“Writing for me is catharsis, an escape into a world of my creation, where my characters do as I tell them, where calamities happen, but I give them tools to deal with them.”- Sunanda J Chatterjee

Today on the Blog Guest Post we have with us the multitalented persona, Sunanda J Chatterjee, the author of Fighting for Tara. A Doctor by profession and a writer by passion, she has two more books in her kitty, The Vision and Shadowed Promise.

Today she would talk about her inspiration and love for writing.

Question: From being a Pathologist professional what inspired you to become an author? Your latest release, Fighting for Tara, has gathered accolades internationally. We would love to hear the story behind this book.

Sunanda J Chatterjee

 

 

 

I grew up in a Bhilai, a central Indian Steel City, where almost all our neighbours worked in the steel plant, and most were engineers or doctors. As such, the pressure to become an engineer or a doctor was immense, even more so than the rest of the country. My father is an engineer and my mother a science teacher. My three siblings became engineers and I became a doctor. I think, if I had grown up anywhere else, I might have gone into fine art or creative writing, my true love. But as a doctor, I joined the Indian Air Force, then came to the US to pursue a PhD in cancer research. Academics and family became the most important drivers of what I did. I completed my residency training, and became a pathologist.

As a pathologist, I make life-changing diagnoses on a daily basis. Many patients get a clean bill of health, but some get chemotherapy or other harsh medications based on what I find in their biopsy. I carry the burden of the words “carcinoma” or “melanoma” or other such deadly diagnoses with me. It is a draining, harsh environment.

When I took this job, on my day off, I found myself alone at home, and after all errands were done, I had a few free hours. For the first time since I was a child, I actually had time to indulge in creative activities. Writing for me is catharsis, an escape into a world of my creation, where my characters do as I tell them, where calamities happen, but I give them tools to deal with them. I took up writing as a hobby, but as a die-hard academic, I took writing courses and read umpteen books on fiction writing. As I learnt more techniques, I kept changing my first book several times, and by the time I published it, ten years had gone by.

The second and third books became easier to write.

Fighting for Tara was conceived while I was waiting in the dentist’s office reading an issue of National Geographic, when an article caught my attention. It was about child brides in Afghanistan, photographed with their often elderly husbands, all smiling into the camera. The idea took root. Child marriage is deplorable, but some of the brides had no idea that it was appalling. They looked happy.

So I created my lead character, Hansa, who is married off at a young age in Rajasthan, and is soon widowed. She has indomitable spirit, even when she is to be wedded to her brother-in-law after her husband’s death. She takes action only when she is asked to drown her baby girl.

As thirteen year old Hansa grew up, I put myself in her shoes and worked within her constraints to create obstacles and opportunities for her. I think I grew up with her. I researched child marriage and female infanticide extensively. I researched sexual assaults on women, and the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I researched a lot of legal aspects, which I won’t disclose for fear of spoilers.

Mental and physical violence against women is a global phenomenon. But there are courageous women who overcome harsh realities in their lives, and go out of their way to help others. That idea created Rani Sahiba and other supporting women in the book.

After I wrote the book, I needed to make sure that I had the facts correct. So I had my book reviewed by a couple of ex-Jehovah Witnesses and a couple of lawyers for the court scenes, to make sure the situations were authentic.

My wish is to create awareness about child marriage and female infanticide. During my research, I discovered a wonderful organization Girls Not Brides, whom I support for their work in preventing child marriages globally.

More about the author

Freelance author, blogger, and ex-Indian Air Force physician Sunanda Joshi Chatterjee completed her graduate studies in Los Angeles, where she is a practicing pathologist. While medicine is her profession, writing is her passion. When she’s not at the microscope making diagnoses, she loves to write fiction. Her life experiences have taught her that no matter how different people are, their desires, fears, and challenges remain the same.
Her themes include romantic sagas, family dramas, immigrant experience, women’s issues, medicine, and spirituality. She loves extraordinary love stories and heartwarming tales of duty and passion. Her short stories have appeared in short-story.net and induswomanwriting.com.
She grew up in Bhilai, India, and lives in Arcadia, California with her husband and two wonderful children. In her free time, she paints, reads, sings, goes on long walks, and binge-watches TV crime dramas.
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FIGHTING FOR TARA
 
 
 
Blurb
How far will a mother go to save her child?
“I have no use for a baby girl. Get rid of her tonight!” He towered over her as she cringed in fear.
But Hansa, a thirteen-year-old child-bride in rural India, refuses to remain a victim of the oppressive society where a female child is an unwanted burden. Instead of drowning her baby, Hansa escapes from her village with three-month-old Tara.
Hansa soon discovers that life as a teenage mother is fraught with danger. But a single lie opens the door to a promising opportunity far from home.
Just seven years later, Hansa finds herself fighting for Tara’s life once more, this time in an American court, with a woman she calls ‘Mother.’
Will the lie upon which Hansa built her life, defeat its own purpose? How can she succeed when no one believes the truth? 
A story of two mothers, two daughters and a fight to save a child, Fighting for Tara explores the depth of love and motherhood.
Read an excerpt of #FFT here:

 

The soft light of the lantern flickered, casting a dim golden glow in the tiny hut, as shadows danced on its windowless mud walls. Thirteen-year-old Hansa squatted on the floor beside a metal bucket and stared at the glimmering water, dreading the task before her. Her baby whimpered on the floor, struggling in the hand-sewn cloth blanket. Beside the door stood the terracotta urn that held the ashes of her husband.
Hansa heard the grating snores of her drunken brother-in-law Baldev, soon to be her husband, as he slept outside on the wood-framed coir cot in the moonless night. She shuddered.
Just an hour ago, Baldev had yelled at her. “I have no use for a baby girl. Get rid of her tonight!” He towered over her as she cringed in fear.
She’d begged him. “I can’t do it!”
That’s when he’d slapped her. No one had ever hit her before… not even her elderly husband.
Hansa touched her cheek, which still stung from the humiliation and fear.
She doubted her courage to extinguish the baby’s life. Squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath, hoping that dawn would bring her luck.
Tomorrow morning Hansa would travel with Baldev and all the goats they could load into his bullock-cart, and leave the village forever. She would go to a distant land, become Baldev’s second wife, learn the household chores from his first wife, and bear him male heirs… Hansa shivered, apprehensive about her future.
But before her new life could begin, she and Baldev would take a detour to the river to disperse her husband’s ashes and discard her beautiful daughter’s body.
Somewhere deep in her heart, Hansa knew none of this was fair. It wasn’t fair that in a country with a rich heritage of brave queens, young girls were still forced into marriage, sometimes to men older than their grandfathers. It wasn’t fair that she’d been born to poor parents in rural Rajasthan, a state rife with archaic traditions. It wasn’t fair that she had matured early and was given to sixty-year old Gyanchand Rathore from the neighboring village of Dharni, whose first wife and child had died in a fire.
She turned her face away from the bucket, her heart refusing to carry out Baldev’s orders just yet. A shiver ran through her body as she tried not to imagine life without her baby. Think of something else! Think about Gyani!
Gyani’s absence filled Hansa with a dark desolation, a sense of doom, as if his death itself was a living, breathing, overbearing entity.
She thought of his kind eyes, his missing teeth and graying beard, the massive orange turban which she’d tied for him every morning, and the long kurta he wore, which never looked clean no matter how many times she washed it…
But Gyani was gone. Two nights ago, his heart had stopped beating in his sleep, while she slept under the same blanket, her baby right beside her. When she awoke at dawn to the rooster’s call, she had found his cold still body. She shuddered to think she had slept with a corpse, oblivious, in the comfort of her own youthful warmth. Her first encounter with death. And if she did as Baldev asked, there would be another. Tonight.
Gyani’s death had stunned her, and grief hadn’t sunk in. She had not wept for his departed soul, and her neighbor warned her that if she didn’t mourn his passing, she would never move on. But did Hansa really want to move on into a future that included Baldev but excluded her baby?
According to the custom of karewa, Hansa knew that a young widow would be married off to her brother-in-law, so that the money remained in the family. Her neighbor had told her it was her kismet, her fate.
Hansa was brought up not to challenge the norms of society, but to follow them. If the combined wisdom of her ancestors had determined that she should move to Baldev’s village and begin a new life, who was she to argue? She had no family left, no other place to go.
Baldev choked on his spit and coughed outside, jarring the stillness of the night, reminding her of the task ahead.
But while it was her duty to follow Baldev’s orders, she would trade the impending task for eternal damnation.
Her neighbor had said that killing a baby was an unforgivable sin, even though she’d herself drowned two of her daughters the day they were born. Women are the form of Goddess, she’d said, crying at the fate of her own rotten soul.
But it was a matter of survival. Produce a male heir or be turned out on the streets to beg. A female child was a burden. Even Hansa knew that; her father had reminded her of that every day of her life.
That prejudice was her reality.
Hansa was terrified for her own soul, but Baldev said, “A mother can’t be a sinner if she takes a life she brought into this world.” And then he had gone and got drunk on tharra.
Gyani had been unlike most men in the village. He had allowed her to keep the baby, to give her a name. The baby’s eyes glittered like stars on a moonless night.
She called her Tara. Star.
Hansa looked at her baby with pride and with remorse, as every fiber of her being protested, and her stomach turned and her throat tightened.
Outside, Baldev stirred.
Time was running out.
Tara whimpered again, and Hansa turned to look at her chubby fists cycling in the still air, throwing outsized shadows on the walls. Hansa’s hands shook and her mouth turned dry. She bit her lip, forcing herself to focus on the imminent task.
The water in the bucket shimmered black and gold, reflecting the dancing flame of the lantern, mesmerizing, inviting. Water, the giver of life…

 

She made up her mind. It was now or never.

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