Based out of Chennai, Bishwanath Ghosh is a journalist by vocation, author by choice & a passionate / well known blogger. His first book ‘Chai, Chai: Travels In Places Where You Stop But Never Get Off’ was published by Tranquebar Press in October 2009.
We caught up with him – Usha, thanks for facilitating! – over email and posed 10 questions, including one we felt, was decidedly tongue-in-cheek. Reproduced below are his responses:
1. When/Where/How did the concept for your book ‘Chai Chai, Places…’ strike you?
BG: I decided to write the book about two years ago. I was travelling from Kanpur to Chennai, returning from my annual Diwali trip to home. The train had stopped at Itarsi station. Itarsi is a big junction. I was having tea at the platform and during the nearly 10 minutes that I spent at the platform, I heard names of stations from virtually every corner of India being mentioned. It suddenly struck me, “People all parts of the country pass through this place, so many cultures criss-cross this station, and yet I know nothing about Itarsi except that it is a railway junction. What lies outside the railway station? Who all live there? What do they do?” Subsequently, the publishers approached me to write a travel book. They wanted something different. So I chose seven junctions that people invariably pass through during train journeys but where they never get off. I made these junctions my destination and that’s how the book came about. I started with Mughal Sarai, came to Jhansi, then Itarsi. Moving down south, I covered Guntakal, Arakkonam, Jolarpettai and Shoranur.
2. Since the book is pan Indian in context, shouldn’t the title have been ‘Chai, Kaapi’?
BG: “Chai, Chai” is the most recognisable sound of the Indian railway junction. There is no escaping this sound, no matter where you are, north or south. Where do you ever hear a vendor shouting “Chai, Kaapi”? “Chai, Chai” is an unmistakable, pan-Indian expression.
3. Has it been easier for you as a journalist to make the transistion to an author?
BG: Yes, very much. Journalism, I would say, is the rough draft of literature, provided you are a conscientious journalist. But being a blogger helps a lot too: blogging is a great throat-clearing exercise and helps you develop a style of writing that is acceptable to readers.
4. Could you share with us one unforgettable incident in the course of writing this book?
BG: Contrary to my expectations, most places I travelled to were very nice to me. In fact I had no expectations at all: I just landed at these places whenever the trains took me there. I had nothing whatsoever to guide me. But I guess the most unforgettable moment was landing in Mughal Sarai at 3.30 in the morning and hunting for a place to stay. Hotel after hotel was refusing to admit guests at that hour and I was really worried. But in the end, it was all fine.
5. Do you think that book reviews tend to be subjective rather than objective?
BG: I think books should be reviewed by a qualified person. When I say qualified, what I mean is that a doctor is not the best person to review a book written by an architect and vice-versa. To review a book like mine, the reviewer should have ideally travelled extensively by trains and spent some time in small-town India. Otherwise, it is almost impossible to appreciate the book. Unfortunately, I have had unqualified people reviewing my books, but very fortunately, such reviewers are in sheer minority. The book, by and large, has got laudatory reviews.
6. As an author, do you think books on fiction are easier / harder to write than non-fiction?
BG: Writing – be it fiction or non-fiction – is a very painful and lonely exercise. It takes a lot out of you. Nothing comes easy.
7. Is writing worth it in terms of the effort, research & time that it takes vis-a-vis the fruits of labour?
BG: Oh yes! There can’t be anything more gratifying than writing a good piece that your readers can relate to. In no other profession do you have this luxury of reaching out to people and making them relate to your thought process.
8. When can readers expect your next book? What genre will it fall in?
BG: The next book should come out by the end of this year. It will be a portrait of Chennai, which will present the city to the world the way it is and demolish the myths shrouding it.
9. What do you think of blogs today as a communication medium?
BG: Blogs are the medium of communication in the 21st century. If you write a good book, only 20,000 people may buy it. But if you have a good blog, some 200 people will read you and look forward to reading you everyday. A good blog is anyday better than a good book, especially if the writer is aiming to reach out to people. And if they like your blog, they might like your book too.
10. Who do you think should be the Indian of the year 2009?
BG: I really can’t think of names. How do I care, after all? For me, 2009 has been the best year so far and the worst year so far. I lost my mother, who was about to turn 59, just eight days before my book came out of the press. I felt cheated. I was upset. But I handled it all quite well, without shedding a drop of tear. So maybe I could be the Indian of 2009 – hey, just kidding!