Today, we have the honour of an interview with Shrutidhora P Mohor. Shruti has published five books that blend love, longing and thrill with politics. These include: The Long Line of Hope, Twenty Three Summers and Where The Sky Feels Cold, among others.
Shruti is an intelligent and fascinating person. Recently, I have had the privilege of getting to know her over Instagram, and she kindly agreed to an interview
Where do you come from and how has this place influenced your writings?
Born and brought up in the ancient city of Calcutta in eastern India, the city has had an inevitable presence in my debut autobiographical novel The Unknown Script. It is a chaotic colonial city that had been the capital of British India for years. With the names of its roads and places fictionalised, Calcutta has been the physical setting for the novel. I am fascinated by its architecture and history; and its old buildings and gorgeous monuments. These have formed the background for my novel. Indeed, so have its fickle spring, blazing summer, muddy water-logged monsoons, faint autumns, and penetrating winters.
However, I have been an avid traveller within India for over a decade now. I have come to know many of its little known towns and obscure historical sites, so the rest of my writings have been equally reflective of this travel experience of mine.
All my stories are set in some such place within the country, be it sea-side Daman or breath-taking Kashmir, culturally distinct Thiruvannamalai deep down south, Birohi at a high altitude in the Himalayas, or Kaudiyala at its foothills. Places have been important nesting grounds for all my stories. Every place has had its own pulse and heartbeat in the stories.
This blogger: You sound like an incredibly well travelled and cultured person. Your knowledge of, not to mention respect for, the places you have been is remarkable.
You have published four books since January. This is an astonishing number! How have you written and published four books in 2020? Do you have a daily word target?
This is a revealing journey. Let me share this with you.
Three of the four, including my autobiographical novel that you mention, had been written earlier. These three, namely The Unknown Script, Twenty Three Summers, and Showing Results: Zero of Zero had been published on Amazon Kindle as ebooks in 2017 and 2019. They came to be published as paperbacks in early 2020 by Ukiyoto Publishing House.
I wrote my novella Where The Sky Feels Cold between January and March 2020, before I published it in early April. Since then, between April and August, I wrote seven stories of varying lengths and had them published as part of Ukiyoto projects.
This is perhaps an exceptional output made possible by the pandemic. I have had large chunks of free time while my profession did not get in the way of my writings. I benefitted enormously from my new daily routine where I could read and write extensively for hours.
Also, my approach towards writing changed during this time. Whereas earlier I had been more casual, I now developed a seriousness with regard to my literary engagements. I began writing every day. I did not always have a specific word count set, but I made it a point to write without fail. More discipline and determination certainly helped.
Your books blend love, longing and thrill with politics. This is, indeed, a unique blend. What three things inspire you to write these sorts of stories?
Thank you for this question!
I am an individual who believes in love. Plus, I really enjoy experimental love stories where unformatted relationships and unexpected emotional ties develop between unlikely persons. In my idea, the charm of love lies in its lack of fulfilment, in its acute longings, in the grammar of its desires and pain, and in seeking even more.
Alongside this, I am drawn towards sophisticated thriller stories where mystery invades into the crevices of complex interpersonal relationships: a silent footstep behind a curtain, a missing piece of paper with a note on it, a secret code containing the cure to a disease, an ambiguous nod of the head, an unexplained black patch on one’s arm… All are crucial parts of my stories.
In addition, I am in the habit of situating my stories within political contexts. This is due to my disciplinary training in Political Science as a student and as a college teacher for the last fifteen years. I hold that politics pervades everything: all our interactions, preferences, moves and articulations. In fact, one of my works in progress is on the idea of love itself being political.
There is nothing more political than a personal decision to choose one love over another, to shift residential base, to accept defeat, to pursue a cause, to keep silent, to seek, to tolerate, to forbid. My ability to read the ‘politics’ in our everyday existences enables me to write the way I do.
This blogger: Your insight into how politics affects our daily lives is mind-blowing. Indeed, I think you have given me a new outlook on politics lol.
Who is the target audience for your books?
This may sound restrictive but to be honest, I target the serious or thinking reader. My books are for people who are prepared to emotionally invest in a book and to immerse themselves in the world that the book creates.
I want my audience to read the intent of the words, not just the cataloguing of events. I would not be happy with half-hearted readers.
After reading your books, what two or three things would you like readers to take away?
First, the realisation of our finiteness and how things unfold, regardless of our perceived powers.
Second, the ability of every human to outgrow and emerge free from all that binds them.
And, third, the beauty of crafting relationships outside of given conventional parameters, and the sensuousness of it all as a temporary element which will ultimately fade.
This blogger: Your books sound more interesting with every answer that you give. You sound like you have put intention and meaning into every word that you have written.
Of all the characters you have written, which one is the most like you? And how?
This would appear to be the protagonist SRC in my autobiographical novel – The Unknown Script. She is my younger self, and she has lived a fuller life than me at that age. Her manners and mannerisms, her words and beliefs, her shortcomings and idiosyncrasies are all mine.
However, all of my writings have bits of me in it. That is not self-evident anymore because sometimes that is a passing tertiary character, sometimes an odd comment, often an antagonist, at times phases in the life of the protagonist. But, yes, I loom subtly in all that I write. A discerning reader can pick it up.
What genre would you like to write in that you haven’t as yet?
I would certainly like to try an historical period piece. I believe history to be a fundamental guiding principle in human life. In addition, a large part of my academic readings is based on nuanced texts of history that unravel and unsettle known history.
I was studying early colonial India a few days ago, and am seriously considering situating one of my stories in the eighteenth century. That will be exciting and will give me scope to do a lot of reading/research.
This blogger: You and I definitely agree on that about history. I am a huge history buff.
If you could go back in time and speak with your younger self, what advice would you give her about the writing process?
A little more impersonal attachment would be my advice. A form of connection with my own work, which is simultaneously detached from its substance and caring about its form.
Moreover, I’d tell her to be a little more aware of technicalities, of the strength of a particular voice, of the movements of a plotline, and of the pros and cons of respective points of view.
What, in your opinion, is the hardest part of the writing process?
I would say getting the right balance between a satisfactory rounded-up ending and one which lingers on in readers’ minds with open-ended questions is a little difficult at times.
Also, getting started with the first few words is a bit daunting. Often, to overcome this, I begin from anywhere but the beginning. Routinely, I follow a non-linear writing process which suits my way of thinking.
Personally, the pleasure of writing overtakes every other difficulty. Similarly, discovering where my story is going to take me is a delightful journey.
How has writing changed you as a person?
Enormously! In terms of a lot of things. First, it has made me more resilient and sustained as a person. I take a more gradual view of life because the most important thing in life is now writing. It may be a paragraph, a page or a chapter, but nothing is more important. Hence all my focus must remain on it.
Next, it has made me more ruthless and self-centred, even if that can be seen as a negative trait. What I mean is that I can keep my focus far better, ward off negative influences and unwelcome people in life much more skilfully by knowing what actually matters. Which is writing.
On horrible days like when I have not been able to stop crying; or when I have been bitter, resentful and aggrieved over things beyond my control, I have still known that somewhere in that day, the world is mine because I get to write. There is an automatic preservation of positive energy so that it gets channelled toward writing.
This blogger: It sounds like writing has transformed you. Above-all, it has made you evaluate your priorities and know what is most important for you. Well done, and stay positive above all else.
Are you writing another book at present? If so could you please tell us a bit about it?
Yes, I have quite a few works in progress, not at equal pace though. Two novels are on the way. One is overtly political, taking as its elements some of the recent contestations in Indian politics and the response of a family in rural feudal India.
The second is seemingly apolitical and familial, but has significant portions of the personal as viewed through the political lens.
Nevertheless, before I finish these I shall begin work on a novella. That will consider what happens when love fails to keep itself going and what substitutes people make for its impotence. Also, I shall look at love outside of marriage for married people for the first time in a major way.
This blogger: They all sound like very interesting stories. I am amazed at how many stories you can write simultaneously.
Outside of writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Reading, of course. Currently, I am finding the right balance between contemporary fiction being written by my peer group, and the classics which are time immemorial. I love to read and think – over-think in fact – and listen to music, and watch films. Romance and thrillers are my favourite kind of movies to watch.
The crucial point for me is to find that spare time. I am in the midst of a transformative process and am concentrating on working out a new daily schedule for myself, since I have been writing continuously since November 2019. Although it has been tremendously enjoyable, along with my fulltime professional occupation it has also been exhausting. So spare time has been a luxury!
End of Interview
And that brings our interview with Shrutidhora P Mohor to an end, I’m afraid. I would like to thank Shruti for her. It has been wonderful and thought-provoking listening to her. Plus, I wish her all the best going forwards with her future writings, career, and in getting that spare time that she so richly deserves.
If you are as intrigued as I am about Shruti’s books, you can check them out on Amazon. If you enjoy reading a book that gives you a new insight into the world we live in, give her books a try,
PS: Shrutidhora P Mohor is the pen name for Prothoma Rai Chaudhuri who has been studying Political Science and teaching the same at St Xavier’s College Calcutta since 2006. She holds a PhD in political theory.
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