It's time for another interview, and today we have the pleasure of speaking to historical author Debasree Banerjee.
PB: Hi! Welcome to pjbermanbooks.com. Tell us a bit about your background.
DB: Hello! I’m Debasree Banerjee, a mechanical engineer serving in a government owned multi-purpose power generating company based in eastern India. India has always been famous for being so culturally diverse, and it wouldn’t be out of the way if I added that I’m a Bengali, since ours is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation, so a lot about us is often attributed to our native place (although I think it’s the same everywhere). So, that kind of gives me a natural inclination towards arts, philosophy and literature; they say Bengalis have it in their genes - need I remind you about Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda or Satyajit Ray? I’m also a mom to a five-year-old boy, which has by far, been the most important aspect of my existence ever since before he was born.
PB: I can relate to that! I have a two year old daughter. My life has been so much more meaningful since her birth. What made you decide to become an author?
DB: I like calling myself a ‘cinephile’. I’ve been obsessed with story-telling and film-making although I hail from an entirely different background. My love for films has often compelled me to keep on returning to watch the same movie over and over, up to a time when I’m done with the story part, and more into the technicality. This led to an amount of curiosity to start thinking of films from the opposite side, i.e. from the makers’ end. Obviously, the first thing that came to me was the point of conception of any film, i.e. the script and consequently, the screenplay. I began dreaming about telling my stories with the maximum visualization of what I wanted to convey.
There are a list of great books I’ve read and great movies I’ve watched, which have been instrumental to the way I’ve done my writing. All of that has left indelible marks on my thought process, but first and foremost, I wanted the world to discover the same magic I did, when I stepped inside the Romain Rolland Library in Pondicherry as a pigtailed little four-year-old, who was enchanted by the new world she’d been ushered into by her father.
Technically speaking, I’d already published an e-book on Kindle back in 2016. That was a collection of short stories and a couple of novellas. However, I never quite got seriously into campaigning and promoting the book, which is titled ‘Death through a Kaleidoscope’. If you read those stories, you can still feel the cinematic appeal of the same.
So, to sum up what really inspired me to become an author, full scale, that is, with publication in hard copy as well, it was my own passion for reading and movies, and my endeavour to rekindle the habit of reading which has sadly taken a backseat now, thanks to abundant usage of social media. That, in my view, is the prelude to a lot of good things like self-discovery and creativity.
PB: When did you first start writing?
DB: If you met me now, you’d find me quite expressive and outgoing, articulate and vocal about my views. But that wasn’t me as a child. I was somewhat precocious (I mean it in a good sense though). I began understanding values, traditions, and concepts like empathy and justice, before I turned five. That somehow prevented me from having a lot of pleasures the other children my age had. They say, ignorance is bliss, and to sum up my experience, I’d say that I was destined to be deprived of that boon. As it is natural, the things I observed, the stories I read, and whatever way I interpreted and stored them in my mind, weighed me down as a kid. Remember, a five year old can’t be lucid and expressive about these things.
That kept growing until it was the year 2014 and I was faced with the happiest period of my life that turned into a period of great personal crisis. As you can see from the name of my earlier e-book, a lot of my existence dwelled upon my obsession with death, and that too, during my pregnancy, which was supposed to be a period that required me to be happy and optimistic. I was rudely thrown into a world of deep depression-anxiety during the fifth month of pregnancy, and began suffering from severe ‘thanatophobia’ and dystopian thoughts, among a lot of other things.
Mental illness is still a taboo in today’s society, and I obviously didn’t encounter too many people who could give me a patient hearing and allay my anxiety in any way. It was a period when I couldn’t take medicines, and the streak remained for a long time even after childbirth. That was the turning point of my life, and I was transformed into a serious writer from a sporadic one.
PB: I'm very sorry to hear that you suffered that way. I have witnessed first hand the effects that mental illness can have. I commend you for finding the strength to turn it into motivation. What was the first story you can remember writing?
DB: I believe it was when I was five, and it was an imitation of a Japanese folk tale. It told the story of a thief who’d stolen a pearl from the Gods. I don’t remember much more about it.
PB: When you begin writing a new story, do you always know the ending?
DB: Since I tend to visualize my stories like films, I weirdly always know the ending, i.e. the kind of shot I’d like it to fade out to, had it been a film. I may not know the beginning and the middle, but the ending, I always do.
PB: If you could meet any of your characters, who would you meet and what would you say to them?
DB: If I could really meet any of my characters, I’d definitely want to meet Kuhlbert Artz from A Place Called Eden. I structured his character with such love and care, that he is almost the reflection of a near-perfect human being. He knows that he owes so much to humanity, but he takes his responsibilities with sensibility and such grace, that I bet even you’d fall in love with him, if you read the book. I’d say that I love him, if I ever met the man.
PB: Tell us about A Place Called Eden.
DB: ‘A Place Called Eden’ is the term Kuhlbert Artz uses symbolically, for all things bright and beautiful, pure and innocent. The book is my way of looking at the WW2 in a different perspective, which is much beyond Allies versus Axis Powers. I wanted to look into the human aspect of it, albeit relieving the readers of burdening themselves with the facts about Jewish genocide, something that they all have probably read about a lot. I wanted the story to be multi-angular, to raise questions among readers, so as to motivate them to do further reading, if the subject appealed to them.
I wanted to show that not all of the Germans supported Fascism, and neither were all people of Jewish parentage so stoic in their stand against it. Our thoughts have been oriented in a way that has made us polarize our views about the WW2 being essentially a war between the good and the evil. The oft-repeated motifs have played a pivotal role in the process.
A Place called Eden is my effort towards busting this myth, and also to open some leads for further reading by interested readers. Reading, in my view, has incredible therapeutic effects.
PB: As a person with Jewish ancestry dotted across Germany, Austria and Poland, I say that your message is something very important to point out. We are all very aware that we don't always support the actions of our governments, but we often forget to judge the people of the past by the same standards. We are often quick to put people in boxes based on their ethnicity or nationality, but these factors often don't tell us who people really are. Where did the idea for the book come from?
DB: The story was first written as a screenplay, which I submitted to an international contest. It didn’t reach the finals, although went further than I’d hoped for. The story was demanding and the research was very exhausting. Although I had other works in the pipeline, I decided to pick up this story and reshape it into a novel. And believe me, it was so difficult, it took me nearly six years to get it done!
PB: Of all your achievements, which are you most proud of?
DB: If you ask me of my literary achievements, I’m proud for having been able to complete writing this novel, which, at a point of time, looked like the most impossible feat to me. But if you ask me considering everything, I’m proudest of having defeated my depression-anxiety without prescription medication. I’ve since discovered in myself a deep-rooted spiritualism, and a penchant for understanding theology.
PB: What is your favourite book series to read and why?
DB: My favourite book series till date, have been quite varied. I loved Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe, and C.J. Lewis’ Narnia series. They were like the kind of thing I grew up on. I revelled in Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five were like my childhood friends. There is this Bengali author, Shashtipada Chattopadhyay, who wrote ‘Pandav Goyenda’ series, fashioned after Blyton’s Famous Five, and it was simply marvellous. Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bakshi was unparalleled. John Le Carre’s ‘Smiley’ series was equally brilliant. Ken Follett’s Century series is beautiful, and so is Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series. And then, I was introduced to the world of Harry Potter, which, I believe doesn’t need any further discourse about its ability to enthral readers from all age groups. There have been other awesome authors, I believe, whom I’ve read, but am forgetting to mention right now. I know it’s an injustice towards them, and my apologies for that.
However, the series that has resonated with my sensibility and emotional quotient, and has maintained the place for the last ten years, is Spanish author, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series, that has four novels and deals with the tumultuous times of Franco’s rule. The books are translated to English by Lucia Graves, famous poet Robert Graves’ daughter. I can say only this: Those who haven’t yet read the series, may want to open a new pathway to their own psyche, by stepping into his universe.
PB: What are your long-term ambitions with regards to writing?
DB: I might say, being very optimistic, and maybe a bit over-zealous, that I’d definitely like to give screenplay writing a try. Not having a formal creative writing background may deter my ambitions by years, but nonetheless, this setback can’t take away my ulterior desire to see my novels turned into films.
PB: If you weren’t an author, what career would you be in?
DB: I’m pretty good at singing, painting, cooking and a lot of other things. So, maybe, I’d just be a happy homemaker with a lot of talents, who’d be a role model for her kids…
PB: What’s the next target for you?
DB: I’m presently working upon translating a much acclaimed Hindi novel to English. It is a work unlike any other, because the author, who’s a very dear acquaintance and a respected senior in the field, has used such great literary motifs and embellishments to his work, that it exhausts my stock of words within a few pages! Although he has given me free rein to translate it as I wish to, I’m the one who’s insisting upon doing it line by line, because I feel so happy when I read the original. The usage of such magnificent words and metaphors… How can I deprive myself of the pleasure of challenging the limits of my own comfort zone?
And then, there are a few screenplays. Short stories come up every now and then, and sometimes poetry too. But my next target is to complete my second novel, which is a standalone one, and is about the gradual emergence of Kathmandu as the Drug capital of the east in the 1970s, along with an analysis of a lot of associated socio-political issues. Another dear friend, a very well-known author himself, often taunts me about my strange affliction. He says I select such difficult period based themes for my works, which demand extensive research, and might not prove to be as alluring for today’s readership. I, however believe in expressing myself for what I am, rather than think about writing custom-made books to fit today’s sensibility. I’m hopeful about those people who still read a book for its literary value, rather than as a pastime.
PB: Tell us a random fact about yourself.
DB: I’m someone who writes from the very core of my understanding. For someone who resonates with my understanding, it might be shattering, hopeful, peaceful and maybe, even wonderful. And that’s because I write about things that I understand, and refrain from writing things I don’t.
So, if you ask me for a random fact about myself, I may confess that I have this very secret desire to delve myself into the depths of darkness, so as to be able to understand the mentality of a millennial who does drugs, has casual sex, accesses the dark web for illicit stuff, hangs out with rough guys, has a thing for tattoos, and is quite insane… I know it’s a dangerous thing to consider, but I do have the confidence that I can emerge from there, back to normalcy, and this is with purely literary intentions and nothing else that I say so.
Another random fact…. Well, I’ve been having weight issues for a very long time. Now, is that a fact?
There's certainly a book in there somewhere! That would definitely be variety when comared with A Place Called Eden too.
Thank you so much to Debasree Banerjee for allowing us to get to know more about her today. If you would like to purchase A Place Called Eden, you can do so via the links below:
Until next time, happy reading!