Urmi Bhattacheryya, alumni of St. Stephen’s, is an Oped-Editor at The Quint. She has previously worked with Rupa Publications, Navbharat Times and Ratna Publications. In this exclusive interview with acadman.in she talked about her first week in Delhi, life at Stephens, obsession with cafes to working with The Quint.
Please tell us about your educational journey and your life then.
I was born and brought up in my family home in Calcutta, and I went to school in the city – to Calcutta Girls’ High School. I later moved to Delhi at the age of 18 and studied at St Stephen’s College for a Bachelors and a Masters degree in English.
Please tell us about your responsibilities as Op-ed editor at The Quint?
My responsibilities are pretty myriad – ranging from commissioning pieces to up-and-coming writers, bloggers and graphic artists as well as veterans, to editing and producing them for a digital platform. It’s fun to constantly be on the lookout for a fresh voice and style of writing, and then collaborating with them.
How was it to shift from Calcutta to Delhi? Do you remember your first week in Delhi?
It was pretty painful at first! I’d always led a really sheltered life back in Calcutta, and I still remember my dad saying I couldn’t move unless he had first come here and scouted the place himself! So he actually did – he spent a few days looking up hostels near Delhi University – and then came back and said he was okay-ish with the idea. I moved with both a little pain and joy – joy because I was going to Stephen’s for an English degree and a little apprehension at moving away, but I’ve never regretted the move. My first week was a mix of discovering north campus and its many food joints, getting superbly late to classes and just acclimatising to the very rich culture.
Are you still a Bengali or you have switched to Dilli Waali?
Hahaha! I am very much a Bengali – who also identifies as a Dilli-waali. I’ve never given up either identity and have never felt the need to J. Having lived in the capital for nine years and counting, I feel entirely at home here – just as much as I do back in the hometown.
How were your experiences doing masters in English at St Stephens College?Please give us an overview of your life there?
St Stephen’s was a great place to study in. I remember it being the only place outside of Calcutta that I had applied to (completely on a fluke) and when I got in, I decided I had to move. My experiences as a student – sitting in its very old classrooms, wolfing down the very-famous mince cutlets and gulab jamuns, learning far more than I’d ever learned – are all memorable. But most importantly, I think the place really helped me grow. I had a number of favourite professors – all of whom helped make me more confident than I was at the time. Iremember being really nervous in my first year about presenting a paper to my batch. A professor told me: ‘Remember, you know more about this than they do. Just ramble on. And if you think you’re talking rubbish, ramble confidently about that too!’ It really helped!
Why didn’t you go for a degree in mass communication? Did it bother you ever?
I never felt the need to. Believe it or not, I didn’t go to college with the single-minded goal of getting a job, really. I loved English literature – still do – and I wanted to read and write as much as possible. The fact that it also ended up being useful in my career is a plus.
How did you come to work with The Quint?
I was freelancing at the time when a friend told me that this new, exciting news portal called The Quint was hiring. Till then, I’d been working largely in book publishing, editing manuscripts – and I’d realised it wasn’t for me. I came, I interviewed and I began. It’s been almost two and a half years now.
How are your experiences working with Ritu Kapur?
It’s incredibly fun working with Ritu, because she is this irrepressible bundle of energy! She is definitely very keyed into what’s going on, and an extremely approachable boss. Most stories here develop out of collaboration, constant brainstorming, talking, laughing and drinking coffee.
At first Rupa, then NBT, Ratna and now The Quint. Book industry to core journalism. Were you expecting this change?
I don’t know if I was expecting it, but I certainly took the change with eager, open hands! I always knew I wanted to write and tell stories, and I needed to make the quick shift from publishing to journalism at the time.
You read a lot. Please tell us about some of your favourites which inspired you or has made an impact on you?
One of my favourite things to do on a free day is settle down in a neighbourhood café with a good book and a nice latte. Tons of books have made an impact on me and it’s hard to mention just a few. But anything I grew up with – like, a Harry Potter or almost all of Roald Dahl and Ruskin Bond fired my imagination – while Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing for some reason reminds me of home. Authors like Marquez, R K Narayan and Khushwant Singh are comfortable favourites.
How you get interested in writing?
I don’t think there was ever a time that I wasn’t interested in writing! One of my most enduring memories is of scrawling out large illegible words I’d read in books on the walls with big, red paint. My parents, despite the exasperation, never discouraged me. I’d take a book to all birthday parties I was invited to as a child (I was quite unsocial!) and whenever I felt upset about something or needed to verbalise, I would write my thoughts down. I still do that, to this day. Writing is my first and last love.
You have worked for some years now. How would you describe these years of your career in journalism? Have you been happy and satisfied as a journalist in these years?
It’s a constant learning curve. There are good days, bad days and hard days, but I can promise you it’s never boring!
Did you have to face any kind of harassment at the places you worked?
Do you mean sexual? Never. But I am aware that it happens in many, many workplaces and it is abhorrent.
Would you like to tell us about the gender ratio in the offices you worked?
Our ratio is very heavily skewed towards females. The bunch itself is a nice and happy one!
What do you love the most in Delhi?
I’ve lived in the city 9 years and I now love it as my own. The North Campus of Delhi University is pretty special to me, because I’m a nostalgic sort of person and that was where I ‘grew up’ in Delhi. Places like Majnu Ka Tila and Kamla Nagar were where we’d hang out. Old Delhi is very special to me too because I set about exploring it on my own while in college, and I’d stop at all the numerous bookstores in little gullies, nooks, and crannies. I still go down on any old Saturday.
I heard you spent a lot of time in cafes. Would you like to share some memorable incidents there?
I am obsessed with cafes! I do not think I could survive a day if someone in the world suddenly decided to shut them down. Of course, I have a select few – and I select them quite at random, on the basis of how peaceful I feel when I’m at them. My favourite is this little place in Majnu ka Tila which I’m not going to name because I’d hate to share that space, but there are a few others too. I’d recommend the activity to anyone – no matter what’s going up or down in life, you can find your happy place in a quiet corner reading a book and sipping a coffee.
A 10th standard student who is reading your interview and wants to become a writer what would be your suggestions to him/her?
Start (and keep) writing. Never give up. Pick up suggestions on the way, of course, but don’t let criticism deter you. Most importantly, READ. You cannot be a good writer without being a voracious reader first.