As a child, Ronen Chatterjee hated to read and was merely an average student. His teachers grew frustrated with his lack of direction, essentially writing the young lad off at an early age. Ronen himself admits, “I was more or less having no aim in life.”
But the otherwise unremarkable young boy began to display two exceptional talents — an impeccable memory and the ability to create narratives in his mind.
This knack for story-telling didn’t take Ronen’s family by surprise, however. His father Bhaskar Chatterjee has authored a book on management, Maruti [Get Quote]: The Indian Experience; and his mother Rupa Chatterjee has written a series of books, including Sonia Gandhi [Images]: The Lady in Shadow.
Urged on by his parents to take up the pen, Ronen started his first story; three years later, he hasn’t stopped.
Now 15, Ronen is the youngest published novelist in India. His debut offering, Fire Within, uses the game of tennis as a vehicle to explore the intricacies of familial relationships. It traces the story of three generations of the Roy ramily — Rohan, his son Rohit and his grandson, Raj — and their dedication to the game they love.
In an interview with rediff.com’s Matthew Schneeberger, Ronen describes writing the book, his struggles with publishers and plans for the future.
When and how did this idea of writing a book originate?
I never dreamt that I’d be an author today. I say this because, when I was six or seven, I didn’t really like to read. I didn’t like to write. I was lazy, more or less having no aim in life.
But, one thing was, my imagination started to kick in. I could make pictures in my mind and move objects around; it was like an escape route from reality.
Stories started forming in my head and I tried to express it to my mother. And I told her, “I have this story and I want you to write it.” But she told me, “If I write it, you won’t get that satisfaction that you want. If you write it, it will be much better, because then it will be the way you want it.”
She told me this around 2003. And then two years later, in November 2005, I decided to put pen to paper.
And it was like a fish to water. I just kept writing and writing. I realized this is what I want to do. This is what I want to write. When I started, it was aimlessly; because I never dreamt that one day it would be a proper book.
And from there it just continued; it just kept growing, and my stories got better and better and better. My parents said, “This is a talent we have on our hands, we should try and have this published.”
So your parents supported you, but how about others? Your peers, teachers…?
I didn’t tell my teachers! I kept it a total secret. Because, at this age, all the teachers, and usually even parents, say, “Just keep studying!” They don’t care about extra activities. And this type of talent (writing), people hardly recognize, no one takes it seriously.
I first gave it to my friends and they said it’s good. I didn’t want to expose it to too many people. And then one day, it suddenly came out in my school. I got very scared, I was wondering what they would say. My teacher took it to the head of the English department, who read it and returned it without a word. Next week, at the PTA meet, the English head told my parents I should focus on my studies.
That was the feedback I got from the school! I got no encouragement. Now that I am published, they have all congratulated me, though.
It took you a year to get the book published. Could you describe that process?
That was the harsh part, because you have to come back to reality. There are hundreds of writers in Delhi, actually God knows how many, and they’re all working ten times harder than I am to have their books published. And yet so many of them are unsuccessful.
The publishers we went to all said good, but you are too young, just 13, a small kid, he is not old enough to enter this competitive world. After every rejection, I told myself it didn’t matter; we simply went on to the next publisher, and the next. Finally, we ended up with Haranand, and they said my age could actually be a selling point, a fact the other publishers failed to recognize. So that was how I got my chance.
Do you have a system, a set target for how much you write every day?
Sometimes I write for hours and hours. Actually, when I was on vacation, the first thing on my mind — after my exams — was that I had to complete the book. It was like the homework I gave myself. It worked, because I really developed a passion for what started off as a hobby. In fact, it is only
But then there are some days when I don’t write anything at all, because I also have to balance my studies. I gave my studies a back seat, but it doesn’t mean I can completely ignore them. In India, marks are everything.
When I was writing the book, there were many school-nights that I stayed up until two and three in the morning writing, and then I had to wake up at six, with very little sleep. At times, I didn’t manage to submit my home work in time, but I never told my teachers the true reason, that I was writing — I only told them I forgot.
So now that you have your first book out, are you 100 per cent committed to being an author?
More than that. Being an author is something I’m never going to give up. Even if it doesn’t become a proper profession, one thing is for sure, I won’t give up writing. My next book is already complete, I am waiting to finish my board exams, it should be out next year.
Writing has gotten me to where I am today. I never thought I would at such a young age do something to make my family proud. I once wondered what I was going to do in life, because everything seemed so boring. Now I have finally found a mission, to be a really good author.
Your stories are about tennis, but they’re also about family relationships. Did you do this intentionally?
There are three different generations in the tennis stories, because I didn’t want to keep just one person as the main character. I wanted to show that being the son of someone great can have really bad effects sometimes, because people, even your own parents, start expecting the same things from you. Some parents — I don’t want to say bad parents — want their children to complete the dreams that they couldn’t fulfill.
Also, I wanted to show the special side of the father-son relationships, because my dad and I are so close. My relationship with him is like this: we have very good times together where we’re best friends, but we can be very serious as well. I tried to depict that special relationship in the book.
Do you have any advice to give other young people wanting to take to writing?
You have to be yourself. If one dream of yours is really within your grasp, just cut out everything else and go for it. Enjoy life. And if you want to be successful, you have to be successful for yourself. You can’t depend on others. You must make your own future.