Rimi B. Chatterjee
|Rimi B. Chatterjee|
Belfast, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Novelist, Reader at Jadavpur University, Kolkata|
|Period||Modern, Sixteenth-century India|
|Genres||General, science fiction, historical|
Rimi B. Chatterjee is an author based in Kolkata (earlier Calcutta), India. She has published three novels and one academic history which won the SHARP deLong Prize for History of the Book in 2006, as well as a number of translations and short stories. She has been nominated twice for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award, once for fiction and once for translation. She teaches English at Jadavpur University.
Rimi B. Chatterjee was born of expatriate Bengali parents in Belfast, Ulster, then lived for a time in Dorset, UK. She has a younger brother. The family returned to India in 1979. She spent the next seven years in North Bengal where her father, an ENT surgeon, was attached to a clinic. She came to Calcutta in 1986 to continue her education, living with friends and in paying guest accommodation. She went to Modern High School, then Lady Brabourne College (1989–1991) an affiliate of the University of Calcutta to study English literature. Around this time she began writing in earnest, producing mainly poems, but also some short stories and plays.
She joined Jadavpur University for her MA degree in English (1991–1993). She worked for a few months for the Telegraph newspaper, Calcutta, before leaving for the University of Oxford to do doctoral research. She initially intended to do this on the piracy of P.B. Shelley's works by his contemporaries, but under the guidance of William St Clair, who was already working on this topic for the book that ultimately became The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period, she moved instead in the direction of studying publishing history in India. Eventually she researched Oxford University Press and Macmillan trading to South Asia. The title of her thesis was 'A History of the Trade to South Asia of Macmillan and Company and Oxford University Press, 1875 -1900' but she gathered enough material to continue this history till 1947.
She got her D.Phil in 1997 and returned to India. She married in 1998 but the marriage ended in divorce in 2001. In 1998 she began working as an editor with Bhatkal and Sen, a small publishing house which produces scholarly titles in English and Bengali in the social sciences and in gender studies under the imprints 'Samya' and 'Stree'. There she oversaw authors like Kancha Ilaiah and Bani Basu. She contributed to the process of translating into English several important works by women such as Sulekha Sanyal's Nabankur (The Seedling), Manikuntala Sen's Shediner Kotha (In Search of Freedom) and Jyotirmoyee Devi's The Impermanence of Lies. She also published a translation of Titu Mir, a novella by Mahasweta Devi for Seagull Books, Kolkata, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Crossword Book Award for translation.
She began her career as an academic at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in 2000. She began work on her first novel, tentatively titled 'Live Like a Flame', in 2001, but it failed to find a publisher until 2010 when it was published by HarperCollins India under the title Black Light. She then moved to the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, where she was a fellow from 2003 to 2004. Much of the writing of her history of Oxford University Press was done there. She also published a translation of Abanindranath Tagore's autobiography Apon Katha (as Apon Katha: My Story) in 2004. She wrote Signal Red while at the Centre, and the novel was published by Penguin India in February 2005. By then she had joined Jadavpur University as a lecturer in [English]. She also began conducting creative writing workshops, mainly for prose fiction; the first was a two-day one at Jadavpur University in August 2005, conducted jointly with Amitav Ghosh. In September 2005, shortly after she had begun writing The City of Love, she was diagnosed with diffuse large B cell lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy, ending in March 2006. During this period, while confined to the house on account of low immunity, she completed the first draft of The City of Love, which was published in November 2007. The cancer is currently in remission.
In 2006 she wrote a script for a graphic novel, entitled Kalpa, which she submitted to Virgin Comics, India, but it was rejected shortly before Virgin Comics wound up operations in India. In 2008 she came in contact with a group of artists in Calcutta and restarted work on Kalpa. Currently Kalpa is into its seventh rescript, but work is likely to begin again by mid-2011. She is at present also working on Project C, a graphic magazine she is planning with Avijit Chatterjee, who designed the cover of Black Light. She created a short comic entitled "Killer" which appeared in the second anthology of Comix.India, and another entitled "The Bookshop on the Hill" for the comics journal Drighangchoo. She is working on her next prose novel, a far-future science fiction work titled 'Antisense'. She lives in Kolkata.
Black Light, published in July 2010, is a mystery story in which a journalist discovers, after his artistic but rather odd aunt commits suicide, that she's left a trail of clues for him to follow. The trail takes him to five different places in Eastern India, where he finds five stories she has written and hidden in strange places. In the process, he also hears the story of how she visited these places and what she did there. When he finds all five, the secret of her life and death is unlocked. This novel is in fact a revised version of her first unpublished book, written in 2000-2001, which had the working title 'Live Like a Flame', which is now the title of her blog.
The City of Love is a historical novel set against the spice trade in sixteenth century India ten years after Vasco da Gama's landfall at Calicut in 1498. The story begins in 1510 with the fall of Malaka to the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque and ends in 1540 with Sher Shah Suri's capture of Bengal. Much of the action takes place in and near Chittagong and Gaur. The four main characters are Fernando Almenara, a Spanish spice trader who is forced to join a pirate ship, Daud Suleiman ibn Majid Al Basri, a pirate turned politician, Chandu, the son of a Shaivite priest who becomes by a twist of fate a Sufi qawwal, and Bajja, a tribal girl who becomes a spiritual leader and eventually turns her back on the world. Other minor characters include a Sufi pir and a Tantric wise woman, Dhumavati. All the characters are in search of the City of Love, which is similar to the concept of Prem Nagar in Baul and Vaishnav thought and the Ashqabad of the Sufis. In May 2008 The City of Love was shortlisted for the Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2007 for fiction.
Signal Red is a science fiction novel set in the near future in a world where totalitarian Hindutva-style politics has gained control of India. It is about an Indian defence scientist working in a semi-secret state laboratory, who gradually discovers that his work is being used to develop highly unethical technologies including microwave cannons and bioweapons. At first he tries to ignore the implications of what he does, but eventually starts to question his bosses and go against the rules. He then has an encounter with a woman who is sent to 'serve' him at a hotel that shocks him into admitting his situation to himself, and he realises he can't live with the rot in the system that controls him. He runs, and his own weapons are turned against him.
- "The Garden of Bombahia", about the sixteenth-century scientist and heretic Garcia da Orta, appeared in Wasafiri 24(3): pp. 98–106.
- "The First Rasa", about a woman printer in Calcutta's nineteenth-century pleasure district, came out in Kolkata: Book City: Readings, Fragments, Images, ed. Sria Chatterjee and Jennie Renton (Edinburgh: Textualities, 2009).
- "Jessica", about an Anglo-Indian woman hairdresser of Portuguese descent in a Bengali neighbourhood in Calcutta, came out in Vislumbres: Bridging India and Iberoamerica 1 (2008): pp. 58–9.
- "The Key to All the Worlds", appeared in Superhero: The Fabulous Adventures of Rocket Kumar and Other Indian Superheroes, published by Scholastic India in 2007.[ISBN 81-7655-821-4]
- 'Killer' in Comix India Vol. 2: Girl Power
- 'The Bookshop on the Hill' in Drighangchoo Issue 3, Kolkata 2010. Part 2 of the story forthcoming in Drighangchoo Issue 4.
While in the UK she gathered material from various archives on the histories of Macmillan and Oxford University Press and their relationship with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma covering the period up to 1947. The data on Oxford University Press is mostly hitherto unpublished archival material from confidential records generated by the Press. Her book Empires of the Mind: A History of the Oxford University Press in India During the Raj is the first in-depth account of a large-scale European publisher interacting with Indian markets and authors, and raises several significant questions about the nature of the colonial encounter in India though the medium of print, particularly in the later stages of British Rule. For instance, in the case of Oxford University Press, its status as an academic press that had supported several key Indological publishing ventures in the mid-nineteenth century gave it a cachet in the eyes of Indians that other presses could not have, and it was seen as pro-India as a result. At the same time its self-imposed custodianship of Indological study was questioned, not just by nationalist groups but also by many of its own authors. Furthermore, Oxford University Press often tried to tone down the imperialism of key authors such as Vincent Smith. These findings go against more 'hegemonic' readings of Indian encounters with print, by scholars such as Gauri Vishwanathan.
Empires of the Mind won the SHARP deLong Prize for 2007, an international academic prize awarded annually by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing for outstanding work in the history of the book.
- Black Light (fiction) (New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2010) [HarperCollins India page http://www.harpercollins.co.in/BookDetail.asp?Book_Code=2585] ISBN 978-81-7223-839-1
- The City of Love (fiction) (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007) [Penguin's page http://penguinbooksindia.com/Bookdetail.aspx?bookId=6890] ISBN 0-14-310381-4
- Empires of the Mind: A History of the Oxford University Press in India During the Raj (publishing history) (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006) ISBN 0-19-567474-X
- Signal Red: A Novel (fiction) (New Delhi: Penguin, 2005) ISBN 0-14-303262-3
- Apon Katha: My Story by Abanindranath Tagore (translation from Bengali to English) (Chennai: Tara, 2004)
- Titu Mir by Mahasweta Devi (Bhattacharya) (translation from Bengali to English) (Calcutta: Seagull, 2000) ISBN 81-7046-174-X
- Rimi B. Chatterjee, Empire of the Mind: A History of the Oxford University Press in India During the Raj (New Delhi: OUP, 2006).
- Gauri Vishwanathan, Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989).
- [The SHARP website http://www.sharpweb.org/intro.html]
Reviews of Black Light
- Interview in the Statesman
- The Daily Bhaskar
- Mid Day
- Afternoon Despatch and Courier
- The Book Lovers
Reviews of The City of Love