Recently, Jody T. Morse of Spider Road Press, sat down with author Rita Banerjee to discuss the release of her new novella, “A Night with Kali” in Approaching Footsteps. During the interview, Morse asked Banerjee about the inspiration for her novella, the structure and unique characters of her story, and what Banerjee is working on next. An excerpt of the interview follows below:
Spider Road Press: “A Night with Kali,” is a captivating story. How did the concept for this piece come to you? Or, maybe a better question might be, what inspired you to write about Tamal-da and Didi?
Rita: When I first drafted this novella, I created the story of Tamal-da and Didi in a storm. In a week off between writing chapters of my dissertation on South Asian literary modernisms, I decided to take a break and write something with ferocity. There is something seductive about the idea of the uncanny, the sense of discomfort that appears in suspense novellas, sure, but also that strange tension between two people who meet but never quite see each other fully until it’s too late. Tamal, being a streetwise taxi driver, and his passenger, whom he calls Didi, being a bored out-of-towner obsessed with Marxist poets, makes for an uneasy alliance. They are trapped together in a cab and stranded in the middle of a monsoon hitting Kolkata. To pass the time, they entertain each other with stories. What happens next is uncanny, unbelievable, and strangely seductive.
SRP: And we love their dynamic! Thank you for bring them to life in our imaginations. In our opinion, A Night with Kali is a story within a story. Did you find it challenging to write such an intricate tale? And, for our readers that are writers, were there any particular hurdles or revelations about this choice and process that you could share?
Rita: From the Pañcatantra to the Arabian Nights to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, I’ve always been interested in stories within stories—with narratives that stop, tunnel, re-start, take you down a rabbit hole and bring you back more alive.
SRP: What’re you working on these days—both in writing and in personal ventures?
Rita: I’m actively working on a few book projects—a book on mid-20th century South Asian poetry and theories of the avant-garde, Echo in Four Beats, my second poetry collection on jazz, mythology, and the breakdown of language, and two new creative writing manuscripts which are currently taking over my life. The first is a collection of non-fiction lyric essays, centered on the concepts of race, sex, politics, and cool, and why I’m completely obsessed with interrogating these ideas as a writer, artist, and human navigating the world. The second book I’m currently working on is what seems like a now eerily prescient novel about a girl named Mel Cassin. Mel lives in a near-future America run by a plutocratic totalitarian regime in which arbitrary laws for the non-elite are normative. Mel faces a conundrum—to pursue what has happened to her family, or to continue existing in an authoritarian world.
Full interview available at “Behind the Story: Author and Scholar Rita Banerjee on ‘A Night with Kali.'”