Ratankumar Gupta works as a senior manager in a multinational financial services company. He lives with his family in Pune. He has recently come out with the book, Faith - A Dozen Life Stories, which is an enthralling collection of twelve short stories with intense characterisation and exquisitely drawn plots inspired by real life events. Each storyline ends with a twist that makes it an enjoyable read.
I chat with him about his book Faith - A Dozen Life Stories, his inspiration for writing the book, book recommendations, and much more.
Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself!
I am a writer at heart, an observer by choice, and an accountant by profession! I was born and raised in Calcutta. I did my schooling from St. Xavier’s Collegiate School and continued thereafter, with the institution, for five more years to earn my graduation degree in Commerce with Accountancy as major.
In my early graduation days, I enrolled with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, East Zone Chapter. A couple years later, my first job in a multinational firm flew me out from the City of Joy to the City of Pearls. In between, I had married my internship sweet heart! Thus began an odyssey in the world of unknowns that took us across the length and breadth of the land. For the last eight years, we are stationed in Pune.
Which authors and books were your early formative influences?
At age 14, I came across Complete Short Stories by Guy De Maupassant in our home library. Both my parents were voracious readers. They inculcated the reading habit in their children in the early days of us discovering life. Sparse use of technology – I recall, owning a television set was a status symbol back then – also played a predominant role in these books emerging as an inseparable orbit in my life.
With time, I started reading contemporary and classic literature. My formative influences in Indian literature were Balai Chand Mukhopadhyay (who etched eminence under the pen name, Banaphul, or Wild Flower), Munshi Premchand, and Subodh Ghosh. In the international sphere, distinguished authors such as O. Henry, Anton Chekhov, Guy De Maupassant, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Jeffrey Archer, infused me with copious doses of inspiration to observe and analyse the human mind!
If you could only describe your book Faith - A Dozen Life Stories in five words, what would they be?
Well that’s a tad difficult, but let me try!
‘Real-life drama, human psychology, and a curveball.’
Now tell us a little more about the book! What can readers expect?
The book titled Faith - A Dozen Life Stories is a collection of 12 short stories. The stories are inspired by real-life events that reflect protean nature of human psyche along different planes of existence. I have tried to cover a heterogenous range of human emotions, such that there is a possibility that the readers may identify themselves with the situation of the protagonist or a support character. The stories also compel readers to introspect and evaluate the purpose of life. It is worth noting, there is no definite conclusion to such stories, and readers could interpret them in more ways than one.
What inspired you to write this short story collection?
I have always been intrigued by the human mind and the versatility of its distinctive shades in reacting to external stimuli. And to appraise a fact, there is no right or wrong answer when life throws you a curveball – it is to each his own! As a writer, I have tried to bring out these atypical patterns. And how best to achieve this, than through short stories!
What was your creative process like behind writing the short stories in this book?
All the stories centre around a theme. I have woven characters around a central plot. In some parts of the book, a reader may identify more than one plot, but there are inter-connecting dots. True to all short stories, I have tried to convey a key message that lies enmeshed in the theme and the characters. And the twist lies in the style of delivering the message.
While these story ideas were generally triggered by experiences of my own or people closer to me, it took me quite a while to carve out the plots and think through the conclusion around the central theme. In majority of the situations, I often experimented with different twists and climaxes, to see which one applies best to the characters described.
Which short story is a personal favourite. Why?
There are quite a few, but I take this opportunity to talk about the first story. The plot centres around a real-life event. On a quiet evening in office, I was catching up with a colleague when he narrated about a fatal accident he had met with, while in high school. He, of course, had little role to play in the denouement of events that saved his life. His account remained with me for a long time. While writing the story, I captured the incident in a twist. I remember contemplating for months together on the conclusion. I wanted a hairpin bend that would be dramatic, but would not feel surreal – a spin that would catch the reader unawares, but wouldn’t go overboard. I was finally happy to have concluded the story the way I felt would justify the protagonist’s thought process.
How have you been coping with the current pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?
The pandemic has quite disrupted my work-life balance, as I presume, has been for most of us! I’m spending more time on official meetings than before, leaving little time at my disposal to spur creative thoughts. Having said that, I have started working on my second project. The overall experience has been rough on human life, and it underscores the triumph of Mother Nature over the victorious lengths we may have achieved in the fields of science and technology.
New normal – For me as a professional, I believe that office work will receive a new impetus styled as ‘Work From Home’, and pave way for organizations to revise their real-estate strategies and get rid of the impact of sunk cost on their bottom-line! That is again a subject matter opinion!
Philosophically, the pandemic has made us more resilient as human beings and forced us to evaluate our grit to stand tall while facing challenges head on. I think the difficult experiences of lockdowns, loss of human lives, and changes in behavioural patterns will prompt many more creative endeavours in the annals of history. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Lastly, are you currently reading anything and do you have any book recommendations for our readers?
I am currently reading the book titled World’s Greatest Short Stories – Collectable Edition. This book published by Fingerprint! Classics is an anthology of some of the classic short stories written between the late eighteenth and early twentieth century. The book is a regally designed leather-bound edition that comes with a ribbon bookmark, gilded edges, and exquisite endpapers. Beginning with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the book has a collection of masterpieces written by eminent laureates in the league of Pushkin, Chekhov, Edgar Allan Poe, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Maupassant, and Rabindranath Tagore to name a few! This book is a must read for all book lovers.
The book ‘Faith - A Dozen Life Stories’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.