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'Calcutta impels you to write'

After spending years in the world of advertising, which she calls the 'bitch goddess of all professions,' author Bunny Suraiya tells MiD DAY how and why the book Calcutta Exile happened

Why do you think Kolkata as a city attracts authors?
Books on Calcutta are a tribute to one of the greatest cities in the world. The city impels you to work on it. Much before New York became New York, Calcutta had a definitive picture with its music, cosmopolitan outlook and people. But now the city is gone.

Why did you write a book on the Anglo-Indian community in the city?
Till I was about 11 years, I used to think I am an Anglo Indian. I used to go to a convent school in Calcutta and was hugely impacted by the  Anglo Indian culture. I was called Bunny and my friends were called Penny and Jenny. My family is pan religious and we celebrated all festivals. My Anglo-Indian friends used to talk about going home to England. I used to think we would all one day go in a big ship to England and go to some school there. But then one day my father made me sit down and said, "This is home. We are going nowhere." I was devastated.

How much of your real life experiences have you included in Calcutta Exile?
The characters are real. Peter's flat is like the one where I used to live as a child. It is not a historical novel, so it did not involve much research. It is all about what real people told me. For example the Ayah's character is based on my Ayah.

How were your days in Calcutta?
I had a ball of a time. I met my husband Jug there in a house party. Calcutta was a vibrant city in the late 1950s. It was such a privilege to grow up in a city with such a cosmopolitan flavour. You had places like Skyroom, Flurys and could walk up to any pub and hear Louis Bank play.

What was your writing routine like for Calcutta Exile? Did you ever face a writer's block?
I used to sit in front of the computer with no idea of what to write. But then the story just poured out of me. I never faced any block for this book. I used to write for two hours in the morning everyday. The characters drove this book.

You have always been an integral part of Jug Suraiya's columns. How does it feel to have your life out in front of so many people?
(Laughs).It is not easy to live in a goldfish bowl.  Thanks to Jug's column, once I bunked office to go to Mussoorie with him and made an excuse saying I was not well. Two days later it was out in the paper that we had gone to a hill station on a trip.

What next?
I am still not over the experience of it. Maybe a sequel (smiles). Right now I'm am reading Stephen Hunter's I Sniper.

Calcutta Exile by Bunny Suraiya published by Harper India Language. Available in bookstores for Rs 299

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