Kunal Sen, Author, Left from Dhakeshwari

Kunal is an excellent poet and writer. His book, Left From Dhakeshwari, released in 2012 is a book of nine short stories which are connected with each other. His forty-minute short film, Cranberry Sauce, was screened by Entertainment Society of Goa at IFFI (International Film Festival of India) 2009 where it won the national nomination for in best short film category.


This is a timeless book and can be read any day. After completing the book, I felt Kunal has breathed life into each and every sentence and the lyrical quality, the way mundane life he has portrayed is enviable. I wanted to know more about his journey as a writer and the result is this quick interview. I think this book will be a resurgence of “quality literature” in India.


When and how did you think of the characters in your book? 

They started out as amplified versions of my personalities and then mixed and moved with others’. Debjani’s story came from my friend’s wife and somewhere, I kept thinking of Claire Danes in My So-Called Life when I was writing Alexandra. Salt Lake took after my father’s performing-art troupe, 1974 emerged from the debris of a night’s conversation. Looking back, I realize that much of the book came from closed places and people who were once close.


How long did you take to complete this book?

It took me a couple of years to write a draft, and another year to edit it.


I felt as a reader it was challenging to read about characters in different stories who were connected. Were you tempted to make it a full-length novel at any point?

No, I wasn’t. The characters are linked, but the connections are often tangential; their stories play out like independent vignettes in a mobius strip. Admittedly, Cunningham pulled it off in The Hours, but I had neither the genius nor the need, for I felt that there was also something metaphysical about not joining all the dots. So, even when a deeper sense of knowingness emerges after multiple readings, it’s still an understanding that is not full, but vague and visceral, inarticulate and evolving, like how we reflect on our lives.


Did your experience as a poet and a director help you in writing each and every line, so thoughtfully? If yes, how? If no, why?

I was never really writing poems as per Webster’s, and my films were small, experimental and bad. But yes, these things formed a part of my past and contributed to the book that way. The narrative structures and scene set-ups were broadly influenced by the screenplay form. Poetry helped me understand the rhythm and aesthetics of sentences; it inspired the language of the characters in the book, which isn’t conversational or functional, but for the lack of a better word: poetic. Even when their situations are embedded in realism, their reactions aren’t; their words give them a sense of discord and alienation and almost make them otherworldly, which works well within the book when you consider that its characters are mostly misfits and emotional vagabonds who’re on the ropes and margins anyway, so of course, yes, how else should we expect them to speak?


What are your future projects?

It’s this half-finished novel about unspeakable things.


There was a quality of timelessness in your writing. As if the reader belongs to another era. Did you do anything specific to achieve that?

That’s also how I live. Someone pointed out that there’s no reference in Left from Dhakeshwari to cellular phones; its characters don’t text or call each other. That may not be inaccurate for that is how I am too, as a person. And while writing, I tend to conceptualize scenes as two characters confronting each other in a closed space, and since a lot of present day technology takes us away from that construct, it doesn’t figure in the book. A story like 1974 mandated specific research, but generally, the timelessness was more organic than deliberate.


Were you moved strongly (i.e., cried inconsolably or pondered for days) while writing any of these stories? If so, which one? 

I find writing cathartic but I think my exact personal experience isn’t relevant here. The book, like other books, also took time, graft and craft and it should be seen as what it is: a set of pages, not a prescription.


Why did you write this book? What was your favourite reaction to this book?

I suppose I was at a time in my life when I needed to do something to stop losing control of it. I didn’t write for affirmation but it is hard not to be moved by the response of complete strangers.


Thank you, Kunal