Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
tgbc: What was the inspiration behind Don’t Let Him Know?
Sandip: My inspiration was an image I had that comes in the third chapter. A woman standing on a rooftop with a boy watching a man walk down the street. Her husband standing below doing the same. And the man is waving. And it made me wonder about the relationship between the men, what the woman knew and the shadow it would cast on the boy. The novel I wrote rewinds and fast forwards from that moment but I remember I had that image as I was driving on the freeway in the US and it stuck with me.
tgbc: How did you weave the earlier published stories into the novel?
Sandip: A far more perceptive friend read some of the stories and said they are really all about the same people. And I realized I was writing chapters not short stories. It did need a lot of alterations. Some of the stories were written in first person for example. I like to think of the book as a novel in stories where each chapter is standalone and complete in itself but read together they fit together to give us a slightly different perspective of the characters. Each chapter informs the others even as it tells its own story. Some chapters raise questions that other chapters answer. But also I was able to tell the story of the novel through vignettes and free myself from the impetus to connect every thread.
tgbc: Kolkata is a big presence in the book, yet the process of discovery and growth for Romola and Amit happens in the US. Is this intentional?
Sandip: No it’s not though I must say I too “grew up” in the real sense of the word in the US. Immigration forces even pampered middle-class sons like me to stand on their own feet, be independent, be responsible and learn to cook. To this day people ask if I cook on my own because it is so incomprehensible for aunts and uncles to think a middle class man like me could do that. I think America certainly changes Romola and Amit in ways they might not have changed if they had stayed in India. They would have been different people then.
tgbc: Just as Amit craves the mango chutney his great-grandmother makes and hoards, what is the dish you crave when distressed or lonely?
Sandip: Boiled egg and rice with a splash of mustard oil and a green chili remains my comfort food. At home in India though it’s a very simple homestyle goat meat curry with potatoes.
tgbc: Your book seems to suggest that sometimes keeping secrets is more important in a successful marriage than telling them is. Comment?
Sandip: I think we all keep secrets sometimes because sometimes it seems that is the way to preserve a family (which does not mean it’s a successful marriage). Perhaps it’s like Lord Shiva as Neelkanth keeping the poison in his throat to save the world. But some secrets are more like guilty pleasures to be savoured and the guiltier they are – a burger, an old flirtation – the more pleasureable they are. Remember the old Anna Karenina quote about all happy families being alike? I always disagree with that because I think all families are a petri dish of secrets and all happy families are secretive in their own ways. Some secrets tear families apart, some keep them together, some we hide from each other out of shame, some out of kindness. I wanted to write a book that was about the secret lives of happy families. I don’t think in the end I would want anyone – whether it’s a parent or a lover or a friend – to know me in totality. There’s always a secret compartment somewhere.
tgbc: How long did you take to write this novel?
Sandip: Some of the material in this books stems from stuff I was trying to write over ten years ago. Of course if you think a book will take ten years you’d never embark on it. But the focused work took two years or so.
tgbc: For a journalist, how is the process of writing fiction different from non-fiction?
Sandip: They are different hats but after making a paradigm shift from writing software programs to becoming a journalist, non-fiction to fiction seems a much more manageable jump. But it was hard sometimes to remember the characters could roam free in my imagination and I had to enter their minds and not just report about their activities. But in the end my journalism too, especially the radio commentaries, have been about story telling.
tgbc: What do you do when you are looking for inspiration or facing writer’s block?
Sandip: I just go away and do something else. Sometimes I cook, or go to the gym. I find chopping onions is a good way to get frustration out of your system.
tgbc: Who are your book mentors?
Sandip: My writing group birthed the book. It would not have happened without them. I am delighted that two of them – Minal Hajratwala and Daisy Hernandez – have wonderful books of their own out. But Diya Kar Hazra at Bloomsbury was the real force behind making this book happen.
tgbc: If this book became a movie who would you want as the main actors?
Sandip: I’d rather not speculate though I was surprised to see an interview with VIdya Balan where she said she had read the book and it made her yearn for Kolkata.
tgbc: What next?
Sandip: Another book but I am mulling non-fiction.