Anita Agnihotri loves experimenting with all genres of fiction but short stories are closest to her heart. Born and brought up in Kolkata, she is keen on understanding marginal existence and exploring the India wrapped up in the censorship of silence. Agnihotri is the author of 40 books of poetry, short stories, children’s literature, novels and essays.

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You have been writing across forms and styles from a very young age.What were the initial years like?

I started really young and was extremely lucky that my parents supported me and even used to write down my poems when I could not even write properly.Infact my first short story that got published in the children’s magazine

Sandesh which was revived under the editorialship of Satyajit Ray, the legendary film director in 1961.The story was illustrated by Satyajit Ray himself which has been a highlight of my literary odyssey. From the age of 13 to 18, whatever I sent to Sandesh was published. That was a great way of pampering me!

And then, the great Bengali writer Bimal Kar told me that I must choose to concentrate on either poetry or prose.

I love to experiment with my style of writing so I kept on doing that.

When did you realize that you wanted to pursue writing more seriously?Please tell us about some of your works.

It was during my Masters that I got serious about writing and since then have been quite prolific with churning out stories.

‘Sabotage’ which is Translated by Arunava Sinha, is a collection of short stories, originally written in Bengali. The stories deal with politics of all genres of class, regions, ideologies and human relationships.The readers have appreciated the collection and people tell me that it evoked real, almost raw images – of poverty, injustice and human suffering. I try to etch out the characters carefully because they are of utmost importance for the story to connect with the readers.

‘Seventeen’ which is another collection of short stories won the 2011 Economist-Crossword Book Award for translation

Tell us a bit about your writing process especially for the benefit of aspiring writers? Does being a Civil Servant help you in writing or it hampers your creativity?

I am not a person who actively plots short stories. I try to write with empathy, with the strength of my anger, and I don’t actively try to bring it to the surface, but sometimes it spills over.

I have seen life from many angles, and apart from the trips for work,

I travel a lot on my own too. The Administrative services have contributed a lot to the creative process.It has helped me connect with people across the country and that inadvertently seeps into writing.I have travelled through the villages of Orissa, Jharkhand and I think that some of their stories need to be documented.

I am very actively Indian in my thinking and my travels have influenced me a lot. I think there is no way of sitting at a desk and writing. I need to meet people, I strongly connect to them, and that is how I write.

What have been your literary influences growing up?

We were always encouraged to read as any other Kolkatta household. My influences are quite varied.I do not restrict myself to genres or languages.Tolstoy,Chekhov,Bengali writers,children books the list goes on an on. I recently read Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy and like it a lot.

What kind of writing does a short story demand?

For me, a short story is about the intensity of the moment. Sometimes, I just sit down with a pen and paper and write the whole story.

For example, in my short story collection ‘Sabotage’, “Nameless”, a story about a few workers who get washed away and are never even acknowledged, was written like that, over a certain anger I felt.

Please tell us a bit about your journey in the Indian Administrative Services?

I’m not what you would call a career bureaucrat. I joined the service in 1980, and went to Jharkhand.

I had thought that I would be thrown out in months, but I stayed, and in the government, if you are fairly hard working and glued to the cause, if you stay, you move up the ladder.

But I always had these conflicts, where I wondered which side I am on, the administrators or other side. I often try and look at how the displaced see at the State.

Kindly tell us about your perspective of Literature festivals across India and Valley of Words featival coming up later this year?

The writer-to-writer dialogue is something cherished by many for the creative stimulation and inspiration the literature festivals offer.Literary festivals are important to writers for different reasons than they are to readers. They provide a platform to gain awareness on questions of technique and craft.I am sure Valley of Words will encourage reading and writing in the Valley.

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