Alumni Profile • Saikat Mondal '95
Waiting for answers

Saikat MondalSaikat Mondal ’95 did some of his finest thinking at Calvin while vacuuming, he said. The Calcutta, India, native remembers one particular vacuuming moment during his junior year. Some days earlier he’d realized he didn’t really like geology, his major, or academics at all, for that matter, and that he didn’t want to go to graduate school as he’d planned. “Calvin had liberated the individual in me,” he said. “But then I had to decide what to do next.”

It was while vacuuming the Commons that he heard an internal voice suggest acting. “As a profession, acting strongly resonated in my being,” Mondal said,  “a perfect occupation for someone who felt most alive in movie theaters and was surrounded by storytellers.”

He finished the geology major—“to have something to fall back on”—then moved to New York City, which, he said, “liberated the artist in me.” He began to have small successes: bit parts on the TV shows Saturday Night Live, Strangers with Candy and Late Night with Conan O’Brien; a role as a Moroccan waiter in Paramount Pictures’ film Sabrina; commercials for Kodak and Geico Insurance.

“But after a point,” Mondal said, “my career started stagnating.” Freelancing with seven agencies, he was getting calls, but always for small, stereotyped parts—the ethnic doctor, cab driver or waiter. “There is so much rejection and humiliation, doing those futile rounds of auditions,” Mondal said.

“Then one fine morning poetry arrived and saved me.” It was a Sunday morning while he was working at his job as a hotel receptionist. “I wrote three poems, totally oblivious to everything, and from that point onward I have never looked back, writing wise.”

Mondal describes himself as “pleasantly shocked” with his newfound profession. “Writing kept me sane,” he said. He met other writers in the city, did some readings and, in 2002, published a book of poems titled Dialogues with My Self.

“I hoped it would sell like hotcakes,” Mondal said of the book. But the small, independent publisher didn’t have a large distribution network, and Mondal found himself “facing rejection on two fronts.”

“I felt something big was coming, like a breakdown,” he said. “I thought maybe I needed to recharge my batteries. Also, my mother was sick and alone and I hadn’t been home in 10 years.” So at the end of 2003, Saikat Mondal returned to Calcutta.

In the three years since, he has had a few small acting jobs and has written the script for a documentary film. He’s also written a second volume of Dialogues with My Self, for which he is seeking a commercial publisher.

But Mondal realizes he’s at a crossroads. To pay the bills he’s been working with a friend in a small-business enterprise. Prodded by family members, he’s considering MBA programs in hotel management. “If I have to do that,” he said, “I will do so with a heart full of sadness. But I can’t sit around and wait for a book contract or for an agent to call.”

While he weighs options, Mondal continues to write. He’s at work on “an existential novel about the anxiety of a creative person who finds himself in a conventional nine-to-five world.” His protagonist inquires of Mondal: “The voice that initiated me into the life of an artist, was it all for naught?”

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