Damyanti Biswas says she finished writing her thriller in 15 drafts

Damyanti Biswas’s novel You Beneath Your Skin is a crime thriller, layered with issues of poverty, misogyny and corruption. The book revolves around psychiatrist Anjali Morgan, who finds herself in the midst of a gruesome crime spree in Delhi, where women are found dead and disfigured with acid. Anjali has a fraught personal life too. She is a single mother, having an affair with the police commissioner Jatin Bhatt. Earlier drafts of You Beneath Your Skin (Simon and Schuster) were long-listed for the Mslexia Novel Competition and the Bath Novel Award, and the writing was helped by a grant from the National Arts Council of Singapore. “The character of Anjali kept coming back to me,” says Damyanti, a Singapore-based author, who volunteers for non-profit organisations such as Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks. “When I first started writing the book, I never thought it would be a crime thriller. My mentor from The University of Birkbeck read it and said ‘oh there are lots of dead bodies, you should write it as one’!” says Damyanti. That led her to think over her story.

Damyanti wrote the novel over 15 drafts as she did not want to write just another book, but her best novel. “I was trying to fit in the jigsaw pieces as there are many moving elements in the story. The story has many characters and a wide setting.” She adds that the novel grew organically. As for choosing to set the story in Delhi, Damyanti says: “I pictured Anjali in Delhi as the place has these possibilities in terms of a huge migrant population, which means they carry their mindset from their home town. That is why many crimes against women are prevalent there. It seemed a natural setting to explore a changing India. Some parts are progressing, some are not and that is leading to a lot of different things. Crime is just a symptom of what is happening. So it is nice to explore the symptom and then you go onto the other things,” says Damyanti, who adds, “Fiction tells huge lies by telling huge truths.”

Damyanti, whose short stories have been published in anthologies and journals around the world, including Litro, Griffith Review, Bluestem and others, is one of the editors of the Forge Literary magazine. “For me, characters are important. Jatin is married but has no qualms. Anjali is being pursued by a married man, but blames herself. I thought that is an interesting way of looking at people and relationships. I did not explore the life of a happily married woman, but of a woman whose marriage has failed, who has a son with autism, and who is barely able to cope. Also, she is Indian-American, but presents herself as American. Jatin is patriarchal, corrupt and has a strong personality. His whole existence is a big open wound because this is not the life he chose. He married a woman who became a stepping stone to his career. He didn’t start out as corrupt. When you understand why someone is the way they are your perspective is widened.”

Damyanti Biswas says she finished writing her thriller in 15 drafts

Proceeds from the sale of her book will go to Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks. Damyanti, who is passionate about issues of gender and gender violence says, ‘acid attack victims’ is the wrong term to use. “They are survivors...and it takes some surviving. The attacks are not only because of spurned love. It is patriarchal. There is no translation of bahar muh dikhane ke layak nahi ho (you aren’t fit to show your face to society). It is an act to ruin a woman’s honour.”

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:38:01 PM |

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