Author Shovon Chowdhury was at Punjab Kala Bhawan, Chandigarh, on Saturday to promote his second book Murder with Bengali Characteristics. A Delhi-based amateur humourist, Chowdhury’s blog ‘India Update’ has over 2 lakh followers now.
He has contributed for Scroll, Newslaundry, DailyO, Swarajya, BLink, Tehelka and Outlook. His first book The Competent Authority which he completed in 11 years was a finalist for a number of prizes. It took him 5-6 years to complete his second book.
According to the author, his new detective novel is set 25 years from now when Bengal and north-east go to China. So when a crime happens, it is the Chinese policeman who reaches. “I do not know Chinese but all characters are Chinese…It is a challenge to create people whom you do not know,” said Chowdhury.
He did a lot of research on China before writing the novel. He is critical of incest and immigrants being focus of English novels. “Literature in India is not doing what it should,” he said. Presently, he is working on a research project, ‘Trilokpuri Incident’, which is based on 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.
How is your book Murder with Bengali Characteristics different from your first book, The Competent Authority?
I wanted to write a detective story. I took two Agatha Christie books and took notes. I realised how this woman’s mind worked twists and turns. I took easier tricks. I spent 20 years in Delhi. For me it is freedom. During Jyoti Basu’s rule in Bengal, it was quite dark. The party owned judges, thanas and even panwalas. Calcutta was like under Stalin’s rule. The Competent Authority is a Delhi book. Murder with Bengali Characteristics is a Calcutta book where I lived.
The Competent Authority was of 450 pages. I got the feedback to write short. So this new book is short (184 pages). My friend told me Punjabis do not read, patla likha karo. The Competent Authority was like chappad phad ke. This new book is like a puzzle.
Your blog ‘India Update’ on satire has now over 2 lakh followers. How did it all start?
I started the blog a year before the launch of The Competent Authority to promote it. The blog is like The Economist with jokes. The Economist also does not have authors’ names and so the does the blog. It is driven by headlines and news stories.
You have written for repealing certain laws like Sedition law and Section 377 of IPC which criminalises unnatural sex. What about law against defamation?
We are governed by laws of Manu and Indian Penal Code of 1860. It is hard to tell the truth. Either IPC would take you or traditionalists. The more bizarre you write, you can get away with the law. Many Chinese and Russians are writing bizarre things and that is the only way you can write the truth. Fiction is the only way to write truth. For a writer, defamation law is death. Anyone can sue you. Defamation is a tool for suppression.
Have you ever faced backlash? Do the comments on your blog need to be filtered? I have hardly found anything critical or abusive comment.
I write ridiculous. I am not getting abuses, though I got a lot from Bengalis when I wrote on Durga puja on Scroll. I do not filter comments on the blog. You provide humour. It is like doing a service like Mother Teresa. So, people do not trouble you.
You said headlines and news stories are like fodder for you. You have written on Azam Khan’s buffaloes (I was kidnapped by Mother Dairy, says Buffalo) or potency test of Asaram Bapu (Gujarat godman to be brand ambassador of Baidyanath Vita-Ex).
You also said you are much affected by Gujarat riots of 2002. Will you convert a news item of death of 40 people of a minority community into a humourous piece?
A lot of thought and craft goes into converting news items into humour. But it is hard to make a genocide funny. My wife cautioned me not to make fun of 1984 riots. It is hard to write about it. My grandparents told me stories of the Great Calcutta Killings of 1946. My uncle and aunt went through Naxalism themselves…