The Historical Fiction lover I am, I would be more than happy to
have a talk with a woman, an Indian who excelled in the genre. We
have Debajani Mohanty, author of Curse of Damini with me.
Welcome to my virtual teté-a-teté
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I am just an ordinary human being, with extra-ordinary willpower. I am also an engineering graduate, a seasoned I.T. professional with 15 years of career, have widely travelled across the world, happily married with two kids.
Tell us about The Curse of Damini.
Since childhood I have been an avid admirer of classics. I had once watched “Saheb Biwi Gulam” where the Chhoti Bahu implores the Gulam to bring her Mohini Sindoor believing it will keep her unfaithful husband home. In spite of all her attempts to appease her husband she is abducted, murdered by her brother-in-law and buried somewhere in the Zamidar mansion, her skeleton to be discovered by people few decades later. I watched Devdas where the protagonist had no heroic quality and end up being a lovelorn, self-destructive character.
For years together I kept on wondering what if these stories had different endings. What if Chhoti Bahu had to live that life for years and years together? What if Devdas being a weak character, had married Paro but still ended up in a courtesan’s arms? And what if they had a savior?
From the hundreds and thousands real incidents as well as folklores that I heard in my childhood, I beaded my plot. History and status of women play a central role in the novel “The Curse of Damini”. To be honest with you, it’s not a story rather a bunch of real-world eventualities that our women have lived up with since ages. In those 200 pages I have tried to summarize the lives of women claustrophobically restricted by social, economic and psychological conditions. In this one story I have covered many evils of mankind; hunger, forced prostitution, child marriage, Satee, widowhood, adultery, blind rituals and rape.
Do you believe in ghost?
I believe in some super-natural power that’s beyond explanation. Call me an optimist fool, but I believe in Karma-Chakra and poetic justice. Sometimes the good or bad deeds done by a human being is neither rewarded nor punished on an immediate basis, but that does not mean it’s forgotten. You may refer to the following line in the novel where I have quoted my beliefs
“You reap what you sow, zamindar. You didn’t let us live a life, and I curse you. I curse you, so would be your life.”
Why did you project the book as a horror story?
I wished this novel to attract readers from all genres. Had I projected it as a historical fiction, it would have lured a particular group; however thrillers usually have a wider audience.
How much research did you do?
Ahh! A lot. I had to read more than fifty well-known novels that
discuss that era, the beliefs as we as the lifestyle of people. I collected some long forgotten stories from my diary that I had heard as a little girl. I had to discuss for hours with my grandmother and I surfed the internet as a fanatic to collect required materials, old letters, and newspaper articles blah blah. In fact I took almost two years on and off to write and rewrite the story which involved many rounds of reviews by my well-wishers.
So, what have you written?
Honestly this is my very first attempt. Long before publishing “The Curse of Damini” as a novel, I started writing this as a fiction on www.india-forum.com. The narrative was in a very nascent form at that time. Many readers in that forum advised me to publish it as a novel, which I did. Usually people hesitate publishing their maiden works due to the apprehension of acceptance. I didn’t have that as most of the ladies in the forum were well-educated and from all over the world. Many of them sent their feedback how to improve certain characters to make them appear more realistic.
Which writers inspire you?
I like writers who do a lot of research and come up with innovative story-lines. There was Nobel- laureate German author Hermann Hesse who lived in British-Raj India for many years before writing Sidhartha, a masterpiece. There is Amish Tripathy who conceptualized his Shiv series after a lot of fore-thought and research. Such dedication and unique thoughts make a writer immortal, not the language.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
I started writing after the Nirbhaya incident in December 2012. In those days I wrote an article on India forum inviting people to send their comments how to minimize crimes against women. I summarized them and sent to Prime Minister’s PMO site some 3 years back. “Souchalay” was one of the programs that I had suggested. After that I started writing the actual novel. Those suggestions can be still be seen in the 33rd chapter of the novel.
If this book is part of a series, tell us a little about it?
While writing the novel, I had considered bringing a series out of it. But then I thought against this idea. “The Curse of Damini” is a multi-character novel spanning many years of Indian history, it can’t have a sequel.
What’s your views on social media for marketing?
I have just started and it’s too early to comment on this.
Which social network worked best for you?
Due to shortage of time, I have tried only facebook so far and it rocks. I think everyone whosoever is educated on earth and has access to net, also has a facebook profile and it’s a one-stop solution for all our promotion.
I have also tried goodreads and in limited time got good response there.
Do you have a trailer or do you intend to create one for your own book/s?
Yes, I do have two videos, here are the links.
With voiceover -
Without voiceover -
What advice would you give to your younger self?
For the younger writers my advice would be to concentrate on writing than on marketing or any other distraction. It’s upsetting that the world sometimes recognizes accomplished people posthumously. Premchand died in immense poverty, the World War II snatched us of Anne Frank, yet they will keep on living till eternity through their masterpieces. We need great works and people with the ideas, craft and dedication to entertain, challenge and inspire us. I wish good luck to all.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
I wish to meet few 3 great people of all times; Budha, Jesus, Martin Luther King. I wish to know how they could influence such a wider mass and transformed hearts of many.
Among the living, of course it would be our esteemed Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
I think it’s definitely “Anna Karenina”. I remember I read the novel followed by watching the many different versions of this epic Russian tragedy in Hollywood movies, especially the final scene when Anna commits suicide by throwing herself before the train. I lost my appetite and gradually got into depression. That is the time when I wrote the chapter of Papia. But today with a stable mind I say, I would have opted for a positive ending for Anna. I may rarely write such a character where my female protagonist is weak, somehow I can’t; Papia is an exception though.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Try to come up with something new, something unique. More than the language it’s the theme of the story that matters. I usually inspire people to write on subjects that fascinate them. It could be anything.
Where do you see publishing going in the future?
I come from an I.T. background and in comparison wish to see more professionally streamlined publishing industry. Especially in India if we wish publishing to come up as an industry, we must have good professionalism in place, which I see is still lacking. People work without contractual agreements, do not stick to the delivery timeline and sometimes do not give honest feedback. Though I have found some extraordinary people here, yet I am telling you what the general behavior is.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?
Some people have sent me the feedback that the suspense is not properly explained or the story loses momentum on 33rd chapter. Yet I feel that chapter is the essence of the novel. I request them to read the novel with ample time and feel the characters and their longing, for they are so real. The suspense is not overtly explained, but if you read it properly you can feel it yourself.
Rakhi, I am really pleased with the review of an accomplished blogger as well as writer like you. Initially when I was asked which genre my story will fall into, I was puzzled. It could be a romance, a thriller; it could also be just a fiction with a touch of suspense and horror. But after reading your review, I realized more than anything else it’s a historical fiction. Thanks for your feedback again.
Thanks a lot Debajani. If you have been following my blog, you can see that my favorite genre is historical fiction and I was happy to read the same from an Indian author.
So, How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.