Madhumita Mukherjee grew up in Delhi and did her medical education from Calcutta National Medical College. She has been living and working in England since 2001 as a Paediatrician. She has a special affinity for epistolary novels as well as novels written as journals and diaries like ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ by E.M. Delafield, and ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith. Besides these, she takes special interest in novels with medical themes such as ‘A Country Doctor’s Notebook’ by Mikhail Bulgakov.

‘The Other Side of the Table’ is her first novel. She joins us here for a small tete-a-tete –

Aseem: Who or what inspired you to begin writing?
Madhumita: Nothing in particular and certainly not anyone. I suddenly had the time for the wrong reason and I wanted to distract myself by telling myself a story…

Aseem:Takes us through the challenges or lack of it you faced as a first time writer.
Madhumita I didn’t face any challenges… I wrote it down, typed it up and was accepted by the first literary agency I contacted(Red Ink). And then got an offer to publish it from Fingerprint. And that was that…

Aseem: What was your inspiration for this story?
Madhumita: I don’t know if I can call it inspiration, but I knew when I started writing it. It had to be about doctors and medicine since that is the world I know best and about the kind of friendship that sustains us & helps us to cope with the ups and downs of life…

Aseem: Since epistolary novels are quite rare at least in the Indian literary world, weren’t you apprehensive on how people would take it?
Madhumita: Absolutely not. In fact the thought never crossed my mind… I think the quality of writing matters not the format. Most people will read something where the language is lovely or the story engaging, whether it is in the form of letters, diary or any other format including traditional third person narratives. The proof is Anne Frank’s diary. It was a little girl’s diary but it has sold millions of copies and it wasn’t even fiction..

Aseem: Your novel is really simple throughout and devoid of any subplots. Did you ever feel the need to include any more characters or introduce more drama / mystery / suspense etc?
Madhumita: No, then I would have. Make plot too complicated and it would be hard to keep track of things like ‘Who murdered the chauffer?’ in ‘The Big Sleep’ by master storyteller Raymond Chandler. And since I am no Raymond Chandler and this was my first attempt at writing, I wanted to keep it simple.

Aseem: What was the best and the worst reaction you have got to your novel?
Madhumita: Best was the approval of my mum who’s a great reader and the admiration of my closest childhood friend… Worst … Oh! All sorts really… But I guess, the worst was that some of my ‘close’ friends did not even bother to read it or if they did, they didn’t bother to give me a feedback… Any reaction, good or bad is better, indifference really hurts.

Aseem: What was your first reaction when you realized that you have a huge battle to fight – ‘Cancer’? How did you fight through?
Madhumita: Shock, disbelief, that this could be happening to me, we all think bad things happen to other people…My parents love and support got me through that very difficult time.

Aseem: How do you find WhatsApp, SMS, email etc. vis-à-vis old fashioned letters? Do you feel letters had a charm of their own ?
Madhumita: I haven’t tried Whatsapp yet. Everybody keeps telling me I should. SMS and email are fine. They have become such an integral part of our lives that it’s difficult to imagine life without them. But an email can never compare to a handwritten letter. Their charm lay in the beauty of seeing your loved ones, be it friend or relative’s handwriting and the delicious anticipation of waiting for a reply.

Aseem: What do you think of the Indian literary market in today’s times?
Madhumita: I don’t think I can comment very well on that, as I have lived out of India for the last twelve years. But everytime I visit India and go to bookshops, there seem to be lots of different kinds of books coming out and I feel it is a very vibrant market and these are exciting times.

Aseem: Reading or Writing – You prefer?
Madhumita: Reading,definitely. Imagine being stuck on an island with the choice of reading or writing. I would much rather have the option of reading and hence an unlimited supply of good books. Than writing, and an unlimited supply of pen and paper and of course, time. Because, with the second choice, i.e writing, if one gets a writer’s block, God forbid, it will be so boring, there will be huge temptation to jump in and take the’ long swim to China’ … You know what I am talking about , don’t you?( Just in case it’s not ringing a bell, I am referring to ‘Night of the Iguana’ by Tennessee Williams )

Aseem: How do you balance your professional life and writing? Any plans of becoming a full time writer?
Madhumita: I don’t. I write when I can or when I want to. I don’t write everyday. I wish I could be more decisive and procrastinate less. I wish I was more disciplined. I would love to become a full time writer and that can happen if I ever get enough money to live on without holding down a day job. But then again, I will miss being a doctor and talking to patients. Just writing, can be lonely…

Aseem: How do you spend your free time?
Madhumita: I don’t have much free time. But what there is, I fill up with reading, watching movies, travelling.

Aseem: What’s the next book we can look forward to, from you?
Madhumita: That’s a secret…

Thanks Madhumita for giving us your valuable time. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours.