Lifestyle Books and Art 16 Apr 2017 Q&A with Sumana Roy

Q&A with Sumana Roy

Published Apr 16, 2017, 4:55 am IST
Updated Apr 16, 2017, 4:55 am IST
Sumana Roy is the author of How I became a Tree. Her poems and essays have been published in many magazines.
Sumana Roy
 Sumana Roy

Q Why do you write?
I wish I knew. A couple of months ago, an electrician who’d come to repair a faulty connection in my house, asked me this question: “Didi, why do you write?” I smiled, unable to come up with an appropriate response. After he left, leaving the question behind, it occurred to me that our occupations might be similar, the electrician’s and mine. Both of us are trying to connect, to create a flow of energy, to connect a few worlds.

Q Describe your favourite writing space.
My bedroom in Siliguri. “One little room and everywhere.”


Q Your favourite word?
The one I use at any given moment is my favourite at that moment. The fact that I chose it from the many I know at that moment implies that it’s my favourite. (This does not include the harsh or unpleasant words I use during a tiff with the one I love.)

Q Do you have a writing schedule?
I try to write every day. It’s like riyaaz, I suppose. And because I’m an apprentice and came to writing very late, I have to work harder at it than those to whom writing might come easily and more naturally.

Q Ever struggled with writer’s block?
Every sentence is a struggle. Even the punctuation —  how one breathes in a sentence determines its rhythm after all.


Q Do you keep a diary?
No, not really. Though the video recorder on my phone often serves a diary-like role now.

Q What inspires you to write? Do you have a secret trick, or a book/author that helps?
Everything inspires me to write. That’s a cliché but it’s true. I find that walking and listening to music help me to return to a line which I’d been forced to leave incomplete.
Q Best piece of advice you’ve ever got?
It’s something that my grandmother used to say about cooking — sweet and sour, heat and salt, all these tastes must be held in perfect balance in a dish. I think it applies to writing as well.


Q Coffee/tea/cigarettes — numbers please — while you are writing…
None of these. Writing is, by its very nature, a self-contained space, I think — the energy and the stimulation come from within the same space.
Q Which books are you reading at present?
I’ve been reading a book of Chanakya’s slokas. And a new book on origami that I bought a couple of days ago. I’d like to make a paper laptop.
Q Who are your favourite authors?
Amit Chaudhuri’s way of looking at the world, in his poems, essays and fiction, has now conditioned me to challenge every single entry in the dictionary of received images. George Eliot, whose prose is a joy to read; the poets Jibanananda Das, Shakti Chattopadhyay: the poems and songs of Rabindranath Tagore; Bibhutibhushan’s world. In all these writers there is such delight in the world, in a life of the senses, in its comedy and incertitude.  
Q Which book/author should be banned on grounds of bad taste?
No book should ever be banned.
Q Which are your favourite children’s books?
When I was little and couldn’t read, my father would read out stories to my brother and me. One of the first things he read to us were the stories about Laloo. I remember the blue and obese Sarat Rachanabali from where he’d read them out patiently every Sunday afternoon, after a lunch of rice and mutton curry.
Though I’d read voraciously later, it is the stories of these pre-literate years that I like to think of as favourites now. Jules Verne; the abridged Tagore stories, also about his childhood; Aam Aatir Bhepu, a section from Bibhutibhushan’s Pather Panchali which seemed special because it was about a brother and sister — identification was easy.
Q Which classics do you want to read?
There are so many I haven’t read. The European writers of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, for instance. Latin American poetry. And literature of forest-dwellers across cultures. Are they classics? I don’t know. I’d like to read them nevertheless.
Q Who is your favourite literary character?
Your question makes me aware that I don’t have a particular favourite literary character. This might be because my focus, both while reading and writing, are not on human protagonists alone. My attention is distributed – even if unequally — among all the components in a scene. (While walking, for instance, I notice walls more than people — that is perhaps indicative of my lack of complete focus on the human protagonist.)
Q Which is the funniest book you have read?
Not a book but printed material — the daily newspaper today. Full of inventions that are hilarious. The Onion and Fake News are not exclusive sites of imagined news. All newspapers are versions of The Onion now.
Q Which is the most erotic book you have read?
For me the erotic lives in the realm of the unsaid. And it is not necessarily about the sexual energy between people but also between humans and things, humans and places. Shakespeare’s tragedies are, in that sense, charged by a unique kind of eroticism, of subterranean violence and confusion, and more than all of this, the eroticism of flux.
Q Which book do you wish you had written?
Quite a few. On the Origin of Species. A Strange and Sublime Address. Charaka Samhita. Middlemarch. Macbeth.
Why these alone? The Bible and the other holy books too — I’d have tried to make them funnier.