The bestselling author explores the urban Naxal identity with her latest book Cut.
If there is one thing that author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is convinced about, it’s prying through the myriad layers of social strata to unearth stories that make one introspect. Unsuspectingly, these stories have also awakened the activist in her… and drawn from dogmas bringing society down. Her latest book Cut, which will be launched on February 3 in Bengaluru treads the same path — it is a book on artistic freedom in the light of the ‘urban Naxal’ identity. The writer who shuttles between Kolkata and Delhi is back after the success of her previous book, Status Single (about 74 million single urban Indian women) with Cut: The Life and Death of a Theatre Activist which presents a posthumous look at the personal and professional life of visionary artist, Amitabh Kulashreshtra, and the price he, and those close to him paid to be heard.
“Cut is my fifth and most ambitious novel — if I can draw a cinema parallel, it could be comparable to a biopic on the death and life of Marathi stage thespian, Amitabh Kulashreshtra. The character Kulashreshtra is from a real life happening that scared me when I worked in Mumbai. A small news snippet in the regional dailies caught my attention. A small time Marathi tamasha kalakaar, had fallen into disrepute thanks to his loss of memory, deafness and debauched drunkenness, and was found dead under mysterious circumstances. There were many theories that floated about his accidental almost dishonourable death. The way his body lay unclaimed haunted me. (The media had a field day) What was conveniently forgotten was his career and contribution to regional theatre. The bitter price he had paid. Cut is a tribute to theatre, as much as it is to the theatrewalas — its inspiration is the stage, and backstage. The lights, and dimness. Its backdrop is as much this country itself — its soul, and its suffering — the riots of 1992, in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, the thread of communal politics, the way the independent artist is being targeted as an urban Naxal —where dissent is viewed and portrayed as sedition,” explains the writer who’s story delves into angst that has already entered the social fabric... with the murders of Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, etc. The author had the privilege of meeting Gauri when she was working in Bengaluru, and she recalls, “Her death saddened and shocked me. But deeper, and at a more primal level, it made me examine my own claims of being a secular Indian and I found myself asking, has this country now degenerated into a front page news bulletin of mass rape, genocide, religious intolerance, bans on Porn, beef and short skirts. Where our conscience was a paid advertorial. Where humanity was fast corroding — and where fascism was rearing its ugly head. The idea of India and the reality of Bharat were two, distinctly disparate entities. And therein, lay my unrest. My protest. My protagonist.”
Art sparks a revolution, and Cut, a multilingual play skims through the trials and tribulations of a theatre activist.
In a racially divided India where sedition is fast becoming the state of play, her book resonates at many levels, and the author’s activist meanderings are apparent as you turn the pages. “Cut is an unapologetically political narrative — and while Amitabh Kulashreshtra towers over the narrative — the four primary characters, his wife and muse, Maya Shirale, a conniving Bollywood producer, RK Chopra, his theatre comrade, all represent a politics that is peculiar to their own existence. At the Kolkata launch on January 4, I was asked the same question by National award-winning director Srijit Mukherji. As a writer, I am now surer of my own politics and also, every novel of mine, until now, including Status Single, has always represented, a certain sort of politics. My politics is about the truth I live by — and if that is labelled activism — then I call myself an activist for human rights and fundamental equality and human dignity and freedom of expression,” she explains.
Personally, Sreemoyee visited at a monastery in Bengaluru recently. In 2018, a week prior to her 41st birthday and a fortnight after her late biological father, Basudev Kundu’s 70th, she fell in love with a 12-year-old boy from Darjeeling, who was battling depression. “Having lost Baba to suicide when I was two, I knew that I had discovered my calling. I am in talks. I shall be sponsoring him. Maybe, in doing so, I will be releasing Baba into the eternal light which eluded him all his life,” says Sreemoyee.
For Kundu, life is about moments that inspire, call to action, and bring about change. She recently completed an intergenerational family saga spanning four decades set in Kolkata — All Our Other Lies, and has also signed up for a memoir by Bloomsbury, Bad Blood. Cut is also being adapted into a play by acclaimed theatre director, Abhilash Pillai at National School of Drama, where it opens at the end of January. Writing is almost an impressionist painting coming to life for the author who is busy planning on actualising the first-ever Status Single Summit in August.