Rohit Chakraborty is the incredibly young and talented author of The Mug of Melancholy, first in a series of five novels narrating the story of Bhuvan Chauhan and the Andrunains. The idea for the series was conceived in 2008 and stemmed out of a yearning for a personal literary escapism in a nonsensical world populated with invented creatures and situations, yet allusive to the contemporary and the historical. Following two years of creating notes, plot outlines, drawings, and early drafts, Chakraborty began writing The Mug of Melancholy in December 2010, long-hand, allowing only a friend and his English teacher to read passages from a notebook. Upon persuasion by his English teacher, he decided to submit his manuscript to literary agencies for consideration.
What inspires you to write?
Typewriters, a picture, an illustration, virtually anything that resembles a Remington or an Underwood. I have spent hours on Instagram gawking at these beautiful objects of yore—shiny or otherwise. Fresh stationery: pens, yellowing paper, spiral bound notebooks. A cup of tea (with a saucer, I am from Assam, so that’s a prerequisite), chocolates, only dark. And a routine; I write in the weekends. I learned that while writing seriously you can’t hand yourself to the muses. Inspiration is a fickle guest. A routine always helps. Yes, inspiration does strike at odd hours of the day: when I’m in the shower, when I’m in class, or when I am trying to go to sleep at three in the morning. But, the things listed above are catalysts. I need tea and chocolates and fresh stationery on my desk.
What are your writings generally about?
I’d like to convince myself that I like to write about diversity, the variety of humanity. The Andrunain books, The Mug of Melancholy, I would say, explore man’s relationship with nature and how man would react if nature were qualified and quantified into beings who looked like us. I explore whether they would contain and exploit these beings who could abuse our dreams or our visions, help in the transition of seasons, tamper with time and effects of music, deliver songs to songbirds, or would they be able to coexist. In its core however, the books will explore the consuming fear of disease, familial negotiations, nationality and terrorism, and of course, reconciliation with one’s identity. There usually is a dialogue between consciences of the characters all set to an epic dramatic framework. I remember when I first had the idea for the books, the first sentence I wrote was: Andrunains: they are like butlers. They must get the work done but they must remain invisible. I became very involved with the idea of visibility.But, it’s children’s literature!
What’s your idea about art?
Incomplete. Transient. Myriad. Commercialisation of the same, however, deems you to judge the current-ness of it all; it abuses this activity by providing it a yardstick. Sometimes, art happens accidentally. There’s this episode in Luann by Greg Evans where Luann has to submit an art project for an exhibition and she plans to have a papier-mâché mask of her face. Her Australian boyfriend
does a shoddy job of taking it off. And the mangled mask becomes art exploring grand themes like fractured identities and what not. Luann just stands there and goes: ‘Alright, whatever floats your boat.’
Do you follow any artists? That inspire your work, style of writing etc.
When I was writing the backstory for Zoya, the antagonist in the Andrunain books, I was listening to a lot of Amy Winehouse; Frank and Back to Black were on a loop. Truffaunt’s Les Quatre Cents Coups helped me chalk out her childhood. Monuments inspire me for the descriptions in the book. Omenwhisky Gardens was an amalgamation of Rajput architecture, Georgian buildings, and a little bit of Lady Gaga thrown in there somewhere. I was reading a bit about Mughal courts and William Dalrymple in particular when I was plotting the tales of the Five Kings of Panchaprakritpur while simultaneously reading Indian folk tales because I wanted to teach myself the quintessential style in which folk tales are delivered and transpose it to my method of narrating the stories of the Five Kings in the books. You’ll read about the tale of the first king in the second book.
Illustrators: Pauline Baynes, Sal Murdocca, Quentin Blake, they have heavily influenced my writing often through drawings; I would be able to derive another arc. Sometimes, I would generate information that would never find its way into the books. I would be able to go deeper into Omenwhisky’s history by examining why I decided to draw a Scottish Jinxmith in a turban. These illustrators helped me along the way.
Your book The Mug of Melancholy has done pretty well. What’s next?
The second book in the series, for sure. I am quite excited about the second novel because Bhuvan takes a trip to Calcutta and finds out about this Rajput who manufactured Mayuroom doors during the Indian National Movement, a tidbit that is not even remotely related to the plot. I shan’t declare the title; it’s too early and I don’t want to jinx it.
I am also working on something else at this point, but it’s for an older readership. Maybe, I’ll publish that before Book Three.
What are you doing when you’re not writing?
YouTube: that’s my second home. I like to draw occasionally but I’m not very good. My editor once told me that I draw like a five-year-old. I try to teach myself at times how to cook. I love scrolling through Instagram feeds. Yes, I’m not very outdoorsy. Oh, and I’m a full-time English Literature student: so there’s that. And, of late, I have taken to listening to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and Years & Years and Adele and Frank Sinatra when I’m idle. Also, I have been listening to a lot of M S Subbulakshmi lately because I am planning a very intricate scene in Book Three. And I could devote half my heart and my day to cinema.
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