Electrical engineer-turned-journalist Sucheta Dasgupta sees the world through three lenses: freedom, history and trance. She favours short stories over other forms, and we asked her why the short story made for a more powerful literary medium.
Do you write everyday? When and where do you write?
I judge myself to be a compulsive writer. As a journalist, I write everyday at work and am known to take work home. But creatively speaking, I don’t always get the opportunity to pen down an idea as soon as it strikes, and I have lost many stories in the process. Sometimes, I even note down the beginnings of an idea on paper, but when I return to it, I find that I have already lived that story and there’s not much left to write. So I’ll say that I write when I can.
Do you listen to music while writing? What’s on your playlist at the moment?
No. It takes away too much of my attention. For me, music works better with physical activity, like dancing or running. What’s on my playlist? There is this wonderful rendition of the Spanish hit, Cucurrucucu Paloma, by Silvia Perez Cruz which beats the one by Harry Belafonte; then there is Maria Gadu and Concha Buika and some Sephardic music by Consuelo Luz. I also listen to Kumar Gandharva, Bulgarian chalga and chaita-chaiti in Bhojpuri—I must credit my husband Siddhartha, who is also a writer plus a documentary filmmaker, for introducing me to new genres and troves of musical gems from time to time.
What’s your go-to procrastination when you sit down to write? Any particular website that you love to visit as a distraction?
A joint? But seriously, I have been clean now for about four years. As far as websites go, back in the early noughties, I used to like Salon but it has vastly deteriorated since. During that time, East of the Web had a good repository of short stories. Then there used to be Nerve.com, but again I haven’t been there in ages. The Hoot and The Wire are good websites for news analysis. And I visit Buzzfeed very, very occasionally; I find it comforting. Ahem, and so is good-quality fanfiction.
If you were a literary tour guide, what are the landmarks you would recommend?
The Wallace Stevens Walk, Hartford, Connecticut (The insurance clerk wrote the hauntingly beautiful Thirteen Ways to Look at a Blackbird here)
Poet and thinker Henry Derozio’s house in Entally, Kolkata
Mirza Ghalib’s house in Ballimaran, New Delhi
Nietzsche-Haus, Sils-Maria, Switzerland, where the German philosopher stayed every summer
Les Deux Magots, Paris, France, the café where Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and James Joyce chatted and hung out
Three things that a short story can do better than a novel.
Writing is a continually evolving craft, so nothing I say to this is immutable, but I strongly feel, simply because of its length, a short story can better create a sense of place on the reader in terms of transporting them to a different location—geographical or imaginary.
A short story can also take more liberties with its title without coming off as corny or too light-hearted. Take the examples of Junot Diaz’s ‘This is How You Lose Her’ and Mary Gaitskill’s ‘Tiny Smiling Daddy’.
Lastly, and this is purely subjective, because a short story is read in a single sitting, one’s mind doesn’t wander during the contemplation of its contents. Because short stories deal with a single, powerful idea, they often turn out to be more memorable than novels which are more sprawling in form and go back and forth between people, places, voices and thought processes. My personal favourites are Trailokyonath Mukhopadhyay’s ‘Lullu’ and ‘Kankabati’, Asad Mohammad Khan’s ‘The Squatter’, Milan Kundera’s ‘Eduard and God’ and Guy de Maupassant’s ‘The Horla’.