Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rochelle Potkar, The Arithmetic of breasts and other stories

AUTHOR: Rochelle Potkar
BOOK TITLE: The Arithmetic of breasts and other stories
GENRE: Literary
PUBLISHER: Amazon and Smashwords

Please tell us about yourself.
I wrote my first short story in 2007 when I was working as a content writer in the e-learning industry. I never thought I would end up a writer. I was neither an avid reader (just an average one) nor a literature graduate. In fact, I studied commerce because that’s where the money was, at least, on paper.

What I did well, though, were day-dreaming and observing people, turning the page on life each day.
I was born in a small town, where the clocks ticked backward and I craved big city. When I finally reached it, I realized this city was a small town in a large world.
I now live in the ‘pandoramic’ city of Mumbai, with people real and imagined.

What was the toughest criticism given to you? What was the biggest compliment?
A lady once told me, “You are not a good writer.”
Another famous poet said, “You use clichés in your poetry.”

The praise has been that I am: ‘good with imagery, language and evocation.’ I ‘etch characters well’ and ‘experiment with structure and ideas’ and have ‘satisfying endings’ more often than not.

Did those change how or what you did in your next novel?
I am grateful to both the praise and criticism. The lady taught me that self-belief is a personal business. If you have it, you can see through everything, down to its human complexity (read: motive).
The male poet made me realize that I had to walk through clichés before coming out into the absolute sunshine of newness. It is a necessary path - to walk through the woods of the trite, before shedding it. We have to unlearn in order to learn.

And we can’t shed all clichés. Everything familiar would go then. What is trite to you is not to another. That’s why there are so many genres of everything.

As for praise, I bask in its glory, regale and draw encouragement from it, but I like the balance between these two entities: praise and criticism, where one takes nothing to heart and moves on to the next story, the next idea, the next project.

Praise and criticism can both weigh you down, after a point. They cause drag. [Let’s not forget that too much praise has caused long periods of drought in certain well-known writers.]

Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it?
If writer’s block means staring blankly at a blank page, no, I’ve never had that.

What I have had is getting stuck in idea knots and not knowing how to unfurl. I call it the writer’s snare. It still doesn’t produce a word on paper, so it equals writer’s block, but it doesn’t stem from being clueless, rather garbled.

Another way to kick writer’s snare for me is to work on multiple projects. That creates optimization and very little frustration.

Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?
To raise the bar each time on every component of story-telling. But I have only just begun. I’m a rookie.

What are your current projects?
I am working on a speculative novel. I have been on it for 2 years and only now the dust seems to have settled. It should be ready by mid-2014. Fingers crossed.

How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc.?
-       My virtual home with a verandah.

What genre do you write in and why?
I write in speculative and literary and I like to alternate between them. So if I have written a speculative story, the next one’s got to be a literary fix, more often than not. Sometimes, I fuse them together in a literary-speculative mix.

Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
This book, called ‘The Arithmetic of breasts and other stories’ is a cluster of 7½ literary short stories presenting to you the romantic-sexual facets of its characters or their settings.

Of: Narain who lusts for Munika, hypnotized by her bosom in The Arithmetic of Breasts, and old Jaganlal who wants a favor from young Dia in The Room with a Sea-view. Jackie who is in love with Nic in Sky Park, and the surgeon in Dr. Love who is changing much more than Sneha’s hairline, nose, lip and chin.

Shonali and Neel who are realizing that infidelity might not be such an easy thing in The Scent of a Conscience, and a woman who walks the tight rope between tradition and sexual exploitation in A place they call Scary.

And, Sunil who meets the woman of his desires in What Men Want through an adult dating site.

Do writing violent or highly sexual scenes bother you?  Why or why not?
It wouldn’t bother me if my story or characters require such scenes. But, I wouldn’t write them just for fun.

It is not just a violent scene but its buildup that can take me down a disturbing path. But I will still do it if the story or characterization requires it.

If people in the society live this, we as writers should be able to write them, is what I idealistically think.

What do you think is the difference between writing short stories and novels?
There is no real difference. A short story can cover a century. A novel might cover a day.  A short story 
might use more details than a novel, sometimes. Depth and description, show and tell elements can happen
in both forms.

So I think if the idea requires a smaller canvas it demands for a shorter form. That’s all.
And finally short story or novel, the story is never completely captured. There are always things off the
frame of a story canvas. An idea is usually too big for any frame.

That’s when we come to invisible stories.

Do you recall how your interest in writing short stories originated?
Writing short stories for me turned out to be the baby steps to write longer stories or a novel.
In fact, my earlier short stories were flash fiction pieces, to go by exact terminology. I couldn’t manage to write more than 1200 words.

Describe your writing space.
An armchair by a window. I dream through that window all the time, watching leaves shaking in the wind and the sky painting itself in different hues. I half-joke to myself that I am scrying through this window.

Mid-day, my 4-year-old daughter returns from school and screams and scurries around this ‘writing space’. In the midst of her lively noise and shattering tantrums, I continue writing on this armchair.

What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite?
That when I get blank in a conversation, people think I am creative and intelligent.

That writing can be the poorest profession and the world hasn’t accommodated its writers’ livelihood issues well. Most of us need other jobs, sponsorships or material inheritances to get by. But it is still fun. Most of us have transcended beyond this.

An excerpt from the ebook, ‘The Arithmetic of breasts and other stories’

Dia had been drunk the night she met Satish. He was late to get to the pub that was thrashing like a beast with heartbeats. She had started on her third Long Island. It took her only two drinks to get past her range of polite defenses and bring loathing boiling from the core to her surfaces - a chaos waiting to unfurl at the first snap, the first right question.

“What is wrong with you, Dia?” asked Satish.

Over the telephone she had told him she was bordering on a breakup, which made him hurry to the place they were to meet. Dia broke up every few months with her boyfriends, each association lasting like a season of three to four months. But this one was different, although he remembered her saying that for each one of them.

"No, this was really different," she had insisted and they went along with their drinking. This one was an intellectual. He could talk. They could talk. Being with Karthik made her feel as though her soul had escaped, like a bird from the confines of its narrow cage into the vast, extravagant spaces of his skies.

“What about the love?” Satish asked. For he knew Dia always had it, at least, once with each man before moving on. Repeating things were not her habit and the novelty would die down soon, but here it had been five months and they had only kissed.

Because the rest of the time was spent in talking. Yes, speech. She should have been devastated but she wasn’t. There was something else in her rhythm that night in the dim-lit pub that seemed to be underneath her drunkenness and the slope of her wilting eyes.
Love? Was she…?

No. She wasn’t sure. What was love? How was it defined? Wasn’t it being lonely or young or hormonally supercharged? By that definition she could have been in love four times a year. Did it matter? When they couldn’t even define what it really was.

A certain togetherness? Familiarity? Recurring fondness? Memory? Or habit?

This was unusual, she insisted, starting on her fourth glass. Karthik was intriguing. He could take her through a maze of presumptions and superimpositions on art, mythology, culture, cuisine, ethnicity, aesthetic, design. The last he had spoken on Arjun in Draupadi’s swayamvar*, of how he had propelled the arrow into the eye of a revolving fish above him, by looking at its revolving reflection in a pool of water below. ‘How acutely would Arjun have concentrated to calibrate the revolving reflection to its original?’ Karthik had said, soothing her hand, and it had turned her on.

No, this was a matrix of deliberation over a labyrinth of longing. By the time they were done talking there was hardly any time to get on with a skin-on-skin action.

Was his desire weak? Libido low? Or morals high? Did the thought of his wife interfere during their various rendezvous? Why was it taking him so long?

She wasn’t dissatisfied with the experience, she told Satish, only confused and impatient, because of her habit with men to not last long - certainly no longer than a few months.
What if he was in love with her?

How would she know? Wasn’t the finiteness of love a discovery in retrospect? Like the gathering of dust by sweeping over a large place?

So Dia had decided it was enough. It had been five months, threatening on the sixth. A decaying, physically-boring relationship with just talk, annoyed her the most. Though the patient way with which he enjoyed talking to her was more than how other men had enjoyed making love to her.


  1. I'm always in awe of those who write short stories. You have to say so much in so few words!

    Nice interview!