By Lopa Banerjee
Sutapa Basu’s novel, Dangle, published by Readomania, has received rave reviews for being a strong woman-centered book that pulls readers into the life of a multilayered female protagonist, who is also a TV chat host, a globetrotter and an entrepreneur. Part psychological thriller, part emotional drama, the book is an important addition to contemporary women’s fiction. This is a complex, witty and internally intriguing chronicle of a woman’s physical and emotional journey. In this interview Sutapa Basu shares some insights about Dangle and the essence of the book.
Lopa Banerjee: Sutapa di, first of all, as an author, poet and publishing consultant, with a career in academic publishing as well as a resident editor with Readomania, we have seen you in various avatars in the literary world. Now we also see you as a novelist in the Indian diaspora writing in English. How long has this debut novel of yours, Dangle, been developing in your mind and what were the driving forces behind its creation?
Sutapa Basu: The basic concept had been fermenting in my mind for more than a year before I actually sat down to write it. Writing my own long fiction has been a dream for a very long time, and it was my publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee, who encouraged me, rather pushed me, to create Dangle.
LB: What inspired the title? Do you think it reflects the existential crisis in the protagonist’s life? To what extent do you think it comments on the universality of her experiences?
SB: When you read Dangle, you will notice that the word ‘dangle’ appears several times, in varied contexts and even ungrammatically throughout the book. It was just natural to take it up as the title. Yes, it certainly reflects the protagonist’s crisis as she is always dangling between choices, situations and actions. In Dangle, Akash tells Ipshita, “Life is always a dangle! Between now or never; between this and that; between being and not being; Life is how you see it, do it, take it.” Is that not the truth all of us face as we go through life?
LB: The central theme of your novel Dangle revolves around the unusual psychotic journey of the woman protagonist, Ipshita, who appears to be suave, sophisticated and poised on the outside, but in perpetual turmoil inwardly. The very first scene in the novel sucks the reader into that oscillation which forms the core of her existence. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this dichotomy and complex characterization?
SB: My observations of people around me have frequently shown me that both men and women are actually complex. Many may put up a confident stance outwardly but are jittery with anxiety inside. Nobody is perfect and the world around us is always throwing challenges at us. Real self-assurance comes when one accepts one’s imperfections and the fact that one will lose some of those battles in life. But I have rarely come across such people who have been forgiving of themselves and thus discovered harmony within. This inner tranquility usually manifests in an aura of peace around them. I have always believed literature reflects life and mirrors its reality. So I prefer creating realistic characters with human foibles, often in conflict with themselves. The resolution emerging through the complex layers of their minds is not always the final say on the matter.
LB: You depict the inner world of Ipshita beautifully. In Chapter 2 of the book, you write, “What the hell! Why does this fear lurk in my mind; pouncing the instant I lower my guard? It holds the strings and pulls me whichever way I want. I am like a puppet!” What are some of these inner demons and how does Ipshita combat them in the course of her journey? Is the narrative technique that you employ in the novel stream-of-consciousness? If so, why?
SB: The protagonist is fighting many demons at different levels. She is a victim of repressed sexuality; she is paranoid and believes she being attacked; her love-hate relationship with her elder sister troubles her; marriage makes her angry and so on. But she is blessed with emotional strength and a never-say-die attitude. She is determined to conquer her demons. As she travels across the globe, each place she visits succeeds in uncovering one more layer hiding the core of her fear until she reaches its source. You may say that I have employed the technique of the stream-of-consciousness because in Dangle the reader is traversing two divergent paths that eventually converge. One accompanies Ipshita on her thrilling travels from Chicago to Delhi to Manipur to Singapore to Indonesia to the Andamans, while the other path is her transition from consciousness to unconsciousness, delving into her emotional amnesia to uncover conflict and its repercussions.
LB: The book also lets readers be a part of Ipshita’s travel exploits in numerous corners of the world. This journey starts in the book early, from her Air India flight to the plush hotel in Downtown Chicago, to her furtive mind wandering in Delhi. In Manipur she witnesses the madness and chaos of militancy, and this is alongside her travels in Indonesia and so on. I understood this to mean that the outward and inward journeys of the protagonist are juxtaposed with the metaphor of travel as a means of unfolding the various layers of her mind, as she grapples with psychotic turmoil and seeks redemption. What is your own take on the travel metaphor in the book?
SB: I agree with your succinct analysis. I have attempted to narrate the influence of external stimuli on the psychological turmoil raging inside the protagonist. Her travels expose Ipshita to unique scenarios and unusual interactions with people that open the lids of boxes inside boxes in her mind, taking her to the hidden truth buried in her unconscious. Despite Ipshita’s redemption bringing relief to the reader, nevertheless a dangle persists.
LB: There are three male protagonists in Dangle – Amar Seth, Akash Nag and Steve D’Silva. Ipshita encounters them in various phases of her journey in the novel. Also, the charming Adiya Rao remains a constant companion. In all these heterosexual relationships, we see the otherwise charming, accomplished and smart Ipshita struggling with insecurity, vulnerability and scars. The men are portrayed as creative, yet intimidating. They add to her travails while acting as catalysts that lead her to self-discovery. How challenging or difficult was the portrayal of the men in the novel for you?
SB: Not difficult at all. I must interject, at this point, that despite the main protagonist being female, Dangle is not a narrative on feminism. Ipshita’s struggle with her psychological scars could be experienced with similar poignancy by a male protagonist, too. In fact, I enjoyed sketching the six male characters, Amar, Akash, Steve, Adi, Vikram and Ujjal Sen. I have tried to make them very different from each other and I only hope each of them reminds my readers, somewhat of real men they may have encountered. Especially as I have dipped into my observations of several men, with whom I have interacted, to create these characters. And, yes, their resemblance to real people is purely coincidental!
LB: A significant part of the narrative, especially Ipshita’s journey to the northeast of India, Imphal, Moirang, etc. exposes readers to the insurgency, the armed forces, and their impact on the common people. What made you introduce these elements in the picturesque and evocative landscapes that Ipshita explores and what were her epiphanies in that region?
SB: Manipur and its travails are very close to my heart. I lived there for several months and travelled across that beautiful state, exactly as Ipshita did. Many of her impressions are what I had felt when I came face to face with both the beauty and the pathos of Manipur. Due to militancy, most of Manipur is closed to the rest of the world. The insurgency in Manipur has been going on for decades; yet the world hardly knows of its people who live under the shadow of the gun. To the world, Manipur is like a lost land. In Dangle, the attempt to bring its story to my readers is my catharsis, just like it was Ipshita’s. Manipur made her realize, as it would all of us in the same circumstances, how small her troubles were compared to the dailylife and death struggle of the Manipuri people.
LB: Tagore’s poetry is interspersed in the narrative, which reflects your association with Visva Bharati and the bard’s philosophies. I read this as your way of conveying the truths, struggles and inner storms of Ipshita as she navigates the world around her. What can you add to this view?
SB: Tagore’s lyrics focus on the universality of the poet’s vision. Ipshita finds succor in exactly that concept of the bard’s words. The verses also serve to bring the same universality to Ipshita’s situation. In fact, the storm is not specific to Ipshita; it rages in the minds of all humans.
LB: From the intriguing story ‘The Curious Dalliance’ in Crossed and Knotted to the award-winning short story in the Write India Contest, to the recent foray into novel writing, what has been your most cherished moment of storytelling?
SB: To me each story, whether a short or a long fiction, has been gratifying as a creation. So I really cannot say which was the most cherished moment. It is wonderful when readers tell me that they enjoyed my stories, poems or novel. My wow moments come when a reader interprets a certain insight in my plot, character or conflict and I think, “Oh! That is exactly what I wanted to communicate! So I have succeeded!” For me, that interpretation is evidence that I have got across to my reader. I strongly believe that storytelling is a mode of communication and rapport between the teller and the reader/listener. When all that I want to express, narrate or tell reaches my reader and touches his heart and consciousness, I believe I have achieved my cherished dream.
‘Dangle’ is available on Amazon and some leading bookstores in India.
Lopa Banerjee is a writer and poet. She is also an editor at Readomania and Learning and Creativity Journal.
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