The journey, not the destination

Sampurna Chattarji recollects her path as a writer, traversing many different genres, before her first novel was published.

March 11, 2015 07:01 pm | Updated 07:01 pm IST - Bengaluru

Dogged determination is how Sampurna approached herretelling avatar. Photo: Murali Kumar K.

Dogged determination is how Sampurna approached herretelling avatar. Photo: Murali Kumar K.

A writer’s life is often marked by rejection, soul searching and constant creative expression. Sampurna Chattarji, as part of Toto Funds the Arts Creative Journeys Lecture Series held at The British Council, spoke of her journey as a children’s writer, poet, editor, translator and novelist.

Though it didn’t quite begin the way she hoped it would (she wanted to be a novelist, not a children’s writer) on looking back, Sampurna feels everything worked out quite well.

“In 1999, I quit advertising to remake myself as a writer. I thought I would be set for life,” said Sampurna, in her characteristic effervescent style. She recounted how she walked into the Penguin office to discuss writing a novel, but she was asked to meet the Puffin editor instead and was asked to write the Ladybird Indian titles. And with “utter disbelief” she agreed to write the Ladybird books. She did so with “dogged determination and not without delight”. Her translation Abol Tabol:The Nonsense World of Sukumar Ray and The Greatest Stories Ever Told was published in 2004.

“I accepted the re-arrangement of the ‘Grand Plan’ by vehemently disavowing the label ‘children’s writer’,” she said to laughs. Meanwhile, her poetry was being steadily published.

Three Brothers and the Flower of Gold, a modern re-telling of the Panchatantra and Mulla Nasruddin , a re-telling of the tales of Mulla Nasruddin, were published in 2008.

“The spectre lurked; the fear of being a creative re-teller and not a novelist,” said the author of 13 books.

In 2009, her first novel Rupture was published. “I still remember the sheer tactile pleasure of holding the book.” Her second novel, Land of the Well was published in 2012, which won her much acclaim. Then came Ela , her young adult fiction. “I fully inhabited the character of 13-year-old Ela.” A task, said Sampurna, wasn’t easy as Ela was a traumatised character. Sampurna’s four poetry titles include The Scorpion , Absent Muses , The Fried Frog and Sight May Strike you Blind . The range of her work shows how versatile Sampurna is and how she is a writer in the truest sense of the word, even as she confessed that her different writing selves were dictated by chance.

Her short story collection Dirty Love about Bombay/Mumbai was written with the intent of it being “literary, relevant and permanent” of exploring the depths of Mumbai, even though it has changed drastically over the years. Sampurna said throughout her journey, “Time was my co-author and delay my fellow pilgrim.”

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