Indranil Roy is a teacher, an author and an ardent lover of Bengali music, which explains his frequent foray into musical moorings and singing. Currently writing English novels, he also loves vernacular literature, knows its importance and its potential to reach wide masses, and also puts a strong case for it. This fact comes to the fore as he always recommends Bengali literature to people who like the genre. He is a person obsessed by the greatness of the teaching profession so much that he chose a teacher as a protagonist of his debut book. In a candid conversation with Chirdeep Malhotra, the teacher-author talks about his debut book “The Man behind the Teacher’s Desk”, the current scenario of Indian English writing, the importance of vernacular literature and his love for his students, who are also the honest critics of his writing.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing when I was in school. At that time it was just for time pass. Later, some of my works got published in our college magazine. But, I took up writing seriously only last year.
What inspired you to start writing?
I didn’t have any inspiration as such, other than a desperate urge to make a mark for myself. I don’t want to become one of those trillion anonymous faces. The question that always drives me to madness is, “Are you proud of yourself?” Standing in front of the mirror, I ask this to myself every day. Even to this day, the answer I always get is a negative one. I will go on working harder till I get a positive answer.
Can you give a brief overview of your book “The man behind the teacher’s desk”?
“The man behind the teacher’s desk” is a coming of age story. It captures the teenage, adolescence and youth of Aniruddha Chowdhury who desperately tries to make a mark for himself, but without compromising with his ethics.
The story is not about his journey from rags to riches. It is about his journey to become ‘someone’ from ‘no-one’. He aims to become a teacher like his mentor and idol Kamal Sir, whose guidance and support helps him to cling to life despite repeated setbacks. He finds life among his students and can go to any extent to ensure their well being.
You chose a teacher as a protagonist of your book. What made you do so?
I am a teacher by passion and profession. So, dealing with the psyche of a teacher was a safe ground for me. I have been repeatedly questioned whether the story is autobiographical – but it is not so. But, some incidents are very close to my life.
How has teaching helped you as a writer?
Teaching has helped me to become whatever I am today. It changed the entire course of my life. I never wanted to become a teacher. My aim was to become a journalist. But today, I literally owe my life to my students and it is not just for the records, I do mean it and I hope that they know it too. One of the taglines used during the promotion of the book was, “Standing by students, who made a man out of flesh”. I think that it is self-explanatory.
What do you think of the current scenario in the Indian literature arena? Do you read Indian authors?
Frankly, Indian literature has made an immense progress in the last decade. The quality of work has improved remarkably. But, I would like to add that as readers, we are still at the very early stage of accepting English literature. If you look beyond the cities, you will get a clear picture. We are yet to focus on them. My debut novel, as well as my present work is set in Kolkata and the suburbs. I am trying to tell stories from their point of view, which is different in many ways.
The first English book that I read was ‘Malgudi Days’. It fascinates me even today. Due to my professional commitments, I don’t get much time to read. Still, I love to read R.K Narayan, Ruskin Bond, the early works of Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi. But, my first love is and will always remain Bengali literature.
Can you share with our readers some works by foreign authors that you loved?
I love to read Dan Brown, Ernest Hemingway and Paulo Coelho.
What are your other interests apart from writing?
I listen to music a lot. To be honest, the second phase of the book is inspired from a song. I am a movie buff too.
Are there any new projects that you are currently working on?
My latest work has been initially entitled as, ‘Life Owes a Better 8/11’. It is a story set in the backdrop of ‘Demonetization’ in India and revolves around the lives of three persons, including an AIDS patient. Hence it deals with graver issues than what I dealt with in my debut novel. Right now it has been sent to publishers. Whenever I receive a mail, I desire it to be from some publisher who is keen to bring it out. Climbing Mt. Everest often seems easier these days.
Who is your biggest critic and how?
My biggest critic is my wife, who has to read a lot of trash again and again to see which one stands out.
Apart from her, some of my friends and three students of mine are the early readers of my manuscript. Their feedbacks give me an idea regarding the quality and acceptance of the work.
Authors can give the best advice regarding literary matters. Can you share with our readers some tips about how to choose a good book for reading?
Let a reader choose what he/she would like to read. I don’t want to be an intruder. Select the genre that appeals to you at the early stages, then get to the other genres too for a wholesome reading experience. Don’t remain alien to your vernacular literature. If you don’t read it, you will never get to the true essence of other works.
Can you share a few words for those who wish to become writers?
If you intend to write, focus on the content, be honest to it and write in the simplest form to get to a wider audience. Language is a medium of expression. It should never turn out to be a barrier. I believe that, in India we are still in the early stage of accepting English literature. The dismal scenario of English in India bears the testimony to it. So, it is important to get those people drawn to your work as well, along with the urban readers. Don’t compromise with quality. But, in my opinion, the toughest job is to write something that you are passionate about and that too in prose or poetry that strikes a chord with readers.
Any quote that you would like to share with our readers or any tagline that has been your motto for writing?
This certainly has to be “The toughest job is to find the simplest of words for an honest expression”.
By Chirdeep Malhotra