The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons

Let’s imagine this: voices ricocheting, dripping in words, questions, concerns and possibilities of the perfect answers. The dome of St John’s Church, Kolkata, witnesses the partial unfolding of a book—The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons. I can see Monica Cantieni, the author, in the distance; something about her face suggests that one can talk to her easily. There are no airs, just a hint of familiarity, an unfamiliar feeling. She reads out a passage from the book, goes and sits beside the first woman who asks her a question, answers with a quiet passion. You can say that she has been there, she knows. I cannot forget her modesty that resounds perfectly, even now.

The next day we see her again at the Seagull School of Publishing for a more intimate conversation, in a room laden with books, books and more books, paintings and collages. I feel an immediate connection with her—I look around and realize that it is a collective feeling. We were all already half in love with her adorable accent, the smile that lit her face more often than not, and the sweetest humility.

She tells us how a novel begins for her; that it begins with only an image, a scrap of conversation. How she started this novel after the death of a dear friend—from sadness emerged the happiness of this story. She says she waits for the characters to take over, to impel her to direct the movement of the story and often she complies, stops and starts over—re-hashes the characters, kills one (she laughs at that), introduces another, blends for the perfect mix and even if this process is tedious, this is how she would like to go always. No wonder it took her ten years to write two books, she says. The laughter continues as she tells us how she considered the ‘stork’ an unfriendly looking bird when the designer of the original German edition presented her with the stork cover design. That was before she realized that it represented the bird’s image in popular imagination—remember the image of the stork carrying its baby bundle?

The other thing that I remember vividly about her is that she was not rushed to give an immediate answer—she took her time, mulled over the question for a few seconds—she intended to understand first. Something to learn.

When she says that as an author it was imperative for her to have blind faith in her translator and editor, I finally understand that it is her inherent faith in the goodness of the world, people, that propels her.

So, I believe her completely when I read:

‘The scientists go to some trouble with the names,’ he said, ‘they’ve some imagination, they call half-stars that don’t make it to more than a cloud of gas, that fail to form properly, that don’t have the strength, that can never become a whole star and shine down as far as us—they call these half-stars “brown dwarfs”, that’s their name. They’re the failures of the universe, they say, and they’re so far away, we can’t know whether we’re right about what we say about them. But not even a fly can live on them.’

The readers should share that faith too.

Sheenginee Bhattacharjee


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