Why do we write a memoir? Hear it from author Nandita Chakraborty

Today we’re in conversation with supremely talented Nandita Chakraborty for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. Born in Kolkata (India), Nandita’s sense of creativity started very young. She would go on dreaming and writing about everyday life in her journal. In 2000, she moved to Melbourne, and since then, her writing has been published in various literary journals and publications. Her latest memoir, Dirty Little Secrets is available via your local bookstore or online.

What was the defining moment when you felt Dirty Little Secrets must get written?

Nandita- I wanted young women to understand that the choices they get to make in life are basic lessons that help us to grow. Your society might label them as mistakes, but one must grasp its learning. I also thought it was very relevant to tell what every migrant goes through. So, you could say this is a cheap manual book for $27 for people who go through what I’ve gone through. Today, we’re always hooked on social media, tending to be something we are not, so you’ve got to sort yourself between reality and illusion. Lastly, I also wrote this book for myself. It’s a love letter to me, Melbourne, and all these young women. 

How did you finalise the title Dirty Little Secrets? Was the book written first or the title? 

Nandita- The title got finalised after completing the book. After six years of writing and then two years of finding an agent. 

The first chosen title was a very long one. It was initially named ‘The Girl Misinterpreted’, but it didn’t appear to be as catchy. Then we decided on ‘Dirty Little Secrets’ since the book is filled with my secrets. My agent and I also thought of keeping ‘Unfinished’ as the title, but Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s memoir was out with the same title. There were a lot of titles in-between, but I wanted the one which resonated with the story the most. 

The memoir has many revelations which must not have been easy to discuss. What gave you the courage to write about your life?

Nandita- When I started writing, my inner voice did ask me what will be the future after this? Do I really want to write this memoir? There will be a lot of questions. There will be people looking at you with a different perception. Then I told myself how judgements would always be a part of life. Whatever you decide to do, there will always be someone telling you to do otherwise. I said to myself that it would go on and not end. So I better write this memoir. 

Then I started writing, thinking how will the girl of 20 years younger to me find reading this? What will be the future of this girl? And how will she get connected with the story? And the pen started flowing automatically. That was why I wrote this book, and there was no stopping from there. 

What has been your biggest takeaway from writing this memoir? 

Nandita- My biggest takeaway from writing this memoir is that readers have actually purchased the book and mentioned on Goodreads how Dirty Little Secrets moved them. That’s my win. 

How many rewrites did you have to go through for this book? 

Nandita- It was 100,000 words at the beginning. Then I had to bring it down to 70,000 words. I also had to rewrite my prologue because I wasn’t satisfied. 

Dirty Little Secrets talks about your family dimensions in detail. Has your family read the book? 

Nandita- My mum knows what’s in the book. She hasn’t read it yet, but my sister has. The equation with my brother is still how it had been mentioned in the memoir. If he wishes to read the book, he is welcome to read; it’s out in the world. 

How does it feel to see the labour of your love in bookstores now? 

Nandita- A major sense of relief! There has always been a lot of tension. I would keep thinking about how people will perceive this book. So, it was a relief when the book was out. It’s like I have given birth to a baby. And I’m sure this goes for every book written out there. 

Do you have any unfulfilled dreams now? 

Nandita- Yes, I want my film to happen soon. I’m a screenwriter, and a few of my screenplays are in the developmental stages. So that is my unfulfilled dream, and it will happen. 

What do we see you doing when you’re not writing or reading? 

Nandita- I get bored if I don’t write. You will find me continually surrounded by books. I’m in the library. Sometimes I also binge watch TV. 

What’s on your bedside table?

Nandita- Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Who would play you if your book gets adapted into a Netflix movie? 

Nandita- Vidya Balan. 

Do you have any messages for the aspiring writers? 

Nandita- My message for aspiring writers is not to get so scared. Don’t worry about how much you should write and about what. Because at the end of the day, writers are writing who they are. 80% of what’s in the paper or in a book- it’s them, what they’re feeling, what they’re dreaming, what they’re thinking. So, don’t be brutal. Be truthful to your pen and write. That’s what I want to suggest to them. 

What are you writing next?

Nandita- My next book is called ‘The Extraordinary Mrs Chatterjee.’ The story revolves around this marvellous lady who passed away at the age of 92- leaving a legacy behind. It traces her life journey way back in 1930 when she was sold to go to England, and from there, she landed at a camp in Germany. This book is about a brave woman’s journey to freedom after escaping from one country to another and facing all the turbulence life had to offer.

Dirty Little Secrets was published on 7th February 2022 by Clever Fox Publishing. You can purchase the book here.