BOOK Chandrima Pal’s debut novel, A Song For I, is as much about relationships as it is about music
Despite her hectic schedule as an editor in a leading newspaper, Chandrima Pal found time to write her debut novel A Song For I : “I used to return home from work at midnight and wrote everyday till 5 in the morning. Every time I finished a chapter, I had tears in my eyes,” says Chandrima.
A Song For I, launched at Reliance Time Out recently, tells the story of Ira and her difficult relationship with her father, an ambitious and gifted Indian classical musician. When Ira meets Vishnu, a rock musician, she finds herself at odds with two seemingly disparate worlds. “The different genres of music represent different views of life, besides the old and new order. Our generation grew up at a time when there was satellite television. It exposed us to different genres of music: pop, jazz and rock, which led to mini rebellions among youngsters. There was a conflict between classical and contemporary music.” Asked why she chose music as a theme, Chandrima says: “The novel is a story on relationships too. It depicts generations that are out of sync with each other. The musical backdrop, however, evolved with time. I grew up in a joint family. In joint families, at times, there are clashes between ideologies and life views. I wanted to capture this in my novel.” That said, Chandrima doesn’t believe that the two kinds of music should necessarily be seen in opposition. “One kind of music is spiritual, while the other is sensuous. It is not as if one is in conflict with the other. The conflict is in our minds. In my novel, the two worlds of music come together.”
Chandrima says her novel is deeply personal, yet not autobiographical. She agrees that often writers’ first novels are coloured by people and events from their lives. “I belong to a family of musicians who have been into music for generations. I have been surrounded by very interesting artistes.
There are many stories, many layers to them. So many books are being written about varied themes, why not about artistes who are so amazing?”
Artistes are complex too. This has been effectively captured by Chandrima. She says that she had the characters etched out before writing the book. “For me, the book is about the relationship among the characters: Ira’s relationship with her grandparents, her boyfriend and her father.
It shows different degrees of intimacy and of estrangement.” How, then, has she crafted relationships in A Song For I ? “The lack of communication often defines a relationship. When Ira and her father meet, they don’t speak. She scribbles notes to him when he’s not looking.” Chandrima put in a fair bit of research for her novel.
“The novel begins in 1940s Bengal. I researched on how the landed Bengali gentry reacted to the refugees. I also read up on the technical aspects of music. I don’t play the electric guitar, but I know of people who do. So I had to do some research on that.” Chandrima’s experience as a journalist helped her to structure the book. “I edit a tabloid. Every report, from a crime to a feature, is a story. It has to have a narrative to it. You need to hook the reader from the start.” Incidentally, Chandrima has also been a radio jockey with All India Radio (AIR), Kolkata. “The AIR archives from the 1930s and 1940s onwards are extensive!”
Writing, Chandrima says, is like playing music in some ways. A Song For I is an Amaryllis publication and is priced at Rs. 495