NAW Interview with Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

Credit- Shankar Sharma

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is a medical officer with the government of Jharkhand. His stories and articles have been published in Indian Literature, The Statesman, The Asian Age, Good Housekeeping, Northeast Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Earthen Lamp Journal, Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories II and The Times of India.

The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company, 2014) is his first novel. Vist him here.

NAW- Tell us about your book, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?

As I have mentioned in the Acknowledgements page of my novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey takes hints from an incident which took place in my village. I built around that incident, used my imagination, brought in more characters, a few more incidents, and that is how I created the book which is now The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey.

In a gist, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey is the story of a woman. A Santhal woman, named Rupi. It is the story of how she struggles against the mysterious ailment that has taken over her life and her family. Alongside this, it is the story of a Santhal family in a Santhal village.

NAW- Tell us about the character of Rupi Baskey. How did you develop the character?

I think it is easy to write a character than write about her. The model on which I based Rupi Baskey was a Santhal woman from a village. Any Santhal woman. How she lives her life, what she does, her daily household chores—it was all taken from the life of any Santhal woman in a village. To this, I added things from my imagination, and that is how Rupi came to life.

NAW- Not much is known about the Santhals of India. So how did you carry out relevant research for the book?

I am a Santhal. I have grown up in a Santhal village. All that I have written in this book is all that I saw happening around me in my family and village. I did not do any research. Whatever I wrote was from my own life and the lives of other Santhals.

NAW- What drew you to writing?

I don’t know. I know that I love to read, but I cannot really tell what drew me to writing. I have stories in my mind. Maybe the desire to tell those stories drew me to write them out.

NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?

It took me about six months.

As for the title, I wanted my title to be simple. I wanted the title to tell as much as possible about the story. The heroine, Rupi Baskey, is suffering from an ailment that no doctor is able to cure. It is a mysterious ailment. So that is how I named my novel The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey.

Rupi Baskey cover pic

NAW- What can a novice reader expect from The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey?

Not only a novice reader, any reader can expect to catch a glimpse of the lives of the Santhals, which is one of the largest indigenous communities in India, in The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, and also in the short stories that I have written.

NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey.

I was first published in 1998. I was 15 years old at that time. It was a short story in the newspaper The Asian Age. After this, I published short stories in Indian Literature (the journal of the Sahitya Akademi), Good Housekeeping, and The Statesman Festival Issue. My short stories have also been published in the online magazines Northeast Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, and The Dhauli Review. A story of mine was published in the anthology, Alchemy: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories 2, published by Westland-Tranquebar in 2012. Recently, a story of mine was published in the Kathmandu-based literary magazine, La.Lit, Volume 3. The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey is my first published novel.

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

Writing is not my primary job. I am a doctor. I am currently employed as a medical officer with the government of Jharkhand. Jharkhand is the state in India where I live. So I am writing when I am not working.

NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?

The description of the Olinka in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple totally moved me. I often turn to that book. As for my favourite writers, it is hard to name any one. One name which comes to mind immediately is Shyam Selvadurai. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea is so simple and beautiful. I also read stories in Jhumpa Lahiri’s first book, Interpreter of Maladies, again and again.

NAW-What are you currently reading?

Longbourn by Jo Baker.

NAW- What will you be working on next?

I am trying to work on and off on a novel. I am also working on a short story.

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