Saurav Dutt is an up and coming British-Bengali author who unveiled his book, “The Butterfly Room,” at the 2014 International Kolkata Book Fair. His other works have been short-listed and presented at the London and Frankfurt book fairs, MCM Comic Book Convention, and BookExpo America. They have been featured in a number of media outlets, including BBC, Al Jazeera, and The Hollywood Reporter amongst many others.
Dutt initially began writing at the age of 14; yet soon after, life got in the way of his hobby. Back then, his inspiration for short stories was the world around him, namely music and film. He felt that “both mediums stemmed from the written word and the sense of distilling emotion into something creative.” Today, at the age of 33, he has been professionally writing fiction and non-fiction for about six years.
Dutt views literature as a means of “formulating visual ideas and intangible emotions onto paper.”
“I see my books as almost like films, prisms of time and capsules of emotion, lightening in a bottle if you will,” he said. “Writing stems from a sense of osmosis, of collecting words, pictures and emotions of what I see around me.”
The novel itself consists of a number of personal encounters with discrimination regarding gender and LGBTI identities. According to Dutt, the most striking interview he conducted throughout the course of the project was “the Indian lawyer who was blackballed from the profession for not denouncing the fact he was a homosexual. This was even more shocking because his father was a judge and ‘gave him a chance’ to ‘return to normality.’”
In an area where one hopes to be safest and most protected, finding such discrimination, even in the confines of one’s own home is appalling—the people who are supposed to provide you with unconditional support instead lack sympathy and understanding.
The proceeds from sales of “The Butterfly Room” go to a number of charities including Southall Black Sisters, Stonewall, and Women’s Aid. Dutt said he feels that working with charities furthers the purpose of his writing on these critical social topics. These organizations reflect a passion of his own in spreading awareness around these issues. As he put it, “It’s worthwhile if a creative art can mirror the real-life efforts of those trying to make a change.”
It is evident that discrimination continues to prevail within Indian and other Asian societies, but why such discrimination persists is unclear.
“It exists because it has been perpetuated through decades and decades of communication, written or otherwise, that has demonized and criticized without offering competing perspectives,” he said. “An ugly narrative has been allowed to stand and go unchallenged. Even worse, those who decide to resolve it or speak out are punished, ridiculed and even permanently silenced for their bravery. People and governments should both be approached first because working on a grassroots level isn’t always effective. Power concedes something only with a demand and those in power must be embarrassed into acting if that is what it takes. India cannot be the largest democracy in the world, be able to possess nuclear weapons and spend hundreds of millions on space technology without first tackling the human element: or at least tackle it alongside societal development.”
Alongside presenting his views on the South Asian traditions of discrimination, Dutt detailed that the reason he chose these topics for his novel was its universality in all societies. Intolerance comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, existing as a global problem which should be dealt with accordingly. However, the international system is gravely falling short in this regard.
Dutt attributes the failure to lack of a proactive and consistent approach. “Like any project, this needs goals and objectives and audits to ensure those objectives are met. If we can’t move beyond simple debates such as equal pay for women then how are we going to tackle these kinds of issues?”
Similarly, we asked Dutt what he wanted to convey to his readers regarding his interview process, to which he responded, “I really wanted readers to understand how discrimination can take so many forms and be hurtful in ways most of us cannot understand. Whether it is the ‘silent treatment’ or a kind of passive extrication from the family unit, the interviews uncovered all sorts of ways people were punished for their beliefs.”
Through this process, Dutt not only uncovered various forms of discrimination but also their different means of expression. Some people were unable to articulate their tragic past and, therefore, turned to writing their accounts in order to share their stories.
Authors who discuss such social issues often wish to use their writing as a means to achieve a goal. While Dutt firmly understands that literature does not retain the capability to physically cure cancer or alter the course of the world, he still believes in the power of words to make a difference.
“All I would like to see is that debate is encouraged,” he explained. “I was quite mystified and indeed shocked when people remarked to me that nobody has talked about these issues in a book within a British-Asian context or even an Indian context in this way. I have to talk about them because Bollywood isn’t going to, plays aren’t going to and if films and literature do, they are shut out and given no funding. If there is one long-term change I’d like to achieve with this book, it is that it makes people think about the issues and walk away with a sense of disgust or indignation but never indifference.”
The discussion of these sensitive topics is necessary. Yes, the connotations are not as light-hearted as romantic comedies, the latest technology or even the latest fashion trend featured by the Kardashians. However, if these difficult discussions are not had, if we do not even address the fact that there is a problem, change will be impossible to come by.
The work of talented individuals like Dutt will become idle and meaningless if we fail to acknowledge the real issues they bring to light. It is not enough to hold one’s own views and attitudes on issues; discussion is obligatory if you desire change.
According to Dutt, “I have learned that ultimately everybody is human and by isolating voices within a debate you only get one skewed, indifferent, one sided answer and you can’t live in a world with one answer to everything.” Indeed, it is about walking a mile in another man’s shoes and striving towards change with both perspectives.