BLF2020 | Calcutta Chronicles – Nandita Bose and Tony V Francis with Maitreyee B Chowdhury

All of them revealed that their works are always entrenched in Calcutta, whether in
terms of the place, the people, or the experience. Bose discussed the elements she deeply
enjoys and loves about Calcutta and its usage in her works like ‘Tread Softly’ and
‘Everglow’. Further, she gave us more insight about the lens through which she looked at
Calcutta – as an outsider, yet deeply attached. Coming from a cosmopolitan city, she
observed so many contrasts and changes. She shared her thoughts about some bad aspects of
Calcutta with us, as well as celebrated the beautiful and warm aspects of it. Bose also talked
about the way in which she captured and weaved together rock music and classical music in
her work ‘Everglow’, just like the way Calcutta captured these two genres of music. She read
out an excerpt from this romance novel for us.

Tony Francis then gave us insight into his experience with Calcutta. As an
impressionable young boy whose education took place in Calcutta, he revealed that the city
became something of an extended family for him. Nostalgia took hold of Francis for a while
when he poured his emotions about Calcutta, its roads, the sidewalks, and other little things.
He briefly traced a trajectory of Calcutta from his youth to the present-day city which has
changed, just like its name. He discussed his book The Autograph Seeker which is based in
Calcutta. He beautifully described Calcutta as a city so passionate that it became a character
of its own in his novel. His work draws from the Sans Souci Theatre built during the colonial
period (the 1800s) which was then turned into an institution. Francis discussed how this led
him to explore this place and much of Calcutta’s history. He too read out an excerpt from his
work.

Chowdhury briefly discussed her experience with Calcutta and its influence on her
book The Hungryalists. In the discussion, she delved into her love for an era she was never
a part of – the 1960s. She discussed this work of hers which was set in that era and revolves
around the poetry revolution that Calcutta experienced. She also talks about her engagement
with the locals of Calcutta which was an essential part of her research for the book.
All in all, this session wrapped together humor, love, truth, experience in a
wholesome way.

About the Author: Immersed in the process of unlearning and relearning different values and ideas, Nanditha Murali chooses writing as her medium to approach the world. She is currently pursuing her English (Honours) degree at Christ University, Bangalore.

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BLF2020 | The Last White Hunter – Joshua Mathew with Tony V Francis

This session was with Joshua Matthew, who penned down The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari, the biography of Donald Anderson, son of author and hunter Kenneth Anderson. Tony V Francis, a novelist and Media & Broadcasting professional with over 19 years of experience in the Indian Media industry, was very curious about knowing Joshua’s experiences throughout the journey of writing the book.

Joshua Matthew said the idea behind this book was to tell the extraordinary story of Donald and capture the changes in the jungles of South India and Bangalore during his lifetime. He wanted to shine a light on lesser-known aspects of Donald and the city’s past. He mentioned that all he had was Don’s story and his purpose was to tell it exactly the way it was, without any filters.

When Tony asked Joshua about his thought process when he started this project and how difficult it was for him to publish the book, Joshua talked about how he met Donald and accompanied him to his favourite jungles. He said he knew Don for 6 years, and during those years, Don gave him a fantastic collection of photographs and negatives starting from the late 1800s to the modern day. “I realized that nobody would be interested if I had just published the photographs. So I decided to tell his fascinating story and make the photographs a part of it.”, Joshua added. 

Speaking about the struggles of getting his book published, Joshua mentioned that the title and the story made it very challenging for him to find publishers. He said whenever he approached a publisher, it was always about the left and right way. The right side was about focusing on the right things like story and content. The left side was actually about building an audience for this book. So, he used to tell the publishers that if they would care about the publishing, he would take care of the selling. “The book took me 6 years because of Don’s health and other issues. So, I thought when the book was ready, I would already have an audience ready.” He added.

Later, the discussion revolved around Joshua sharing his experiences and conversations with Donald Anderson. He pointed out that his discussions with Don never really went in the way he wanted. He said he understood that a systematic or structured approach of asking questions and getting answers from Don wouldn’t work well. “It was difficult to get better insights from him before he got friendly with us. He wasn’t very open to talk and explain things. So we used to record his words secretly.” Joshua recalled.

Tony also shared some compelling lines from the forward of the book where T.N.A. Perumal, a wildlife photographer from Bangalore mentioned “Don and I are very similar. We are naturalists and the only difference was that I picked up a camera while he picked up a gun.” Joshua responded to this by quoting a few other words of Perumal where the latter once said whether it was hunting or photography, one had to understand and track the animals’ behaviour in the same way.

Towards the end, Tony emphasized the role of Aaya (Domestic help) who supported Don and mentioned that the stories she told were a big influence on his life. Joshua also talked about a few more interesting things about Don, and the colonial life in Bangalore during those times.

About the Author: Sai Pradeep is an aspiring writer from Visakhapatnam who recently published his first collection of poetry, All the Lights Within Us. He is working as a content writer in Bangalore. He currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | The Zoo in My Backyard – Usha Rajagopalan with Tony V Francis

Keshava the Monkey, The Devil Family, and an exciting world of animals made up the conversation for this illuminating session. Usha Rajagopalan is a Bangalore based author who spoke passionately about the contents of her recent book, The Zoo in My Backyard.

Tony Francis interviewed Rajagopalan in this fun session. He began the session by commenting on how this book would make him a better father if his kids read them. He asked Rajagopalan to enlighten the audience about her life.

Rajagopalan had five siblings and belonged to a South Indian joint family. Her father had served in the IFS. He would bring back injured animals home, and Usha and her siblings would wait eagerly for him to return. Every time he came home, he’d surprise them with a new animal. Usha hadn’t realised that her family was unique until her friends pointed it out to her when they recalled seeing her in her backyard with a Black Monkey on their shoulders.

Usha had written this book to thank her father. She used to, initially, write for the Deccan Herald, about trysts she had with the animals she was brought up with. While looking back at her upbringing for her write-ups, it was then that she realised the unique upbringing her father had brought her up in. When Puttenahalli lake, a lake close to Usha’s house, was going extinct, her father’s voice in her head encouraged her to gather people and attempt to save the lake.

Tony Francis asked Usha why her family was called the “Devil Family”. Phantom comics was the inspiration behind this. One of the author’s brothers wanted a pet wolf, and her father instead, brought home a Rajapalayam Hound. She then recalled instances of other engagements with animals that seemed to have given her family the title of the ‘Devil Family’. Once she had gone to a party, where a little girl had yelled out loud to her mother, “Amma look, the devil family has come!”

Usha Rajagopalan then read an excerpt from her book. Her voice was sweet and she used different tones to suit the light-heartedness of her book. Listening to Usha’s narration of her book, Tony Francis marvelled that Usha has the mind of a child. Usha, responded excitedly, saying that she likes going into the world of her characters. Characters like the bear, whom Usha thought was grumpy, and Keshava the monkey help give her novel an anthropomorphic element. Her story-telling humanises the animals she grew up with, making her story more charismatic.

“How do you deal with attachment to pets, especially knowing that they’ll go away from your life eventually?” asked Francis. A lot of families choose to not have pets because of the potential for heartbreak. But as a parent, Usha realised, keeping pets helps gave children a sense of responsibility. We love our parents too, even when we know they’ll not be a part of our life anymore. Having a pet is just like that.

Usha recited another excerpt from her book, that brought our attention to Usha’s personality as a child. She was very argumentative as a child, and the paragraph she reads out brought out this trait of hers. Growing up, she learned a lot of bird calls. She has learnt different styles of “Kooos” to communicate with birds. She read out another excerpt from her book, that highlighted how she learned to communicate with a Cuckoo bird in her backyard.

Usha’s books have received praise from children of age seven to adults who are 80 years of age. Francis called the book a classic, and remarked on its timelessness. The session was quite heart-warming and made one think of their own childhood experiences with pets and animals.

About the Author: Anusha is a final year undergraduate student pursuing English Hons at Christ University. She can usually be found expressing her thoughts in the genres of social concerns and satires, often accompanied with a cup of chai. She currently writes for TheSeer.