. But her book, The Female Ward, is not a chronicle of the happenings in yet another professional college. Rather, the focus is on ragging.
“I had to face it as a student,” she says, “and I know how demeaning it can be. And I also got to know the other face of ragging when a fake suicide attempt by a junior, and dirty politics at the college administration level got me arrested and sent to a correctional home.”
She saw the deplorable conditions under which poor women lodged in the home were living. “This was an India I didn’t know about, and now that I have seen it, and for a short while lived it, I realised that until rich India cared enough to tackle illiteracy and poverty it would never be able to call itself a developed nation.” Excerpts from an interview.
What prompted you to write this novel?
I have always loved the idea of having my novel published. I’ve had multiples ideas running in my head for quite some time now. I was also determined to highlight social issues associated with women but didn’t know the right way to start, couldn’t find the perfect plot.
Then this thing happened in my life. I don’t like to refer to that episode as something bad or negative. Rather, I’d say it was an opportunity that paved the way to meet so many women from diverse backgrounds. I got close to them and learned a lot about so many things.
Did writing help you overcome your own traumatic experience?
Writing has always helped me come out of depression. It is the best pain-killer and anti-depressant. Writing this book gave me my confidence back.
Usually, stories about ragging are from the viewpoint of the victim. Your book takes another perspective.
This book does blame the perpetuators of ragging in the first few chapters where Dishari, the protagonist, is abused, rebuked and often left alone to cry. The novel also looks at ragging as a very handy tool in the hands of students — something that can be used to settle scores with so-called perpetuators. A fake suicide attempt, combined with a ragging complaint, is enough to finish the careers of students. Whether it is tormenting a new student or slapping a ragging complaint against a senior, both can’t be justified. I’d say that the victim could be anyone.
How long did it take for you to complete this novel?
Six months during the final year of my college. I was totally determined and focused and words started flowing like, my editor used to say, a runaway horse. Editing was a truly enriching experience. My editor is Rebecca Lloyd, an award-winning author and a novelist herself. She taught me the little intricacies of fiction writing. It was fun but rigorous at the same time.
How easy or difficult was it to find a publisher?
Being a debut writer, I didn’t have too many options. I was rejected by a few publishers before Thames River Press, U.K., accepted my work.
How long have you been writing? What are you working on now?
I’ve been writing since I was in Std. II. I always loved writing about social issues. My short story, ‘By-lane Dreamers’, won the Critics’ Choice Award in Illuminati 2011. This was my first big achievement. My next work is an anthology of short stories. I am also doing my MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.
What has been your friends’ and family’s response to your writing?
My parents and sisters have always encouraged me in everything that I’ve done. I have wonderful friends who make my life meaningful. My mother is the pillar behind my every success. She says that she always knew that I’d be a writer! I was disorganised as a child. My writings would’ve been lost had my mother not kept them safe.