Review of The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories by Rochelle Potker, published in Indian Book Reviews Jan 4, 2014
The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories was shortlisted for Publishing Next’s Industry Awards, 2014, in the Digital Book of the Year category.
Review by- Shana Susan Ninan
With seven short stories and two snippets spread over 43 pages, Rochelle Potkar’s ebook. Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories is a potpourri of love, loss and loneliness. The themes of love and sex running through all the narratives. The seemingly unimportant patterns of our lives are brought out in a very nuanced manner. Sometimes begging the reader to reread a paragraph just to delve into the seriousness it portrays. Stories of love, betrayal, sex with strangers, extra-marital sex, lives of devdasis and call girls, all find rampant mention in the book.
Rochelle has used visual imagery well to emphasise some of the lines. It lends a soft poetic background for the readers’ mind.
Sometimes he felt she was seeking aloud as she went on and on, mantra-like, her monotonous voice disengaging from her body, becoming a creature of its own, slithering sonorously to the sea.
And here’s one that captures a gender’s collected feeling, in the silent suffering one girl faces every day of her teenage life:
For only once a man moved inside her did she recognize who he truly was, retrieving a name from the repertoire of nicknames she kept for the shapes of bodies above her. There were so many of them even if they were just five of the biggest patrons of the temple. Each day caught them in a different mood with the feel and pace of their intimacies within her.
It was fate, they said, to be destined to God and devoured by men because she was the prettiest of devadasis.
Probably because she’s based in Mumbai, the sea plays a prominent role in most of the stories. Either as a place of calm, or a smoother of torments, or a safe-place for a recluse. There’s also a strong sense of companionship her characters share –sometimes for friendship, sometimes for just carnal pleasure. But then, the characters are all very ‘real’, as real as real can be explained. The passionate lover, the artist sugar daddy, the frustrated wife whose husband is double- and triple-timing her, the forlorn husband who catches his wife cheating oh him… are all sections of people you would come across on any given day, in your city.
“Rochelle’s stories are stark and real. Like a fresh breeze that makes one stand up and take notice. Her liberal writing style stands out with the theme of an ‘arithmetic’ undercurrent- Namrata. –http://forums.onlinebookclub.org/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=15916
Interview by Eliza Gales
Q: What made you want to be a writer?
A: A steadily-paying job in E-learning left me unsatisfied, making me wonder what was wrong. To not know the reason behind discontent is more eroding than discontent itself.
The projects in content writing had strict client specifications. But in 2007, one paragraph set me free. It had to be free-written thus punching itself out as a window through the rigid walls of rules and precondition. It showed me what fun free-writing was.
I’d never written a story, poetry, blog or personal diary before that.
So once I became a full-time writer, I wrote paragraphs upon paragraphs in gratitude to this naissance paragraph.
Q: Why erotica?
A: The stories in this ebook are literary with a mild erotic or romantic streak running through them.
The characters are drawn from real-life people who face livelihood demands, responsibilities, pimples, warts, red-tapism, interpersonal issues, health, friendships, life-crisis, discrimination and existential woes like EMIs, home loans and mortgages, besides their erotic sides or needs.
I don’t think of a genre before or while writing. So if a story turns into erotica it happens of its own will. It is in the DNA of that idea.
Q: Who are some of your literary influences?
A: Jhumpa Lahiri, William Trevor, Haruki Murakami, Orhan Pamuk, Rohinton Mistry and scores of online work whose attributions escape my memory. There is just too much of good writing going on.
Q: What is the central theme of The Arithmetic of Breasts and Other Stories?
A: Observing the romantic-sexual facets of characters who are largely Indians living in India, in the milieu of other aspects of their lives.
Q: Why do you think Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular?
I haven’t read it. But my friends who have, say it is boundary-defying. I am a slow reader and it is on my reading list or maybe, I shall use a shortcut and watch the film.
Q: What makes for an interesting heroine?
A: Mysterious and unpredictable as a few real-life women are. Her complexities should intrigue. There has to be just enough predictability to meet her in the eye and know her name (for the sake of pleasantries), and then she should take us on a wild goose chase. We should never be able to completely capture her down in banal bullet points.
I have yet to court such a heroine in my stories.
Q: Do you think making a character physically attractive makes that character more sympathetic?
A: It generally does.
Art apes life. We do gravitate towards physically attractive people, at least before illusions come crashing down.
However, I am dichotomous on this. Is beauty defined by its mute visibility? Because the moment a person expresses himself/herself through word and behaviour, the dimension of beauty changes. No wonder it is so subjective. It is what it makes you feel.
Back to the question: A physically attractive character might appease aspirations of certain readers, but to me mental, emotional, and spiritual attractiveness is more appealing.
Q: What are some trends in erotic writing that annoy you?
A: I have not kept track of trends. Struggling with writing takes up most of my time. But I’ve noticed even Booker prize shortlists change in flavour and theme every time.
Q: What kinds of things have you done to promote your E book?
A: The general things one has to do as an independent writer/publisher: requesting for reviews, posting book links wherever possible, keeping active one’s blog, website or twitter account – the usual pursuits.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of publishing their own E book?
A: Since you are cruising solo, it’s a Life-of-Pi-like situation. You are on an ebook-lifeboat in the vast frightening ocean of publishing. Survive the tiger – your self-doubts and disappointments – the dead animals on the boat…
The trip will teach you about the world but more about yourself. As always. What all you have, what all you don’t. The learning curve is exhilarating.
Firstly, see that your story meets your expectations. Does it come close to the original idea? This process is dubious, and daunting and liberating, by turns.
Then, get it beta read.
Thoroughly edited. I mean, thoroughly.
Then peddle it with word-art-beauty. You are, after all, a writer-marketeer. Congratulations!
Please note: Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:
Another interview by Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz: http://pennylockwoodehrenkranz.blogspot.com/2014/01/rochelle-potkar-arithmetic-of-breasts.html