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Interview with Nilotpal Dutta

He is the author of Everything and Nothing, a novel set in pre-independence Bengal, East Pakistan, and post-independence India. Nilotpal has been working in the Indian IT industry for more than 25 years and is currently employed as Director, Sales with a large IT MNC. He lives in Bangalore.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I don’t get bored with routine. I value things that come organically in life and am more comfortable if the changes are predictable. I can watch Govinda movies back to back.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you shortly? Any new project you’re working on?
I have written a coming-of-age, slice-of-life book set in the 1970s and 80s and based in a coal mining township. The story captures the kind of life we led growing up - small town, slow life, bonding amongst friends and families, overall innocence, limited career options, etc. Hopefully, the book will be out by the end of this year.

Q.3 What made you write this book in a fictionalized form?
 Very few stories are written around partition on our eastern borders, so I wanted to attempt that. The partition of Bengal was not as blood soaked as that of Punjab, but the pain was as deep, and unfortunately for many, it continued for more than two decades after the partition. 

That Bengal was unsuccessfully partitioned earlier, a sizeable Hindu population stayed back in East Pakistan after partition and had to undergo torment from leaders of West Pakistan, and the uniformity of language and culture that held a large section of the population together makes for a very strong story.

Q.4 It is vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing. Tell us about your marketing campaign?
Apart from the effort put in by the publisher, I have leveraged Amazon advertising and bloggers primarily. I am willing to partner with the right set of people.

Q.5 You have insightfully taken the readers into the life of Bengali Hindus and Muslims who suffered a lot. How have you achieved it?
Growing up, I heard many cruel and tragic stories of partition, and at times firsthand. Irrespective of where it happened, the pain associated with the uprooting of families and loss of lives and property is the same. 

To bring that sensitivity wasn’t difficult. I researched a lot on pre-partition Bengal and post-independence East Pakistan - some of it on the cultural and linguistic unity irrespective of different religions - and that surely helped.

Q.6 What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
To keep the right balance between fiction and historical facts. Too much history could make the book look like a textbook. And too little might not be enough to put the right context to the story.

Q.7 Can you describe your process when starting a historical fiction? Do you begin with researching the time period, creating a character, or something else?
Obviously, a deep understanding of incidents in the time period is a must, and that needs a lot of research. To write this book, I read 7-8 books and researched on the web and Wikipedia to develop the basic flow. 

The storyline was the next step, and then the development of various characters to stitch the basic plotline. In this case, equally important was to decide the period - the beginning and end so that the story is coherent.

Q.8 Immersing readers in a different time period seems like it would be overwhelming. What advice do you have for readers who might be too intimidated to approach historical fiction?
Every genre serves a purpose, and I strongly feel that one should read across genres. Historical fiction gives life to historical facts that otherwise may appear insipid to many readers. If the story dominates the historical aspect, to a reader, the book comes across like any other fiction and need not be overwhelming. The issue is when the content on history begins to cloud the storyline.

Q.9 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
I haven’t experienced much, and surely not for long durations. And if I experience this, I take a short break of a few days and use the time to fine-tune whatever I have already written.

Q.10 What were your feelings when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
I loved it. The cover has the Shiuli flower, which is very significant in the eastern part of India where the story is set. In many ways, it is an important cultural marker of the region.

Q.11 Why is this title Everything and Nothing?
At each stage of her life, when the protagonist thinks that she has got ‘everything’ right, unfortunate circumstances reduce it to ‘nothing.’ It’s the basic cycle of life.

Q.12 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
Though I had read about Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s role in the liberation of Bangladesh, it was the extent and details that surprised me. Her resolve, astuteness at each stage, sheer courage, and standing up against a large part of the world to make her point. Mind you, India then was very different from India now with respect to global standing.

Q.13 As an author, were you able to detach yourself from the fictionalized story? How much of ‘you’ is there in the story?
Except for the views on the relevance of religion in our day-to-day lives and views expressed through characters on socio-political issues post-independence, which in some cases may be echoing my own views, I have been able to keep myself and my experiences out of the storyline.

Q.14 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I have written two. In Retrospect, which is autobiographical. And Everything and Nothing, which is historical fiction. I love both equally as one is my growing up story and the other on a topic close to my heart.

Q.15 Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I am not fixed on a genre. I want to experiment, test myself, and be creative. My next book is not historical fiction.

Q.16 What are your favorite books from other authors and why?
I love reading books that are autobiographical but need not be about famous people, books that give a sense of life in those times from a common man’s perspective. A book that I love is Roots by Alex Haley.

Q.17 Who edited your book, and how did you select them?
I submitted my manuscript to Red Ink Literary Agency; they liked it and agreed to represent the work. A large part of the editing was done by their editor Sharvani Pandit.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
A. Chanakya
. I am fascinated by his determination, vision, the strength of character, and knowledge.

Q.19 Who designed your book covers?
It was designed by the publisher.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
Very satisfying. I love the creative part, building a story on a clean slate, and putting emotions in characters. I find writing a huge stress buster.

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