Senior journalist Chandrima Pal’s maiden book A Song For I tells the story of Ira, a Bengali girl born in mid ’70s Calcutta to a successful classical musician and an independent woman who, perhaps to break out of her husband’s shadow, passed away moments after her birth. Capturing a generation in sync to a period, A Song For I, though not autobiographical, is like a personal chronicle of people and events, expressed with a fair dose of artistic liberty. Aritra Mukhodadhyay spoke to Chandrima Pal about her work , thoughts and feelings... An excerpt.
Since when did you feel this urge to tell your story? How did Song for I happen?
I have been a story teller for as long as I can remember. As a kid all my games were about making up stories and enacting them. As a teen, I was known for my ability to spin yarns out of nothing – something that came in handy whenever I found myself in a sticky situation. On a more serious note, as I grew older, I knew I wanted to write about relationships in which music plays an important part. And that is what the book is about.
This story was there with me for a long time. I kept playing around with the setting, time and the musical backdrop till I reached the point from where it flowed freely.
The character Ira has strong reference to a girl growing up in urban Calcutta from late 80s to the present. How much of you has gone into the making of Ira?
A lot of it. But I have taken plenty of artistic liberties with the people, incidents, anecdotes that have gone into my story. It is not autobiographical in the truest sense, but I would say, deeply personal.
Is there something in that generation which you feel is peculiar to that era only and how does it find expression in the writings capturing that time period? Something that’s unique to Calcutta of that time?
Things were in a flux then, they are still in a flux. Conflicts, self-doubts, ideological clashes were all a part of our growing up. They continue to torment young people today. But I feel not enough has been written about the cultural melting pot that Calcutta was, and still is to some extent.
I mean, All India Radio was one of the few radio stations that aired western music – pop and classical. And also aired cutting edge plays and recitals by musical legends. The winter soirees, the open air gigs, the dance dramas and the neighbourhood cultural nights that kept you awake till the wee hours of the morning... there was so much one could absorb. What was interesting however, and unique about that time was the small window to the world that had opened up for us. We were all living our cocooned lives when somehow things started changing. Most importantly, middle class homes, where earlier you could only hear the strains of Rabindrasangeet or the sitar, were resonating with drum beats and guitar chords.
These were the times when the turnout at the classical music festival was as impressive as the crowd at open air auditoriums for the bands. We were all exploring then. Unlike now when people have already seemed to have formed opinions, taken sides.
From childhood you have seen importance being given on the knowledge of music and its benefits. How much did this knowledge help while writing about music and its various moods and intricacies, which form a big part of the books’ structure?
I don’t know if you should look at music as something that benefits you. You either have an ear for it, or you don’t. In fact, this is also one of the themes of my book. My knowledge of music is limited. I enjoy listening to it. Maybe, I have an ear for it. But more importantly, I am surrounded by musicians – amateur, hobby and professional. And that has shaped my sensibility as a writer. And I think it is something that will remain with me, no matter what I write about.
Do you think with more and more journalists and people involved with mainstream media making an endevour to tell their stories, we can expect an expansion of the existing reader base?
I believe there is a story in each one of us. It is only a matter of telling it. Either you do it yourself, or someone does it for you.
How much has your work as a journalist over a long period of time helped in shaping your thoughts into a proper format?
As a journalist, once again, I try to tell a story each time I work on editing/writing a copy. And that discipline helps while writing a book.
What keeps you busy now that Song for I is out? Have you started working on some thought?
My work as a journalist, my book readings – I will be in Bangalore on the 19th for a reading with Vikram Sampath – and planning my next trip to the mountains.
But, I am itching to get back to writing.