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Take My Word For It!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

With her bestseller, The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories, Rochelle Potkar has expanded her horizons in the writing world. Jagruti Verma talks to her about her love for words and much more

Known for her workshops, poetry recitals and pieces that have been published on a variety of platforms through the years, Rochelle is no stranger to the literary world. She has a love for words that makes any challenge worth it and she has taken her career a step further with the publication of her recent bestseller, The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories. She recently attended an empowering evening hosted by Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre in order to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Day and to celebrate the courage and confidence of survivors as well as their family members, which is when we got the opportunity to speak with her. Read on for snippets from the conversation.

Do you see a progression in your writing when you read your early work? How does it feel when you do?
As an evolving writer, most of my creations feel alien to me when I revisit them after a while. But, there are always a few paragraphs in old stories and a few stanzas in each poem that I am able to resonate with. And, when that happens, I wonder if it is about passing through the lanes of those feelings again (with slight variations) or if they simply reflect a collective worldly sentiment that happens to strikes us all in a very cyclical-existential way.

When you’re giving a speech to college students, what goes through your mind regarding the impact your words might have on them?
I only think of how I can make them fall in love with words so much that no matter what career they choose, they don’t forget to employ them to express their deepest feelings; that they don’t forget that there is a place for their personal, innermost feelings in this practiced, plastic, professional world, in this melee of commercial considerations. I stand there and hope to instil a seed of love for tales, stories and narratives or to fan and fuel what has already been sown by teachers and mentors. But, I mostly wonder if, in that short amount of time I get for a workshop, I can influence that love forever.

You have judged several literary competitions. Tell us a little about the process of judging the work of college students.
Collegians are great with their art. And, although they have a certain limitation as there is only so much that have witnessed (or experienced), the themes that they explore within this limitation hold promise of a good beginning that can only get better as they work on it. I often see a great hunger in them and hope that the battle with time and career demands don’t get in the way, diminishing this.

Tell us something about your book, The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories. What was your inspiration behind it?
I had written around 50 stories and was trying to put them together according to genre. The book was a result of that re-grouping effort. Among groups like the Bombay stories and ghost-paranormal themes, I found some gaze-of-the-navel stories that weren’t about navel-gazing. I became obsessed with them as I realised that a woman’s body has so much to back-answer to the world’s diktats and desecration and that it can be told in various tones, from erotica to anger — it is for us to choose. And, I am not done yet. I will be back with novels and more stories after this book.

You seem to have a special love for poetry. What, in your opinion, has changed in poetry over the last couple of years?
Poetry has always been consumed largely by listening to it. There is a certain charm to the process. But, now it has come into the reckoning of the listening audience, that there might be prized books to buy and it would be a matter of pride to own copies. And, good quality poetry can be eaten for free online via journals, newsletters or podcasts. I feel, these days, poetry is resorted to as a means of socialising on lovely evenings. However, what will always remain is a constant improvement of the craft. Ask poetry folks and their restlessness will tell you that.

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