An Interview with Bastab Chakraborty

Bastab Chakraborty is the founder editor of the flourishing website, Between The Lines ( Between The Lines is a website that provides book reviews and interviews of authors. Here, Bastab talks to us about Between The Lines, balancing his day job and his passions amongst other things.

Tell us a little about yourself as a book reviewer and a writer.

Books have always been a passion since my childhood, thanks to my mom. I started with Bengali novelists (Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, etc.), when I was in the fourth standard, I moved to short stories (Satyajit Ray), while also balancing Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and R. L. Stevenson. With all the reading, reviewing came naturally. The birth of ‘Between The Lines’ (BTL) happened back at 2009, after keeping numerous personal blogs at numerous platforms with numerous catchy titles. BTL was a personal blog in the beginning. Since 2011, we are a full-fledged team. They say a reviewer is not a writer. They also say writing comes naturally to a reviewer. When it comes to writing, I am a fan of personal rants, poetries and short stories.

What do you think makes for a good book review?

Honesty. A book review is the view of a reviewer about a book. It must include personal views. I remember fighting with publishing house owners, for calling a spade a spade, more than once. But, book reviews are always the best when they are balanced and not too critical or dripping praises.

How did the whole idea of ‘Between The Lines’ come to you?

The idea of reviewing books comes naturally to you if you love to read. I won’t call myself a voracious reader, but above average maybe. When I grew tired of ranting about personal lives and abstract poetries and haikus, I wanted to give reviewing books a try. That seemed like the best possible way to do justice to my habit of reading. That was January, 2009. The transformation from the blog to a full-time website happened late last year, which was a collaborative team effort. One person inspired me to work on it and another provided the very necessary pushes. The latter is a proud team member now and handles the website’s administrative activities.

What are the challenges you face with BTL?

BTL now has a team of regular contributors across the country. One of the reviewers in the team is fromLondon, doing her post-graduation there. The major challenge is to run the team successfully. But I always try to ensure that no communication gap ever happens between members of the team, as I believe this is very important, when you run a virtual team over the internet. We have a virtual office, in the form of a group in the most known social networking website. We discuss books and beyond. Regular emailing and group hangouts help a lot to maintain the team integrity.

Tell us some interesting anecdotes about BTL since its inception.

BTL has always been fun. I started with reviewing books and interviewing authors all alone, when it was a personal blog. It was tough, handling all the responsibilities of website maintenance, attending to numerous emails on a daily basis, reading, reviewing books and interviewing authors – all at once, alone. Juggling college life, content writing and BTL was really tough.

Since we are the lovers of written words, our memories are in the form of written words as well. I especially remember the late night chats with the team members in our virtual office. We welcome new interns in the team with grand welcome chat threads, knowing each other and sharing passions. We are good friends with each other in the team, which really matters a lot.

What do you think about Indian fiction today?

The less it is spoken about, the better. But one positive thing that has come out of all this hullaballoo is the increase in reading habits among the masses. While you can see people going through a Chetan Bhagat or an Urban Shots, in the metro or the train these days, you could not have quite said the same about the scenario about five years back. This year has seen a steep rise in the quality of Indian fiction.

Tell us about the type of books you read.

I read everything, be it fiction, non-fiction, biographical. I started with my mother tongue Bengali when I was a kid. And now, I don’t even get time to grab a bangla novel and give it a go. But there are certain Bengali authors whose works I can go through any day, any time, like Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Rabindranath Tagore from the long past, and more recently, the likes of Buddhadeb Guha and  Sunil Gangopadhyay. However, it’s quite sad that the quality of work coming out in Bengali has decreased manifold these days.

R. L. Stevenson and Mark Twain were my favourites as a kid. Growing up, Enid Blyton took over. Sidney Sheldon was a rage during teenage. What followed, in college, were a hotchpotch of works of numerous authors from various periods and genres. Amongst all of them, the writers who have been the all-time favourites are Haruki Murakami, Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ernest Hemingway, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, etc.

How do you balance your day job and BTL?

 It is a challenge I love. In a normal day, my routine includes ten hours of software slogging at office until 8.30 p.m., and working on BTL 10 pm onwards. I am grateful that my team mates at BTL have supported me all along.

What are the future plans for BTL? 

Well, the priority is to continue doing quality reviews, like we do now.  Till now, in 2012, a total of 105 book reviews and interviews have been published on BTL, on an average of 12 per month. It is the cumulative contribution of the team members. The BTL team has a core group of four to five members.  We hire the rest as interns on a temporary basis. Like most online ventures, we also thought of garnering economic profit from BTL at some point, but we are not quite sure whether we will move in that direction in the near future. I don’t call BTL an online ‘venture’ that way.

Has any author ever asked you to rework on your reviews after you have been critical of their work?

Not the authors, but publishing houses have.

What is the best thing about BTL?

The best thing about BTL is working with the team. We have a virtual office with a tagline ‘What happens here, stays here’. We have fun there, but when it comes to work, we all deliver. Since BTL is an online venture, formation of a virtual team and being a part of it is totally based on trust. Few of us have met each other face to face, and yet we work together for a common goal. All it requires is sheer passion, and I see it in all the team members at BTL.

Hamsini  Hariharan

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