Debleena Majumdar, the author of A Marketplace of Murder, grew in a home filled with books, music and stories. Her parents were teachers and books were the Gods they prayed to. She loved both words and numbers. But very practically, She chose numbers when it came to finding a profession.
Statistics and Finance were her chosen subjects and they led her to a career in Investment Management, Investment Banking and Impact Venture Capital. After more than 15 years of corporate life, a combined dose of mid-life crisis and a strange wish to do-more and do-good knocked her so-called senses out of her.
She chose to become an entrepreneur, twice over, first setting up a company called Kahaniyah and then setting up a company called StoryEd. She also became a journalist, writing on Education and on mergers for Economic Times Prime.
Today, She works in Education, Storytelling and Finance and is intrigued by how stories lie everywhere: in numbers, data, music, words, silence.
TBE: Tell us a little about your story and the story world you’ve created in ‘A Marketplace for Murder’.
Debleena Majumdar: The story shifts between a modern-day Bangalore and an archaeological expedition with a strange discovery as two sudden disappearances bring crime very close home for the main character, Leena. Will she be able to find the answers before it is too late? Or will she be suspected of the crime? Or is she the killers’ next target? Given its’ a crime novel, that cryptic introduction is the most I’ll do. For more, read the book. It’s just 165 pages and a page-turner, at that.
TBE: How this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
Debleena Majumdar: Would you be scandalized if I told you that it was the voice of the killer? I heard that first. Which is why the book has the alternating first person voice of the killer along with the third person narration of the events that move the story forward.
TBE: What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
Debleena Majumdar: The primary message is one of losing and finding one’s identity in a world which often forces us to adorn ill-fitting masks. While that forms a key backdrop for the crime, the characters in the story are also in the process, either of losing, or finding their identities. Through this message, I question is the murder of the body the only kind of murder? What about murder of an idea? Or murder of identity? Set in Bangalore, it also brings to life a cast of characters, including the changing nature of the city, who are trying to fit in and live.
TBE: What is the significance of the title?
Debleena Majumdar: A Marketplace for Murder. You’d think of a marketplace as a place where you can meet and can buy and sell goods. But in the digital world, our identities are often hidden. We can create new identities. Or take someone else’s. And sometimes, that could lead to fatal consequences. The book is a reflection of that journey. And given marketplaces are very common in the startup world, which I also chronicle, in the story, it’s a double pun. If only, to myself.
TBE: Who are your main characters? Tell us a little about what makes them tick.
Debleena Majumdar: I’ll talk about 3 characters from the book:
Leena is my main character. A mother, a wife, a business journalist, a friend; super busy, super clumsy, super curious. She is an every woman of today. Its her loyalty and her curiosity which takes the story forward.
Abhimanyu, her friend, is a true dreamer. Dreaming of a better world with his startup innovations. He is not after glory or riches. He trusts easily and loves deeply. His story is a story of many founders I have met.
Mr. Basu, newly retired and now at the helm of the neighborhood Durga Pujo. He has a habit of translating Bengali idioms to English, often with hilarious results. Retirement from work, and not from life, a situation many of us are finding ourselves in as we grow older, is a poignant learning from his life.
TBE: What was your writing process for this book? And How long did it take you to write this book?
Debleena Majumdar: I had met a lot of startups in my work in Impact Venture Capital and some of their stories were so visceral, they stayed with me. Meanwhile, with the growing use of technology, I always wondered if our digital identities could be erased, as easily as our physical ones can be wiped out and what that means for our lives. That shadowy, anonymous voice of the identity-killer is what first came to my mind. And from there I started building the pieces of the story. It took me about 4-5 months to actually write it down. But I guess, the ideas were shape-shifting inside of me, much before that.
TBE: What do you hope your readers take away from this book?
Debleena Majumdar: Apart from reading the book and writing a review, I have spoken about a crime that can happen to any of us, today. And I have shown the various journeys people in our dynamic cities take, from a startup founder to a journalist to a cook to an archaeologist to a retired couple. I hope the readers find a slice of their lives reflected in the book, and more importantly, protect their own digital identities. And I hope the characters stay with them, as they finish reading the book.
TBE: Do you read much and if so, who are your favorite authors?
Debleena Majumdar: I read compulsively and continuously. Somerset Maugham, Margaret Atwood, Agatha Christie, Saradindu Bandopadhyay, Satyajit Ray, Keigo Higashino, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Nair, Muriel Spark, Chitra Divakaruni…I can go on and fill the pages with authors whose books I love and read and re-read, times over.
TBE: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Debleena Majumdar: I am a compulsive workaholic. Anything to avoid parties. I co-founded two companies. One called Kahaniyah, where we work on data-driven storytelling to drive business and learning outcomes. And another one called StoryEd where we work with youth who are neither in formal education or employment systems and we get them to their open schooling Grade 10 and 12 certification and initial income through a storified platform. I am also an investigative journalist with Economic Times Prime, covering Education and Mergers and Acquisition.
TBE: Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
Debleena Majumdar: Well, has to be the authors I admire. I compulsively read them. And not just their books, but I read everything I can about their lives. Try an Agatha Christie or a Somerset Maugham quiz and I’ll win, anyday. I went to Malaysia to find the restaurant Somerset Maugham frequented. And I still remember being ecstatic when my fifth wedding anniversary gift from my perceptive husband was a set of David Suchet (of Hercule Poirot) adaptation dvds, and not flowers or some such thing.
TBE: Have you ever learned anything thing from a negative review and incorporated it in your writing?
Debleena Majumdar: Quite honestly, my battle was internal. Growing up, I loved books and was an avid reader. But when it came to choosing something to specialize in, I chose numbers. Statistics and Finance. That was my life. And for a long time, I was just happy reading words authors I deeply admire had written. I felt like a writer-in-waiting (my Instagram handle, note the obvious promotion dig😊), waiting to see if I would one day find the words to write, the stories my mind was busy imagining. The journey from being a writer-in-waiting to being an author is the one I am trying to take now. And it still feels unreal sometimes. Guess the dream will only be real when readers buy my book, and share their feedback. No pressure, readers.
TBE: What would you advise young writers trying to build a publishing history or an author platform?
Debleena Majumdar: If you are clear that you want to write, that’s already a headstart. As the old cliché goes, there’s no substitute to reading. But here’s my addition to it. There’s no substitute to living. To gaining experiences. Meeting people. As our ideas come from some weird intersection of our experiences and our imagination. And then there’s that painful reality of actually sitting down everyday to write. I haven’t found any magic potion to make that part easier. And I doubt AI can ever write fiction, as well, as authors who spend years honing their craft, can. Or, at least, I hope it never will. Can’t imagine who my favourite authors will be then. Versions of AI?
TBE: A common misconception entwined with authors is that they are socially inept, and they are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?
Debleena Majumdar: I had a blog which was called “No Small Talk! So you know the answer I am about to give. I love cracking crazy jokes or discussing the deep philosophies of life with my few close, and even crazier friends. But call me to an unknown party; well, I might just land up with a book to hide my face or, even better, just not show up at all. So yeah, I am a complete introvert and as socially inept as one can be.
TBE: What are some must-read titles in your genre?
Debleena Majumdar: Agatha Christie, Saradindu Bandopadhyay, Edgar Allan Poe (the originator), Sir Arthur Connan Doyle, Satyajit Ray, Margaret Atwood, Ian Rankin, Anita Nair, J.K. Rowling (Robert Galbraith), Ruth Rendell, Keigo Higashino. There are so many. I look at them as three kinds of crime fiction: a) procedural fiction (from the point of view of a law enforcement officer), b) psychological crime fiction (classical whodunit, unreliable narrator) and c) true crime. All add to the genre.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Debleena Majumdar: Two actually, if I can stop reading enough to write them down.
-My grandfather was a criminal lawyer in a small town near Kolkata. He handled some really interesting cases, which bring real insight into the messy human mind. I am trying to write a book on a few of those cases, as remembered by my father, while was growing up, in the shadow of the law. This idea was given to me by my fantastic literary agent and guide, Suhail Mathur
-I am writing a book that delves into the question of personal and political freedom. It has two alternating time periods. The story of a lost freedom fighter from pre-Independent Bengal and the story of a young student in a premier University, who is disillusioned about Education. The stories converge and take the readers on a journey where freedom becomes very personal, to what each of us feel.
Do tell me which one you like more. Will make my life so much easier.