April 06, 2020
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Srikumar Sen

The author on making his book debut at 81

Srikumar Sen
Srikumar Sen

Tell us a bit about The Skinning Tree.

The book is about how a child, Sabby, who lives, in his imagination, in his grandmother’s house in Calcutta is unable to cope with the reality of boarding school. 

You had first thought of writing it in 1964.

Yes, but it would have been a straightforward tale had I written it then. I now have a better perspective. For instance, it made me ask why corporal punishment, or even killing animals, was acceptable those days. 

So what made you pen it now?

By 2010, I could see how to put a book together to make my point: that shame is a troubling companion in life. I believe it applies today. 

The book details the pain of boyhood.

The memory of my boyhood, punishment and pain lingered and I realised I could harness it to write about fear and loneliness and a tragedy that could have been avoided. 

Is it autobiographical?

The Calcutta background and the house are real, the sequence of events are not. Family history, school, reality and experience have been moulded to fit into my story. 

How long did it take to write?

Three years.   

You write vividly of Calcutta in the ’40s.#

I remember Calcutta clearly because when I went back in ’65 after nine years in England, I found it had not changed very much. In my 10 years there, I got a good second look at it. 

How did your journalism contribute to it?

Fifteen years of writing for The Times as the Boxing Correspondent was great writing experience. So when at 77 I returned to write the novel, it wasn’t difficult to face the laptop. 

So age didn’t work against you.

Sometimes the words are elusive at my age, but they turn up in the end. 

Are you writing another novel?

Yes. It is about the Indian diaspora and how it affects Sabby. I hope to finish it at 83 and then start my third.

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