A Little More About Kathputli’s Story (Incidentally Also the Blurb for the Book)

One woman. Two lives. Three generations. Four places.

Chitrangda Chatterjee, 32, has been moving from one dead-end offshore job to another. Kathputli’s story begins after Chitrangda has quit her latest job and sets out in search of the perfect story for her Great Indian Novel.

 

This takes her to a family reunion of her grandmother’s clan, where a story of the long-lost daughter of a once-powerful Zamindar family begins to take shape.

 

Unravelling the mystery of Mala’s disappearance a few years after the brutal murder of the boy she loved becomes an obsession for Chitrangda. One which draws Chitrangda out of her shell; and introduces her to the unaccustomed joys of getting to know new people and places.  What emerges, however, undermines the very foundation of Chitrangda’s understanding of her own family.

 

The novel goes back and forth between Chitrangda’s present-day search for all the missing pieces of Mala’s story and the story itself, set in 1940s Kolkata.

Short Video on Kathputli

My friends Ramesh Mantripragada and Avishek Ghosh very graciously took time out of their busy schedules to take the footage and create the video, respectively. Lakshmi Ananthamurthy put the video up on the SiyaWoman Facebook page soon after, and it was shared widely by my friends and supporters (lead by my current head of promotions, Debjeet Basu, aka the husband).

I get by with a little help from my friends!

Watch it here.

Reviews and Ratings for Kathputli so far

It’s only been out in the Kindle format for a month and a half, but has, I am heartened to say, received quite a bit of love from book readers already.

This is from Amazon.in

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on 10 January 2017
Awesome plot with gripping twists and turns. Really loved reading this one and it always kept the momentum building.
 
on 4 January 2017

In my quest to discover the works of obscure and new Indian authors, I stumbled upon Kathputli. The cover and the book title evoked my curiosity (Kathputli means puppet) as I have a tendency to gravitate towards stories that revolve around female protagonists.

This was a surprising book which balances a variety of elements- a coming of age story, the struggle of an ambitious Bengali woman, a bond between sisters, the perception of mental illness in the Indian society, the fragility of relationships and life itself. Sen traverses back and forth in time and shifts narrating point-of-view tactfully. At first, I found the constant re-adjustment a bit jarring, but once you get into the rhythm, it gets comfortable.

The plot is fairly straightforward- Kuhu, the protagonist is in search of a story for her great novel. A family re-union ignites a possibility and she chases an idea relentlessly- a bittersweet story of two sisters, one of whom is her grandmother. I won’t go into it further and spoil it for potential readers.

The story unfurls at a casual pace. There is a smoothness in descriptions of dialogue and mannerisms of characters which I really enjoyed. But above all, what Sen has done truly well is slyly slipped in deep inflections on how Indians think and behave in what appears to be a straightforward narrative. You are then forced to stop and re-read and nod your head in solemn agreement. A few examples:

“After many years of puzzling over it, she’d decided it was that Ma had one of each, a girl and a boy, so she had no need for Lata — just a spare, and not a spare of the right gender either.”

“Love is hardly an appropriate subject at a respectable wedding.”

“We’ll beat someone on the head with some blame we think she’s unaware of; the thought that she feels no guilt for what she’s doing is anathema to us; but the moment the person exhibits signs of remorse and feels pain for it, we hasten to assure her it’s not that bad at all, that she shouldn’t beat herself up about things. It’s almost like we want to see pain. Once we see signs of distress we are comforted that things are as they should be.”

As an aspiring writer myself, I found myself in awe at these junctures.

I would have liked a bit more on the love angle with Kuhu and Karno. Perhaps in a sequel?

 

on 3 January 2017
A wonderful read…Completely gripping. I’m not an avid reader but this kept me glued till completion. Just loved it.
on 21 December 2016
Thoroughly enjoyed reading the protagonist Chitrangda’s journey through different places in search of her perfect story. Ushasi has beautifully taken the narration back and forth in time and many a times it almost made me feel as though I were present in that room listening to the narrator. The glossary in the end is helpful for non-Bengalis like me but certainly does’nt interrupt the flow as most words are easy to comprehend given the context. Looking forward to many more interesting reads, Ushasi.
on 16 December 2016
Absolutely loved this book. A perfect book to sit down with a cup of coffee in this weather! It’s fast paced and full of unexpected twists and turns. Retains the air of mystery all through but manages to tie up all the loose ends neatly at the end! For me, a good book is like one where it feels like a friend is telling you the story. A great one is where it feels like the story is being played out in front of you! This one is great ! You’re rooting for the protagonist as she races to find the truth and you hold your breath once you reach the spell binding finish! Looking forward to more !!
on 13 December 2016
A fast-paced story across two time periods which flows very well. A real page-turner. With some compelling insights into human behaviour thrown in.
on 13 December 2016
This is a very compelling book and I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it. This book presents the lives of people from a Bengali family with origins in Kolkatta, India as seen through the eyes of Chitrangda, the protagonist. She goes on a wonderful journey of rediscovering herself where she unlocks secrets within her family and takes the reader along with her. Ushasi’s narrative is beautiful and for all the non-Bengalis, there’s a very enlightening Glossary section. I loved this book and would highly recommend it to all readers.
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Goodreads tells me some people have loved it; I have no idea who this Ushasi Sen Basu who has given it 5 stars, is, but she seems to have good taste! 😉 ; and others are in the process of reading it. I hope once the paperbacks are out, this list will be too big for a screenshot.

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A big ‘Thank you’ to everyone who’s taken the trouble and time to not only to read, but to rate it! Hope to see many many more in February!

 

 

 

Some Quotes from ‘Kathputli’

Just in case you’re the sort who likes to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few quotes from the book that some of the readers have said they enjoyed. And, some that I enjoyed writing. 🙂

 

An enormously relieved Chitrangda mopped up the sweat on her face with a forearm as she got her bearings on the crowded platform. She sidestepped a couple of red-turbaned coolies, hefted her bag onto her shoulder and set out for the taxi stand. There was a bounce in her step and a tingly feeling in her ears.

Chitrangda was just a step behind her story, she could feel it, at long last.

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…she had drifted from one soul-killing job to another, peddling her facility with the English language to a variety of bosses who believed they could do just as good a job as she but didn’t have the time or the inclination for it — ergo, felt no need to pay her more than a pittance for her work. Why pay someone well for something you could do yourself if you only felt like it?

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They had barely averted a head-on collision, she realized, blinking in her seat as she processed this. But worse still, where she should feel relief at the last minute reprieve from sure death; all Chitrangda felt was…a sense of disappointment.

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Chitrangda waited with barely restrained patience for dupur to turn into bikel at 5, and officially end siesta time.

She went upstairs to her grandmother’s book-lined part of the house. It was a little dark, a little musty-smelling now that multi-storied buildings had sprouted on each side of their four-storeyed home. The house, once one of the taller ones in the neighbourhood, now sat squatly amidst a neighbourhood bristling with gleaming high-rises built on the dust of old homes. It was an oft-discussed topic among the neighbours, some of whom had now moved into their sliding-glass-doored flats; that the family would only hold out as long as Thamma lived.

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He fell over in agony. It was over. All he could hope for was mercy, as the gang of servants converged on him, sticks aloft. He heard shouts and hoots as more men came running up from the edge of his vision. The dog bayed in his face.

He closed his eyes. No, he could only hope for it to be over soon.

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“Can you come with me?”

“No, my dear, I am 80 and have earned my rest. I am no longer obliged to do anything but sleep  until insomnia robs me of it, eat as well as my digestion allows, and read my books until my sight goes.”

Chitrangda made a little moue of disappointment, but didn’t press her. I’ve got my lead, I can deal with everything else. Take deep breaths, they’re family, I will be like the prodigal daughter returning to the fold. How bad can they get?

“And besides,” her grandmother flashed Chitrangda her infectious grin, “I didn’t even go much when I was obliged. A den of vipers if ever there was one.”

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Lata slapped her hard across the face. What was a slap after having murdered a man in cold blood? she thought, wondering how a day could change everything.

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She’d tried her best. And she’ll keep trying, even though Mala didn’t want to be helped. She owed her sister that much.

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After many years of puzzling over it, she’d decided it was that Ma had one of each, a girl and a boy, so she had no need for Lata — just a spare, and not a spare of the right gender either.

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“Love is hardly an appropriate subject at a respectable wedding.”

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We’ll beat someone on the head with some blame we think she’s unaware of; the thought that she feels no guilt for what she’s doing is anathema to us; but the moment the person exhibits signs of remorse and feels pain for it, we hasten to assure her it’s not that bad at all, that she shouldn’t beat herself up about things. It’s almost like we want to see pain. Once we see signs of distress we are comforted that things are as they should be.

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Writing Kathputli

I always wanted to write a book. Much like ‘Kathputli’’s protagonist Chitrangda Chatterjee, I knew that writing a book would be my Everest. Of course, it had to be a good book. Something I could be proud of, that I could happily put alongside my ever-burgeoning collection of prized books. Not just any old thing.

I started and abandoned writing some 6 books in my 37 years. One was when I was in junior school and roughly 10 or 11 years old, very grandly called ‘Science Vision’. There would be tiny models of mountains and volcanos in the book, actual envelopes would disgorge paper letters written by the characters. Understandably, the ideas were hard to execute and I had to regretfully lay that book to rest midway. I might actually try it again, as a children’s book, once I have enough resources to get a pop-up book of such complexity printed.

Since college, the number of attempted novels dropped somewhat. Amidst office, friends, family and chores; I was happy just writing blogposts and short stories; and my readers (about 10 people) were happy too because they had to commit to reading no more than 700 words at a time.

Then came the time I took a break from work to take care of my baby. My every thought and action revolved around this tiny human being for about a year. When I emerged from this baby-induced fog, I realised it was time to use my little grey cells for other matters again. I wasn’t looking forward to the whole office grind − Monday Blues, 9 AM panic, do-my-clothes-match misery. My plan was to be a freelance, pyjama-clad writer/editor/full time mommy until my daughter was school-going age. This gave me the time and mental space to start a new book. My track record told me I would abandon it to its fate latest by the 12th chapter. But as I wrote I began to wonder if this time I would get to the finish line, as the story grew and ripened on the page.

It took me under a year to bring the book to some kind of completion. I wove much of my experiences and feelings into its fabric, the rest was imagined or in some cases heard. I thought I’d conquered my Everest. Boy, was I wrong! After favourable reviews from my parents, husband, and one or two friends (accompanied by lots of feedback that improved it several times over) I strode out into the world; confident that it would get picked up by the next passing publisher on the lookout for fresh talent.

Whoever has had experience in this field is laughing his/her guts out at this part. I most resoundingly did not get ‘picked up’; in fact, apart from one rejection from a big ticket traditional publisher none of them even deigned to respond. (Yes, I did send chasers − thanks for asking.) Thus I wasted two years.

Then several things happened at once. I completely gave up, and began to send the manuscript to people who had expressed even a passing interest in my book. The joke I had going with one of my best friends was, that I should charge 3 rupees for emailing the word doc to people; and thus get something back for the three years I’d spent on the thing.

A cousin of mine read it; and was emphatic that it was a great book. She would edit it if I promised I’d publish it. A colleague (I had, since then, begun work as the Editor-in-Chief of SiyaWoman) read it and said she would love to help me self publish, it was definitely worth the trouble; who needed traditional publishers in the age of Kindle, social media and an array of online resources?

My husband (who has now emerged as my greatest support as I get the print versions out) and parents (super-supportive and relentless follow-uppers) had always urged me to self-publish; now with some renewed encouragement from other quarters; I began to work towards publishing it.

And now, here it is on Kindle, edited and illustrated and formatted; for your reading pleasure. We plan to have the paperbacks available in early February, 2017.

It has been quite an experience. Not only have I realised the dream of writing and publishing a book I could be proud of, me and the 3-4 people associated with ‘Kathputli’ can now teach you the end-to-end process of publishing a book. No task too big or small! J

(This piece was first published on SiyaWoman.com. The image was one of the first covers Rashmi had drawn for us, which evolved into the one we have now. More on that in another post.)

A Little More About Me

Should you wish to know more about me, read on. It’s in the third person, so should have sounded grander, but doesn’t quite make it.

Ushasi Sen Basu, born in 1979, spent her first 5 years in Manila, Philippines, and finished her school years at Ashok Hall Higher Secondary School in Calcutta. She spent five wonderful years at the Jadavpur University Department of English (JUDE), where she completed both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees (in that order) in English Literature.

Ushasi left Calcutta in 2003, and worked (and occasionally fell asleep) as a copywriter at a small ad agency in Hyderabad before being recruited by Google.

She married and joined her friend from university in Bangalore in 2004. After a very short stint as an English Language Editor at a rather shockingly sweatshop-like publishing house (particularly upsetting after being treated like a queen at her earlier company), Ushasi worked as a content writer for an American e-marketing website, where she made some fast friends and no money at all. After four years as a technical writer at a banking giant where she made great friends and (yes, for a change, was paid handsomely by previous standards), Ushasi took a break from working outside the home after the birth of her daughter Mia in 2011.ushasi-3

She wrote her debut novel ‘Kathputli’ during this time, and did freelance writing and editing work.

Ushasi returned to full-time work in August 2015, as the Editor-in-Chief of SiyaWoman.com, an online platform for Indian women writers.

In 2017, she reverted to being a full-time writer and freelance editor. In May 2020, her second novel, ‘A Killer Among Us’ was published by Readomania. A short story of hers rubs shoulders with those of 10 other authors in ‘The Readomania Book of Horror’, published in June 2020.

Ushasi’s blog is ushasi-thecrib.blogspot.com, where she raves and vents in a hopefully funny manner. Take a look and let her (me) know if you agree.

Her other hobbies include music, reading and eating voraciously (sometimes simultaneously), dancing and staring blankly into space.

 

 

(Main image credit: Debjeet Basu, and colour image: Ramesh Mantripragada)

Kathputli – my first completed and published novel

Welcome! My name’s Ushasi. (You probably guessed as much from the site name.) I created this site so I can put everything related to my first novel, ‘Kathputli’ in one place, should anyone be so curious to know more about it.

After a lifetime of reading, dreaming about hundreds and half-writing dozens of books; at the grand old age of 37, I have written and published one that I’m truly proud of.

Do visit from time to time to read more about Kathputli and me. Do like and follow my Facebook page and my Twitter…er…page? account? (Gotta ask the Donald)

The illustrations below were created by the very young and very talented artist, Rashmi Prabhu. These are included within the pages of the novel, at junctures best left unexplained until you’ve read it. 🙂

 

Illustrator: Rashmi Prabhu