Launch of Shuvashree Ghosh’s debut novel Across Borders

The launch of her debut novel Across Borders, equally, was the launch of her “most cherished dream”, said Shuvashree Ghosh, while introducing the tale of her roots to Chennai audiences at a recent Madras Book Club gathering.

Ghosh had taken a big step to achieve this dream — namely, a break from a professional career that spanned 19 years and included managerial roles in companies such as Jet Airways and ITC Sheraton Hotels. It had then taken her 15 months to write Across Borders.

The novel begins in a small Assam town in pre-Independence India and follows the story of Maya, whose life criss-crosses between political and geographical borders, and such dangers as the terrible 1964 Dacca riots.

Book launches are increasingly an integral part of the Chennai cultural landscape, and offer stimulating opportunities for authors and readers to connect. For her launch, Ghosh opened out the discussion to the larger issues of her book, for which she picked two panellists  — the first being Lt. Gen.(retd.)V.R. Raghavan, the chief guest of the evening. 

After complimenting Ghosh on “crossing a border herself into becoming a published author”, the retired general scrutinised the term “borders”. He talked eruditely of the different kinds of borders that India shares with her neighbours, whether the controlled border with Pakistan or the open border with Nepal. He discussed the migration of humans across borders and the genesis of India’s involvement in the Bangladesh war of liberation.

The empowerment of women was one of the factors that Ghosh wished to highlight in her novel — and this was a subject discussed by senior journalist Sushila Ravindranath who received the first copy of the book. Empowerment, suggested Ravindranath, was essentially the creation of an environment where women could choose to lead the life they wanted — and remains an issue that has continued relevance.

To give audiences a flavour of the novel’s tone and content, Kaveri Lalchand read out two excerpts; first, from the early part of the book, when Maya’s father takes a second wife, an act that dramatically changes the protagonist’s life; next, a selection from the middle, dealing with the riots.

There was then time only for a couple of audience questions, the first of which was a query about the process of selecting the characters’ names. Ghosh replied that the issues she wanted to discuss were at the forefront of the writing, names didn’t matter as much. However, as “all of my characters are from real life,” she did try and pick fictional monikers that in some way matched the real names.

The other question dealt with her motivation in writing the book; Ghosh described how she specifically wanted to use a past historical situation to talk about issues from a woman’s perspective.

Finally, B.S. Raghavan, former Chief Secretary of Tripura, summed up the issues raised over the course of the evening, including the larger socio-political construct in which the book is set.

Ghosh — who has already launched the book in Kolkata — shared that she found the Chennai audience very receptive. As for future plans, “I would like to return to a regular job but I have two more books in mind” — including a sequel to Across Borders.