In Conversation with Ananya Mukherjee
Updated: Feb 10
Perhaps, it can be said that writers take you to different places and people altogether through their words but a traveler who has a knack of writing will come back home and bring along all the people and places in their heart and weave a story for you. Ananya Mukherjee has done the same in her debut short stories collection and takes you to her beautiful and almost realistic world of many places and such characters that will stay with you for long after you have read her book ‘Ardh-Satya, The Half Truth & Other Stories’. This here reminds me of the quote:
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― St. Augustine
A former business journalist and ex-editor of HRM Asia, a leading business title in the Asia-Pacific Region Ananya Mukherjee wears many hats and carry all her duties with grace, elan and prowess of being an intelligent and effective woman among her peers and known. She is also an acclaimed writer with more than 1000 publications to her credit. Before moving to Singapore as the editor of HRM Asia, she had amassed years of experience in the Indian print and television media. Her journalistic acumen covers a whole gamut of subjects including politics, lifestyle and business. Ardh-Satya & Other Stories, Ananya’s first book, a collection of 20 short stories was published in 2016 and has received raving reviews from Indian and the international media. She is currently working on her second book. Ardh-Satya, an adaptation from the title story was recently staged at Dastak, a Hindi Theatre Festival in Singapore and at the prestigious Kala Ghoda festival in Mumbai, India.
Ananya also writes poetry in Hindi and six of her poems were recently published in a literary magazine called Nazariya in India. She is a known figure in the cultural and literary circles in Singapore and India. Ananya also wears a Corporate leadership hat and leads Corporate Affairs in Asia & Europe for a US based multinational company.
Born in Jammu, India and having lived across several states in her childhood and youth, she has had very rich cultural experiences through her interactions with the diverse population of her native country. A passionate columnist, blogger, poet, theatre artist and a trained dancer, she lives in Singapore with her husband and daughter, yet she has not forgotten her true culture of being an elite Bengali and proudly carries over her shoulder the lineage of her forefathers and her maternal home.
Her appearance is like a ‘Goddess’ in herself and how this goddess has kept the richness of her Bengali culture alive in every nook and cranny of not only her dwelling in Singapore but also in her everyday life and day-to-day rituals. Through Plethora Blogazine I had this intriguing opportunity to connect with her and interview her on some of the other aspects of her life and she as a writer.
PB. Let’s talk about your short stories collection, ‘Ardh- Satya’ The Half Truth & Other Stories’. How the inspiration for the book and the stories came? And how much time it took you to write and compile the book?
Ananya. Even as a proud preserver and fierce protector of my sovereign inner strength, I must unapologetically admit that I am vulnerable to emotions, deeply touched by sensitivities and fragile enough to burn, bleed, laugh and love, just like any of us. Ardh- Satya and other stories is a collection of those delicate moments where I have allowed a pause to intervene into my roller coaster corporate life and questioned some of the sensitivities that touch our lives every day. There are both personal and loaned experiences in the book. And every story has at least one element of truth in it, be it the plot, the characters or the emotion that weaves the fabric.
To be absolutely truthful, Ardh- Satya and other stories happened over a period of twenty five odd years. One of the stories in the collection actually dates back to 1988 when I was in school. But if I were to put a time frame to collating and stitching them all together, I would say it took me five years to complete the book.
PB. While I was reading about you, I came to know that you have 1000 publications to your credit. What are those? Are they in the line of fiction, non-fiction or scripts? Would you like to put some light upon it?
Ananya. Before moving to the corporate, I was a business journalist and columnist for many years, both in India and in Singapore. When you churn out a story (an article) everyday in our trade, you easily get to that number! Unlike my book, my blogs and the Bkhush blog magazine where I wrote a popular monthly column called Shuddh Shakahari Desi for some years, 80% of my publications are nonfiction and hard-core business writing, mainly commentaries and features on human resources, global market trends and management.
PB. You have been a business journalist, an ex-editor of HRM Asia, a columnist; have been in print and television media, a theatre artist, a blogger, a poet and much more as a creative person. So how did the transition happen from being the creative person to being into a corporate world? And how do you balance it all?
Ananya. It’s always a fine balance between being a creative person and a corporate leader. The left brain would logically compete and confuse the right brain. I think for me it was not all that insane because I was always so much into the business arena even as a journalist that the transition to the other side of the table was a natural progression of my career. Also, having been in mainstream media for over a decade in my early career has helped me immensely in my role as a corporate in managing that responsibility in my portfolio.
But, for those who think that the corporate is all dry and creative industry thrives on romanticism, I must add that there is plenty of room for creativity in the corporate and there’s much to “manage” as a leader even in the creative field. In the end, it’s about what kind of a leadership role you want to play and how. I still haven’t given up on my creativity, neither at work nor in my personal space.
PB. You wander a lot and have a traveler’s soul if I must say and have been to some 42 countries I guess. What it is that you found unique and similar at the same time in all the places you have been to?
Ananya. 47 as of now. I love my immigration stamps like a soldier loves his medals. It’s difficult to generalize what’s common, except that my travels reinstate my strongest beliefs in humanity and the mantra “ Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”. Everywhere I go, it reaffirms my faith that the world is still a beautiful place no matter what news you read, that people are generally nice and if you open your arms to them, they usually reciprocate with equal or more affection and trust. For example, in these times plagued by xenophobia, it was absolutely blissful to see on my recent trip to Jordan how an Islamic nation was safeguarding and preserving the origins of Christianity. It left me speechless, reassured and hopeful.
What’s unique is, of course, the history, the culture, the food, the landscapes, the traditions and learning, absorbing and bringing some of those back with me are my greatest rewards from my travels.
PB. While reading your book Ardh- Satya, I also noticed that you have talked about some rare diseases like the Kleine Levin Syndrome or the Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, and then you have also mentioned another of this rare condition called Hereditary Methemoglobinemia. Did you have to do research on these before writing the stories or you already knew about them?
Ananya. As a former journalist, I believe in doing extensive research on any topic that I write about. Fact finding and delving deep into the subject comes naturally to me. With reference to the two syndromes you mentioned, I chanced upon them separately on two occasions in newspaper reports. There was a story in a UK based media house about ten years ago that reported a 14-year-old girl suffering from the Sleeping Beauty Syndrome. And I had watched a documentary film about the blue skin. I was curious and therefore dug up every detail I could on both the subjects.
Moreover, having a husband who is a medical doctor also helped because not only did he explain the syndromes to me, he also recommended me to read the right literature and publications on both.
PB. How the journey did from being Ananya Bhaduri Khan to Ananya Mukhejree began and what is it that you feel has changed in you over the years? Also would you like to tell the history about your maiden name, since I know you belong to a Zamindar Clan, there must be some history associated with it.
Ananya. My maiden name was Ananya Khan Bhaduri. Yes, I have seen many eyebrows rising at that surname, instinctively suffixed by a series of predictable questions. “Are you a Muslim? Bhaduris are supposed to be Hindus, no? Is your mother a Muslim then married to a Hindu? Oh, inter caste marriage?” On several occasions, the pre-supposed, self-assumed wise men or “Buddhijibis” as they are labeled in Bengal have crossed social and personal boundaries to even suggest I dropped the “Khan”.
My ancestors were Brahmins, feudal landlords in North Bengal; bordering East (now Bangladesh) and West Bengal. Devotees of Goddess Kali, they were bestowed with the prestigious title ‘Khan Bahadur” by a royalty in Bengal few hundred years back. The family carried the legacy for several centuries, and in what I assume to be a case of “lost courage” dropped the Bahadur somewhere between the generations. Jokes apart, the original Bhaduri stayed as an extended suffix to the title Khan. The Zamindari in the early half of the 20th century retained the “misleading” seal of the Khan Bhaduris unshaken by the political divide of the country. In hindsight, it is perhaps what saved us from partition; physically, socially and psychologically.
PB. You live in Singapore which is of course a foreign land, yet you are carrying forward that Bengali tradition with utmost proficiency. How are you able to manage it all? I mean living a modern life and yet staying connected to the roots, how do you create that atmosphere even though you are far from the main lands of your heritage and culture. And do you ever miss your native home in India?
Ananya. The strongest tree is one that stays connected to its roots. I am supremely proud of who I am and where I come from. I don’t have to carry the soils of my native land in my boots but I think it’s absolutely critical for my identity to preserve my values, my culture and my heritage. I live them everyday no matter where I wake up. Since I live away from the original “home”, I have painstakingly and with very conscious efforts recreated a similar “home” environment in foreign shores.
Within the four walls of our nest, we speak only in Bangla. Outside, I stay closely involved with cultural and literary activities be it theatre, writing, dancing or anchoring. The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the rituals we follow and the everyday life we lead either individually or as a family is very strongly rooted to our culture and values.
And it’s so very rewarding when I listen to my Singapore-bred daughter living in London speak Bangla fluently and utter “ Dugga dugga” every time I leave home.
PB. Do you like to read? What kind of books you read and who are your favourite authors?
Ananya. I am a voracious reader. Though over the years, I have become more selective in what I read, I devour almost everything. My favourite authors are Richard Bach, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie and Khaled Hosseini. I am also a huge fan of Ghalib, Kabir, Aamir Khusro and Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore.
PB. How do you define yourself? An artist with a compulsive millennial life or a corporate with creative pursuits. Where is the fine balance that you feel more drawn to?
Ananya. Neither. I am Ananya. That’s how I define myself. I live each day to the hilt and don’t live with any compromises, neither in my professional nor personal life. My writing is exactly like me; spontaneous, intuitive, unapologetic and uncompromising.
PB. Lastly, are there any other book/books that you are writing or plan to write in the near future?
Ananya. Writing is akin to breathing for me. I am writing my second book and it’s nearly done. Concurrently, I am working on developing some of my short stories into theatre scripts. Meanwhile, Ardh- Satya, the title story of my first book has already been adapted into a play.
The above interview has been conducted by Editor Monalisa Joshi, through online mode of exchanging mails and it would soon be part of Plethora Blogazine's Coffee Table Book, Volume 1.