BackStory: Five More Questions with Mandira Pattnaik

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Five More Questions with Mandira Pattnaik
Author of Kaala Paani

What inspired you to write ‘Kaala Paani’?

I visited Cellular Jail, Port Blair, India, some time back. Now a national memorial and museum, it was a colonial prison used by the British for the purpose of exiling political prisoners in the remote Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. There were no dormitories and a total of 696 cells meant to keep inmates in solitary confinement, thus the name Cellular Jail. Torture and hangings took place regularly. On the watch tower at the centre of the seven wings, I found the names of hundreds of prisoners engraved on the walls, many of them women. Political activists from Kolkata, a hotbed of revolutionary thinking in pre-independence times, caught my attention. I followed up on a few cases and this piece was an offshoot of that research.

What is your favourite piece of historical flash?  What do you like about it?

For my favourite historical flash, I’ll choose Nuala O’Connor’s ‘Tin’. I especially adore Nuala’s writing because I find similarities in her style with that of my all-time favorite short-story writer James Joyce. Apart from that, Nuala’s story is well-researched and beautifully written drawing from how in 1914, seventeen-year-old Princess Mary of England arranged to send three hundred and fifty-five thousand tins, as Christmas gifts, to British soldiers fighting in the war. The brass and silver tins, engraved with an image of Mary, contained an ounce of tobacco, a packet of cigarettes, a cigarette lighter, a Christmas card, and photographs of the princess and her parents.

What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?

Putting down the first draft is my favorite part of the writing process. My least favorite is proof-reading!

What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?

I tend to get mesmerised by raindrops falling off the sky, and imagine hundreds of things — both beautiful, and deeply existential!

What do you like most about writing flash?

Love the way it captures time, as though with a camera-click, snapping the evanescent mood in one-hundredth of a second, like lightning!


Editor’s Note: If you’d like to read more, FlashBack Fiction is proud to have published Mandira Pattnaik’s flash, Regarding Gray, Carmine, Pyrope and a previous BackStory: Five Questions with Mandira Pattnaik in March 2021.

Mandira Pattnaik is an Indian fiction writer, poet and columnist. Pushcart, Best Microfictions, Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist and Best of the Net nominated, Mandira’s fiction has appeared in over 200 journals and anthologies, including Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021. She serves as the Contributing Editor, Vestal Review.  Find her work at

Photo by Valentin Müller via Unsplash.