From the other side

Through her stories, Anita Agnihotri listens to those who often go unheard

Updated - September 13, 2014 04:49 pm IST

Published - September 12, 2014 09:33 pm IST

Anita Agnihotri’s short stories, originally written in Bengali, evoke real, almost raw images – of poverty, injustice and human suffering.

Anita Agnihotri’s short stories, originally written in Bengali, evoke real, almost raw images – of poverty, injustice and human suffering.

Translated by Arunava Sinha, Anita Agnihotri’s short stories, originally written in Bengali, evoke real, almost raw images – of poverty, injustice and human suffering. The details she works with make her characters come alive and there is a certain universal appeal to her plots. Translated into several languages including English, Agnihotri has dabbled in almost all forms of fiction and non-fiction writing, and her collection “Sabotage”, is yet another addition to her growing repertoire.

A little about this collection and the common thread that runs through these stories?

Most of the stories in Sabotage are essentially my recent works, though one or two are older ones. These were jointly selected by Arunava Sinha and I. He's very good, one of the most prolific translators of our times. He is excellent in understanding the nuances of the story and has no problems switching between languages.

The focus we have tried to keep is political. Each story talks about different things, but the common thread is of people getting caught in complex waves of events beyond their control, and I have tried to write from the perspective of the voices not heard.

Tell us why you write and how you write these stories?

I am not a person who actively plots short stories. I try to write with empathy, with the strength of my anger, and I don't actively try to bring it to the surface, but sometimes it spills over. I have seen life from many angles, and apart from the trips for work,

I travel a lot on my own too. I have travelled through the villages of Orissa, Jharkhand and I think that some of their stories need to be documented.

I am very actively Indian in my thinking and my travels have influenced me a lot. I think there is no way of sitting at a desk and writing. I need to meet people, I strongly connect to them, and that is how I write.

And you have been writing across forms and styles from a very young age...

Yes, started as poet, when I was very young, around six or seven. I’d write for Sandesh in Bengal, and from the age of 13 to 18, whatever I sent to them was published. That was a great way of pampering me!

And then, the great Bengali writer Bimal Kar told me that I must choose to concentrate on either poetry or prose.

I have written around 120 stories by now, six novels and about six volumes of poetry. I also write for children

What kind of writing does a short story demand?

For me, a short story is about the intensity of the moment. Sometimes, I just sit down with a pen and paper and write the whole story.

For example, in this collection, “Nameless”, a story about a few workers who get washed away and are never even acknowledged, was written like that, over a certain anger I felt. It was written around 20 years ago. Short stories are come from a certain intensity, within me and on the page.

How does your job as a member of the Indian Administrative Service influence your writing?

I’m not what you would call a career bureaucrat. I joined the service in 1980, and went to Jharkhand.

I had thought that I would be thrown out in months, but I stayed, and in the government, if you are fairly hard working and glued to the cause, if you stay, you move up the ladder.

But I always have these conflicts, where I wonder which side I am on, the administrators or other side. I often try and look at how the displaced see at the State. Being an administrator is my job, and I am committed to it, and try to deliver with efficiency and competence, but I look forward to a time when I’m not working, and can spend my time writing and travelling through villages and meeting people.

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