Interview of Writer Sourabh Mukherjee, Author of “In the Shadows of Death”
From an electronics and telecommunication engineer to a romantic story teller to a crime fiction writer; the journey of author Sourabh Mukherjee knows no stop. In the Shadows of Death is the latest from his literary repertoire which also includes a collection of romantic stories. He is also a speaker and writer for several publications in business and technology. A keen observer of human behavior and cultural diversity, he has travelled across USA, Europe and Asia. These days there is hardly any crime fiction as intense and overwhelming as In the Shadows of Death. Plotted around Kolkata and weaved around the tempestuous psyche of today’s Kolkatans, the novel gives a moving picture of the changing scenario. SliceofRealLife catches up with author Sourabh Mukherjee to share with you some glimpses of his journey and his views on Kolkata as well as Indian English literature. Here are excerpts from the interview of author Sourabh Mukherjee:
Congratulations! Your much-awaited book In the Shadows of Death has been published? How are you feeling?
It is a wonderful feeling. It was an emotional moment when I first walked into a bookstore, the Starmark outlet in the South City Mall in Kolkata to be precise, and saw my book displayed next to the works of authors I have idolized.
In less than a month of the book’s release, the feedback I have received from readers and reviewers has been overwhelming. In The Shadows of Death has consistently been among the top sellers in various listings, including Amazon India’s listing of ‘Hot New Releases’ in its category along with international titles. An eminent writer and blogger has ranked it among 6 books that broke stereotypes in 2015. Readers and reviewers have loved the fluent narrative, the non-linear storytelling, the characterizations, the several twists, and most importantly the tragedy at the core.
Writing a book and then publishing it is akin to bringing up a child who imbibes a part of you and then letting it venture into the world beyond the confines of its home. What can be more blissful for a parent than to see the world embrace that child with love and affection?
Would you like to share a brief about the novel?
In The Shadows of Death is a fast paced psychological thriller unfolding in the city of Kolkata, with Agni Mitra, Assistant Commissioner of Police, investigating into a series of murders of adulterous women, even as he has to battle storms brewing in his personal life. The voice of the serial murderer, whose identity is undisclosed till the climax of the story, runs in a parallel track across the novel providing the reader with insights into the killer’s traits, his actions, and his emotions.
The detective is not portrayed as infallible law enforcement machinery. He is a human being dealing with personal issues. The character of the serial-killer, on the other hand, is not uni-dimensional either, and a parallel track throughout the novel in the voice of the killer provides insights into the dark recesses of the killer’s mind.
In the Shadows of Death is set in Kolkata. How integral is the city to the plot and story of the novel?
The story is set in the city of Kolkata and the co-existence of the contemporary and the traditional, that characterizes the city, provides an interesting backdrop to the novel. The book takes the reader on a trip around the city – the throbbing nightlife in Park Street, the serenity of late evenings in New Alipore, the corporate offices and skyscrapers around empty stretches of New Town, the Vidyasagar Bridge opening up to the National Highways stretching to the horizon are among locations that feature prominently in the story. The city has not been explored enough in most of contemporary Indian fiction and that is also a unique feature of the book.
This psychological thriller is a tale of crime. Is it just a work of fiction or inspired by your observations in real life?
The story explores the dark recesses of the human mind and the stark realities of urban life in contemporary India. The depiction of unpredictability of human behavior, and the complexity of human relationships in the novel has roots in my keen interest in psychology. My characters are not all black and white, and I am never judgmental. I offer reasons for their actions, which primarily have their roots in past experiences. The insecurities and vulnerabilities my characters suffer from, and the inner devils they battle are all very real. The setting also reflects my own experiences in the corporate world, thanks to my association with the industry for almost two decades.
What motivated you to take on the contemporary Kolkatans and their lives in the novel? How challenging was it to portray characters with flaws and frailties from real life?
When I look at Kolkata today, I see a city in the cusp of change. Contemporary Kolkatans are from a generation that is ambitious and ready to embrace ‘the good life’. It is a generation which has seen its parents struggle, yet has barely gone through that struggle itself. And for many, there is a singular focus on fulfilling their own desires and ambitions. In the process, Kolkata today is experiencing a significant change in its societal structure and core ethics of its people. This has been a key motivation behind my story.
How easy or difficult was it to pen a psychological thriller having authored a collection of romantic stories?
Under the garb of its obvious elements of thrill and suspense, In The Shadows of Death has a strong emotional and romantic undercurrent.
The way I look at this is, I write only about human relationships. The many ways in which they unravel and manifest themselves end up creating stories that sometimes excite us, scare us, or make us sad – leading to corresponding categorization of the stories into genres like Romance, Horror, Drama or Thriller. But, it’s always the complicated and unpredictable human nature at the core of everything.
When I look at the feedback I have received so far for In the Shadows of Death, a large number of readers have been touched by the underlying element of tragedy in the story. My novel is primarily about our inner devils destroying relationships we value.
You are an engineer by profession. Who or what inspired you to try your luck in literature? How do you travel between two different worlds: technology and literature?
Being an avid reader of crime fiction myself, I have always harbored an ambition to make my own humble contribution to this genre. The story, of course, had its germs in my own interests in human psychology and in the complexities of human relationships, especially in these times of changing social order.
Also, it does not make me too happy to note that, whenever we speak of popular detectives in English fiction, we end up naming characters created by foreign authors. With so much of quality fiction being written in India in the English language, where is that one pan-Indian character that is a brand by her or his own right and has instant recall? So, I asked myself, why not make a humble effort to create one in ACP Agni Mitra?
As for my balancing two careers, writing is a passion that actually allows me to unwind. Sometimes, stories have grown from thoughts I pen down at airport lounges or on long flights during my business travels. I believe if you are really passionate about something, you end up finding time for chasing your dreams.
Would you like to share with us how eventful was your journey to become a published author from an altogether different background?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I have never really written for a purpose – it is just something I love to do. In my early childhood, I would spend hours writing, as well as making illustrations for my own stories. A number of my poems were published in children’s magazines back in the day. I continued to write through my teenage and later in college.
I kept writing in office magazines for a couple of years, but the demands of my career as an Information Technology professional and my travels across the world soon left me with very little time and creative energy to write fiction. I started churning out technical whitepapers and non-fictional articles that got published in business and technology journals of repute.
However, as I travelled across the world, I grew as a person getting to observe people from widely varying cultural backgrounds and to study their emotions, their thoughts, their behavior from various perspectives. And stories began to grow all over again.
I started my fiction writing career with the popular e-books Nargis Through My Summers and Loves Lost. Nargis Through My Summers and Loves Lost were released in one cover as Romance Shorts. My short stories in various genres were also published in international e-zines like Under the Bed and Romance. I won the Golden Pen Award in the Monsoon Romance Contest organized by Sulekha.com in 2014, which came as a huge motivation.
And then, In the Shadows of Death was published in mid December 2015 by Srishti Publishers. The book has been received very well by readers, has been rated highly by reviewers, and has found special mention in publications like The Hindu, Hindustan Times, New Indian Express, The Free Press Journal and so on.
Satyajit Ray and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay are the most eminent thriller writers in Bengali literature. Are you or is your latest novel influenced by them or their work in any way?
Satyajit Ray and Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay are of course icons when it comes to Bengali crime fiction. I have grown up reading Feluda and Byomkesh. However, as for influences, I have always been fascinated by Saradindu’s work. Byomkesh is very flesh-and-blood, never larger than life. Also, every Byomkesh story is about human emotions that drive one to the path of crime and how we give in to inner devils and unleash the criminal lurking inside each one of us.
What do you think about the contemporary Indian English literature?
Writers like Chetan Bhagat have ensured that Indian English fiction is accessible to a larger number of people, as it gains more acceptance. Publishers are now willing to experiment with new talent, and these are great times for budding authors. However, with this surge in the number of authors, the onus is on the publishers to ensure the quality of content. Publishers need to be careful about editing and correct use of language, which may sometimes be compromised as an increasing number of books are published.
What is the next to come out from your literary repertoire?
I am currently working on the next Agni Mitra thriller The Colours of Passion which would be released later this year.