Ranjit Lal was born in Calcutta in 1955, and educated in Mumbai, graduating in Economics and Sociology. As a freelance writer and columnist over the last 30 years, he has had well over 1500 articles, short stories, features and photo-features published in over 50 newspapers and magazines in India and abroad. The publications he has contributed to include all the major national dailies of India, as well as a slew of magazines; big, small and fledgling. His Interview at WIC India Community Literature Festival 2017.
Share with us your childhood memories of Kolkata.
My childhood was spent in Madras (as it then was) and Bombay (ditto). Lot’s of time to play outdoors, to read, cycle, climb trees, fish in wells, no distractions thanks to TV/internet etc. It was very enjoyable and you learned a lot through practical experience. (Eg. Which ants would bite you viciously and which, would not).
Is writing self-indulgent? What kind of philosophical inquiry colors your writing?
If writing is self-indulgent then probably so is talking! It’s just a way of communicating in a more permanent sort of way, and getting your point of view across on paper – or the computer screen. I don’t think there’s any philosophical inquiry being conducted. I write to entertain and in response to things that make one react – injustices, inequalities etc.
Out of all the books that you have written so far, which one makes you exceptionally proud?
Different books are favourites for different reasons: Crow Chronicles because it was the first, Faces in the Water because it was a challenging subject, as was Nana was a Nutcase, Royal Recipe because it was fun…
Which is your favorite genre: Fiction or Non-Fiction?
I find I’m reading more non-fiction and writing more fiction!
There seems to be a very small segment of literature oriented to men, very few books talk about the male experience, or explore what it is to be a guy. Do we see you writing more stories with male character in lime light?
Wait and watch!
What is the best thing about writing children’s book?
It’s fun and gets better when kids come up to you and ask, almost accusingly, ‘but how do you know exactly what’s going on inside our heads and say it exactly the way we do?’
In your book “The Deadly Royal Recipe” you have written the story that looks more like a recipe and has some exotic food as well. How did this story come around and are you an exotic food lover yourself?
Well about five years ago I had to perforce learn how to cook and found I enjoyed it thoroughly. Then I thought about all those extremely sour and selfish chefs who keep recipes deadly ‘secret’ and well there was the story… (May their tribe perish!)
How do you select the names of your characters?
They just pop into my head!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Has to be Mervyn Peake’s ‘The Titus Books’.
What did you do with your first advance?
Umm…don’t remember but it was probably too measly to do anything with!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
You grow a thick skin. And of course, the bad ones are written by morons, the good ones by people you would like to meet!
How important do you think literature festivals are to authors, young writers and readers?
Hopefully quite important in creating awareness that books (apart from textbooks and guides) still exist. As so do writers who are flesh and blood people.
Finally, if you could pass on a single piece of advice to authors out there reading this interview, what would it be?
Keep on writing.