PAULAMI DUTTAGUPTA

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Hello Paulami, welcome to Incredible Women Of India, Thank you for being a part of Incredible Women Writers of India, Monsoon Edition, 2015 and sharing your journey as a writer with us.

First of all tell us something about your growing up years, your school and college days, and your family.

I’ve grown up in Shillong, where you could actually see the blue skies, and also feel the mist on your face. We would get the smell of oranges and pines and watch the smiling cherry blossoms. I studied in Loreto Convent, Shillong and later at St Edmund’s College, Shillong. My parents were lecturers at colleges in Shillong and were so tired with asking their students to study and perform better; that there was no apparent pressure on me. I had a freewheeling school life and was never particularly interested in my courses. I would watch cricket matches till late night (sometimes till 3am) then go to school and thanks to my frail frame could easily fake illness and sleep in the infirmary. My college days are something I hold dear to me. There are a host of teachers I am indebted too. I finished my Post graduation from Jadavpur University.

What makes you, You?

May be my eccentricity

How did your journey as a writer begin?

It began in school, though I never shared my poems with anyone. Almost all of them were written when I would get immensely bored with my lessons. Then in college I took part in almost all writing competitions and went on to become the student editor for our yearly college magazine. After that it was a bit of writing for The Shillong Times and The Times of India and a bit of ad copy. But then there was this huge writer’s block that lasted for years. So here I was slaving over Television TRPS and then I watch this actor onscreen and have this huge crush. Crushing on him for a couple of months made me write again and my first book happened in 2012.

What are your inspirations? Who is your muse, if any at all?

I have always felt inspired by the works of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. Also the pathos associated with the personal lives of Byron and Keats has immensely attracted me.  Muses are a bad thing. They often do stupid things in public and let you down. So I have consciously stopped myself from having Muses for a while now. My muse probably is the mundane stuff of common men and women.

Why do you write?

Born in a nation that has too many people and a colonial hangover there was always a lot of angst within me. Then we also have the A-Z of scams to add to. I write because I still believe in the romantic –‘pen is mightier than the sword’ thing. I also write when I get frustrated with the situation of the nation. Even if a couple of people read and connect with it, the hope of change remains alive.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?

I was bored of my 10-6 job. There were no challenges and it was that kind of a secure job where one day eventually you would retire and take home a gratuity. I was bored of that. I was bored of seeing bulbs illuminate my room when the sun was actually shining bright. I wanted freedom and then when this offer to write a screenplay came there was no looking back.

Do you write full-time or part-time? Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? Do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when?

I am pretty disorganized, so do not have any specific time frames. I try and write every day. However, I also write screenplays and have to watch a lot of films and read on cinema. I try to balance between watching movies and writing on a daily basis.

What is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest thing about writing? Any writing rituals?

The most difficult part of writing is the ‘About me’ section is websites and book bios. Narrating a story is easy. One just needs to be sure of what to write and have the research done thoroughly. I don’t follow any rituals, but until I am happy with my hand written drafts, I don’t normally start typing on the Word file.

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you? Have you ever hated something you wrote? 

Since I do screenplays, I have this habit of making outlines and one-liners. These are a screenwriter’s saviours. I might have missed a character for 30 scenes and realize we don’t need him or her at all. It also makes me sure of the budgetary constraints. Novels are a different thing altogether. I do make notes but I keep changing them. It is easier to make changes in a novel as there are no ‘oh my God, I will lose the interval high point’ moments I hate what I write all the time. In fact most of the time.

Do you ever get writer’s Block? And how do you get over it?

I write. That is the only way to fight it. Watching a good movie and a good time with Chopin’s tunes also works great.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I still have a lot to do. Discipline is one of them. I really can’t say if I have evolved at all.

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What are you working on at the minute?

Currently my next book is in making. So I am just working on my manuscript, doctoring it here and there. I am also working on a screenplay and maybe we will go to shooting floors in 2016 or maybe even by the end of this year.

Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors and poets / what are your favourite books?

I read at all times. But it is not necessarily a book. I like reading a lot of political commentary, critiquing of policies and social norms, history and geography. And whenever I am actually down I pick up a Sheldon or Sparks and despair flies out of the window. I have a collection of classics and currently trying to read Indian mythology.

What do you think is the future of reading/writing in India?

It should get better in the coming years. We are the land of story tellers. We’ve been doing it since the time written scripts hadn’t reached countries. But here I would also like to add that we should promote vernacular writers in a bigger way.

What are your other passions apart from writing?

I am a foodie and aspiring Master chef (though I am also a complete disaster in the kitchen).  Cinema is a passion and I can’t live without watching a film for a very long time. I also love cricket, but since Dravid Sir is out of the circuit now, things have mellowed down a little. Then there is music. I had learned Indian Classical for five years but now if I were to sit with a harmonium I would surely be off tune.

What is your message for the readers of our blogazine?

All of you are ‘Incredible Women’. Believe in yourself and anything would become possible.

To know more about Paulami click on the following links

Her websitewww.paulamidutta.in
Follow her on Twitter – @ShillongGal

Excerpts from her previously published work: 

Ri – Homeland of Uncertainly

Introduction

   Shillong is a dreamy little town. In spite of being the capital city of Meghalaya and also the capital of erstwhile united Assam, Shillong still has managed to maintain its calm and beauty. Unspoiled and maybe even a little unheard Meghalaya has myriads of tales that need to be told. Sometimes even retold! After the successful completion of the film Ri- Homeland of certainty, we wanted our story to reach more people. And that is when the thought of adapting Ri into a novel crossed our minds.

  The north eastern part of India is actually plagued by stereotypes. Unlike what many people think NER doesn’t have only one state, Assam. There are seven distinct states, each with rich language, tradition and folklore. It has come a long way and today has a people of multiple cultures settled happily. Shillong for example is known for its cosmopolitan nature, and the city celebrates festivals of variety throughout the year. Being the rock capital of the nation, the city also has musicals in dozens. The fanfare maybe subdued, with no major national media covering the frenzy, but the place sure knows its music well. With a love for football, today the city boasts of competitive teams. It might not have the celebrated nightlife of the metros, but fashion and cuisines are things appreciated in this town. With its unique matrilineal society, and its finesse in education, the Shillong could be anyone’s dream home.

    Like any other state, Meghalaya has had its share of good and bad moments. What started as a divide between tribal and non-tribal settlers, identity issues and growing corruption went on to take a dangerous shape. Insurgency crept in and things were not to remain simple for long.  With a sudden flourish in terror activities the state’s calm seemed to quickly fade away. Music lovers instead of fine melodies listened to gunshots resounding far and near, and the cries of losing loved ones to a bullet or two loud and clear. Fashion lovers instead of seeing colorful attire were greeted by the paraphernalia of paramilitary forces. The city was gripped by the sudden fear of terror.

 Customary bandhs on Independence Day and Republic days, shootouts, curfews and extortion notes seemed to have taken over the city. Schools and colleges remained closed for days, education was affected and the worst hit was the daily wage earners. What started off as a war against the ‘outsiders’ soon became a modus operandi for gaining wealth and power. The sufferers were anyone unfortunate to have some money, whether indigenous or otherwise.  The extortion notes reached countless innocents and people had no idea of what would happen in the coming days.

We had grown up hearing gory stories in neighboring Assam and had little idea of what kind of fire power the ultras here possessed. Tension seized the misty town of Shillong and its suburbs, and show of fire power by the ultras on a number of occasions still remains as a scar with the people of the city. Bullet marks on houses are a constant reminder to the residents about the doses of terror insurgency can dish out. 

In the early 2000’s the random use of mobile phones was not only unheard of, it was close to non-existent. Call rates were far too costly and phone networks were limited to Shillong and a few other adjoining suburbs. Hence, with no mobile trackers it was also difficult for the law to track down the locations of insurgents.

The resentment was growing. It might sound romanticized today, but back then the citizens were really demanding their old Shillong back.

It was a time when governance, through the police had vouched to end terror in the state. The decision was flanked by media and Church elders, and a handful of daring few individuals. Columnists had fearless written about the perils and the remedies needed to end insurgency.  With large arm hauls and arrests the struggle eventually faltered, a prime reason being the loss of trust amongst the comrades themselves. The bonds which at one point of time seemed unbreakable, slowly, but surely began to wither and break. The war which they claimed to fight for ‘their own people’ became senseless to all the civilians seeking a second freedom from undesired bondage.  Many ‘locals’ started writing columns largely condemning the activities of the outfit, perhaps, not understanding why the need for a breakdown in societal bonding, and the peace that once prevailed. The Meghalaya Police had fought undauntedly and restored normalcy in the state. Breaking the backbone of terror was no mean task.

 Ri documents one search journey. The protagonists are faces of those lakhs of Meghalayans who have lived through and survived that treacherous phase. Ri talks about those times when events of the last century had taken a serious shape between 2000-2004. Authority was losing respect and many had lost the understanding of right and wrong. The result was uncertainty and total disorder.

Ri is a fictitious depiction of various mindsets of people in the Abode of Clouds, Meghalaya!

Please note that this interview was conducted online, via emails.

Interview conducted for Incredible Women of India : Rhiti Bose

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