Interview with Debadatta Satpathy
Debadatta Satpathy is a short story writer from Odisha. He has written two quality short stories collections among which, Ghostbusters and Other Stories is the recent one. His stories are generally the reverberance of the past events and mostly about the childhood which easily connect to the readers. Below is a conversation with him which you will surely enjoy!
Alok Mishra: In your preface, you have written in short about your personal understanding of short stories. I would like you to please explain that a little so that our readers could benefit and know in depth what does short story mean to you, Debadatta?
Debadatta Satpathy: In my view, short stories should remain that: short and carrying a powerful emotional punch. They should never prolong indefinitely that can bore the reader after a certain time. At the same time, the story should be a delightful combination of surprise and humour but should never be didactic. In both my books, I have tried to adhere to this formula. Take “the final gift” story of ‘House of Bougainvillea’. Here the hero gifts a book to his childhood friend, a poor girl called Sasmita as a farewell measure, but the emotional content is so high that none of the readers who has read that story has been able to control tears. Or for that matter, “The Stalin House” of Ghostbusters and other Stories has also as its highlight, the main conversation between a brother and a sister that constitutes an element of irony. In all my stories, you will find an undercurrent of sad realism in a condensed version.
Alok Mishra: When did you decide that you have to write this book Ghostbusters and Other Stories? And how did it occur? What was the motivation behind this anthology of short stories?
Debadatta Satpathy: Right from my boyhood, I have been reading the short stories of Mr Manoj Das, the celebrated Oriya writer, who, in my view, is the best storyteller ever. He has this uncanny ability to weave out a story from pretty ordinary events. I got so inspired by his writings, that one day I decided I would be writing stories like Mr Das in future. It’s another matter that it took me two decades to find out my time and write a book. The result was “House of Bougainvillea and other stories”.
“Ghostbusters” happened similarly with my continued obsession to put forth past events, events those have shaped or influenced my life in a profound way. The story “Ghostbusters” itself is a reflection of a chilling experience that I had while when I was a kid.
Alok Mishra: Who are the authors who motivate you and whom you look up to? Have you read the Western short story writers? Which ones do you like the most?
Debadatta Satpathy: Among the Indian writers, I rate two persons very high: Mr Manoj Das and Rabindranath Tagore. I also rate O’ Henry’s stories as fantastic.
Alok Mishra: Many authors believe that unless they do something unusual and extravagant in the terms of diction, their work is not at ‘that’ level. However, you short stories are quite near to the humane in the terms of language used. Do you think keeping it simple works the best for you (and maybe others too)?
Debadatta Satpathy: I find verbose stories really tiring when the reader has to consult a dictionary on every second line. My point is that a writer needs to convey his or her feelings to the reader in the best possible way and should not wear the reader out with verbal artistry. So yes, I believe in keeping it simple.
Alok Mishra: Please explain in brief the process of writing a short story as you do it. How does it start? How do you pick a plot? How do you develop it and how do you end it?
Debadatta Satpathy: I search for humour in day to day events and from there my story starts.I give it a shape and finally end with an element of surprise. I will give you an example.
Say, I see a youngster at a park, smoking and leering at a girl. I wonder, “How come this boy is at this park during school hours? That means, he must have made an excuse to bunk the class. What could be that excuse? Let’s say, sick father. But funnily, the father has also made an excuse at his office as “sick son” and come to the same park to ogle at the comely creatures. Now both father and son have discovered each other, but are wary of acknowledging their presence. Therefore, a comic situation develops.
One thing, I avoid in my stories is moral lectures. I think the reader is too wise to derive his or her own understandings.
Alok Mishra: As an author, you should have received so many feedbacks from the readers and your friends as well. How do you deal with the positive ones as well as the negative ones? Did it affect so much after the publication of the first book? And how will you explain your journey from House of Bougainvelliea to Ghostbusters?
Debadatta Satpathy: The first reaction I got from my friends and colleagues was “Huh!A book? Why? Does not your company pay you?” as if that’s the only consideration for writing a book! But I must confess that “House of bougainvillea”, my first book, has got its fair share of brickbats. Maybe because it was my maiden attempt and I was concerned more with the feelings rather than diction and flow. I have made corrective actions in “Ghostbusters” and I guess readers will like it very much. However, the basic chemistry of writing, keeping it straight and simple, remains in both the books.
Alok Mishra: Now someone into the field of creative writing for more than 3-4 years, you must have made a perception about the literature produced in English in India. Why do you think many authors rely on longer formats of fiction than venturing into the short stories? And why did you choose this genre when you have softer ones available?
Debadatta Satpathy: In my view, writing short stories is much more challenging because you have to compress your thoughts in 4000- 5000 words and at the same time, delight the reader. Moreover, every plot should be unique and needs to have its distinct identity. A novel, on the other hand, can drag on and on, without any page limit. That’s perhaps the reason why the modern day authors are happier writing thick tomes.
However, I feel the modern readers do not have the time or inclination to finish a 400-500 pages novel. Most of the times, I have seen my friends buying books on a whim and then keeping them half-read. So if I can convey my story in 4 pages with a fair amount of emotional content, I will go for short story writing. And that’s what I did.
Alok Mishra: What are your frank views on the literature which are bestsellers in India today?
Debadatta Satpathy: I will not take names. But some of the authors, after the success of their initial novels, have become too repetitive and the books are getting sold only on their names. I feel, every book is an art of work itself and needs as much effort as your other book. An author’s mind should always be in flux, searching for new plots.
Alok Mishra: What are your further plans, Debadatta? Should the readers anticipate another collection of wonderful short stories any sooner?
Debadatta Satpathy: Yes, for that’s what is my endeavour. Maybe in a year or so.