I did not take up writing – writing took me up and now it refuses to let me go: Abhishek Mukherjee
I don’t remember a phase of my life when I did not write
Every middle-class Bengali starts thinking he can write by the time he is conceived. The first story laid out when he is still inside the womb. I did not have to take up writing. Writing took me up. It simply refuses to let me go.
I cannot write novels, hence…
It is not that I do not plan novels. I think of layouts. Surprisingly, when I write, I get desperate to have the plot out of my system, as a result of which I lose track. Short stories are easier to finish.
Maybe I will write a novel some day.
It is not a novel plotline by any means. I basically tried to experiment: what if I wrote a short story based entirely on conversations? The rest flowed. On hindsight, I wish it had more jokes.
Oh, and one of the names is a tribute to Pikoo.
Not a character-building exercise
The ideal short story is where you have several mini-climaxes en route the big one. That keeps the reader hooked. The uniqueness of the genre lies in forcing the reader’s mind to rush with you. Once you build up the pace it is up to you whether you want narrate them in one go or prefer to insert the odd joke (or whatever your strength is) to slow down the pace. Obviously, you pull the strings in any work of yours, but when it in short stories consistency of pace is very important.
Also, you cannot spend a lot of words while developing a character while writing a short story. That is a strict no-no. If it has to be done, make sure you are economic with words. Description of nature is a strict no-no unless it adds value.
Do writers write?
Ah, being a cricket historian gives me ample time to write. I am also the nondescript editor of a decent-sized cricket website, which means I can make a living out of what probably means the most in this world to me.
Yes, I do write at work. While that is good, it also cuts down my attempts at fiction. Perhaps my first book will be on a slice of history of cricket. Or maybe it will be short stories.
I write whenever I feel like. I do not write non-cricket stuff at work, but I make sure I note down the plot points.
On writer’s block
There is only one way cure: to write, and to write more. Force yourself to write till you are exhausted. If you are doing terribly it is still fine. You can always reject them.
But you cannot, I repeat, cannot afford to lose touch. Words will flow after a while. Never stop writing, even if you have to hold yourself at gunpoint for that.
The one story that left a mark
It is very, very difficult to choose one story, but I think I will go for The Great Automatic Grammatizator. It is the kind of story that changes your perspective and challenges your relevance as a writer. I remember translating it to Bengali.
There are a few others as well. The Nose (Gogol) had hit me really hard when I first read it, and continues to haunt me even today. It has been well over a decade.
And then, The Bet is outstanding even by Chekhov’s standards. I wonder how these men could conjure such magic.
O Henry is obviously a favourite. There are plenty of his stories to choose from, but I think I will go with the sheer cheek of Mammon and the Archer. Again, so lucid…
There are Holmes and Poirot and Marple, but Father Brown outdid them all in The Blue Cross, easily the wackiest detective short story I have written. There has never been another like Chesterton.
And then there are the Bengali champions of the short story — Tagore, Ray, Premendra Mitra, and Bonophool are favourites. This time I will avoid the ‘name-your-most-favourite’ trap.
How it all started
For many years my writing remained confined to entries in school magazine and the odd parody. I was always an avid reader. I read whatever that came my way across strata and genres, but there was not someone who actually inspired me.
Then I came across a book with an ugly green monster with an enormous red tongue sticking out on the cover. It was also carrying what resembled a suitcase and a camera, and was probably holding on to a questionable-looking hat.
The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy changed me. It made me want to become a writer. It made me want to become as cool as Douglas Adams, especially after I read Dirk Gently and explored more.