Celeb Corner

She is my rock: Saikat Majumdar

Novelist, critic, author and academician Saikat Majumdar spoke about his latest offering and how his parents’ troubled marriage and his early life influenced his relationships
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Could you give our readers a little insight into your latest work, The Firebird?

The Firebird is the story of a young boy’s relationship with his mother, who is a theatre actress – and through her, with the art form of theatre, with which he enters into an intense and eventually destructive relation. It narrates how Ori’s early childlike pride in his mother’s life on stage is quickly turned toxic by society’s prejudices about women who perform, and how such prejudices break up their family.

Is the narrative drawn from your own life?

There are parallels. My mother was an actor. I saw social prejudice around her life as a professional performer, and it eventually broke our family. Most of the incidents that take place in the novel, however, are invented.

I was very young and obviously unable to make clear sense of it all. What I remember is a chaotic atmosphere of violence, impulse and destruction. My parents had a lot going on, and marriages have lasted on far less, certainly in their generation. They made up one of those picture-perfect, dream couples – strikingly good-looking, very much in love, at a time when it wasn’t so common to fall in love and marry on your own. They were basically lost, romantic souls with no clue about how to live in the world. It might seem like a strange and inappropriate thing for me as their son to say – they forever remained immature and extremely impulsive.

My father was deeply loving and sociable but weak, totally undisciplined and addicted to his pleasures. My mother was stubborn and hotheaded and very proud. Every conflict would be blown out of proportion.

I think my father started withdrawing, and drinking from time to time. For all her romanticism and free thinking, my mother was quite prudish about alcohol and she later told me this was the biggest reason why she left him, though I don’t fully believe that. Some said in the last few years of the marriage, my father also started to see the woman who would eventually become my stepmother. It could be true, since they worked in the same office. Eventually, after separation and unhappy second marriages, my parents both died at the age of 55, three years apart.

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What kind of a husband and father are you?

I met my wife in college; we knew ‘of’ each other since childhood, as our fathers were friends. Almost immediately, we started ‘seeing’ other, though we weren’t clear what exactly was going on. It wasn’t just friendship. But for a while during this time, we were also seeing other people. My wife always says that she was clearer about her feelings for me than I was about her, and I think she’s right. She was attracted to what she says was my intelligence, and also my juvenile cockiness about it. While chatting about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’d told her: “There’s a bit of Darcy in me.” Can’t believe she used to fall for such cheesy lines – back then I was full of such sh!t! It was a very vulnerable time in my life, as my first serious relationship had just ended, with an older woman with whom I’d been physically intimate, and it left me quite shattered for a while. In Subhasree I found a real home and shelter, and that continues to be true till today. She became my rock and it was soon clear that she would stick with me through hell and high water – she flew to the US a year after I moved there to study, and we lived together for several years before getting married.

She’s one of the most grounded and responsible people I know, and she has a totally different kind of intelligence – sharp and original, nothing flashy about it at all, but deeply real, like the earth.

My wife is an academic and administrator and also the primary homemaker and caregiver to our children. She sees no hierarchy between her identity as a professional academic and her identity as a mother and homemaker. My life as a writer has enabled me to spend a lot of time at home, with my small children.

I’ve learned to write with a baby on my lap, and to put sentences together while kicking a ball around with a two-year-old!

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