15 Jan The Journey of Writing Dashavatar: The Story of How I Became a Published Author
First things first.
And miracle of miracles, it actually got published. And it is doing quite well, if I may say so myself.
But let me go back a bit and share with you how I actually got here.
The initial idea for this book wasn’t mine. Instead, it was my publisher Dipankar Mukherjee’s. One random morning, he called me and right out of the blue asked if I’d like to write on mythology – more specifically, short stories on the ten avatars of Vishnu.
That I was taken aback is an understatement. In my head, I was screaming ‘No!’ I sputtered, hee-hawed, and finally blabbered that I’d give it a thought.
You see, the reasons for me not being so excited about what my publisher said were many.
First, up until a few months ago, I was still stuck on my novel–you know the one I wrote in what now seems to be a previous birth–and was keen on polishing it to the point of making it publish-ready.
Second, not only did his question take me completely by shock not surprise, but it also scared me no end. What? Mythology? A subject I had no (reliable) idea of? Obviously then, my first instinct was to say ‘yes’ right away. (Jump headlong into something first and later think about the consequences is so totally me!)
But then this was not something to be taken lightly. And so, second thoughts surfaced even as I ummed and hmmed during the conversation and I decided to give it more thought. At the end of the day – which was all the time I had been granted to give a reply – I was convinced of my inabilities to deliver on a topic as deep and intense as Mythology and hence, was quite sure of my response – No.
After all, the only mythology I knew was that Karan and Arjun were long-lost brothers who had been separated, no killed by … no, wait, that was the Bollywood film, wasn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong! I am all for sharing and spreading the wealth of our mythological heritage. I even wrote an article about it long before my publisher got this wild idea. But that’s the thing, you know – I thought mythology is something that only those well-versed in the subject could write about. Despite being a confused Hindu, Mythology is something I only look at from a distance, admittedly, with reverence.
When I was a kid, we used to watch this TV series called ‘Mahabharata’ by film and television producer B.R. Chopra. The Sunday morning special used to be weekly ritual not just for us but many others, and captured the attention of everyone to the point of it being religiously watched by virtually the entire country.
The show is a huge part of my cherished childhood memories, and instrumental in kindling my fascination for all things mythological. This memory got refreshed sometime last year while reading Mallar Chatterjee’s Yudhisthira – The Unfallen Pandava and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions.
It was after reading these alternate perspectives that I realized that the stories were far deeper than I had initially believed. My young mind at that age would probably have not understood the many perspectives but now that I appreciate the various angles and the hidden layers, it caught my attention even more. In fact, it even made me realize how truly ‘epic’ these stories were.
It was this interest that spilled over to other mythological stories. And, I would tell myself that someday, I would write similar stories, exploring the various nuances and interpretations hidden in these stories.
And then one fine day it so happened that my publisher got a similar idea – of getting me to write these stories. Unfortunately, I was of the opinion that ‘some day’ wasn’t here yet. So when I thought of it the whole day, I was quite convinced about my reply. I would politely explain why I wasn’t the right person for this project and I would, out of courtesy, suggest other writers he could approach instead.
I picked up the phone and ended up saying – Well, isn’t it obvious what I must have said?!
As soon as I heard his response (Great!) and disconnected the call, I kicked myself. What had I just agreed to? Unfortunately, the magnitude of this impulsive and akratic decision would hit me much later.
I instinctively knew exploring anything about Indian mythology would require intense hours of back-breaking research. I soon figured how way out of my depth I was. For someone who has no idea about religion and visits the temple only on occasion, this was quite a leap. The initial doubts about whether I was up to the task even plagued me endlessly.
And that’s when the self-doubts kicked in. Why was I writing about this? What would I write about? What could I write that wasn’t already written and/or available in a book somewhere? Why would someone read my book?
As if navigating these ginormous seas of doubts wasn’t enough, there were other challenges waiting to slam into me and whack me from here to Jupiter.
One of them was to educate myself without getting overwhelmed by the gigantic reams of literature that was available out there. Another obstacle that I had to overcome was to figure out which sources were authentic and reliable and which were alternate perspectives and interpretations, and hence, not part of the ‘original’ story.
Mind you, even that wasn’t easy – for as my initial research revealed, I was wade into an ocean in which I was sure to drown me if I went in without ample safety measures.
The first such safety measure I took was the decision to restrict my research to only the ten avatars; for, the moment I let the scope go beyond just those ten, I would end up making this a life-long project. And I didn’t have that kind of time.
That’s when the second safety belt came in handy. I was looking for unbiased stories and not the alternate perspectives or reinterpretations that were commonly available, and finding those wasn’t easy. In fact, I soon realized that what I was looking for wasn’t available at all! So, I had to make do with what was available, and if need be, read the scriptures themselves.
That exposed me to another challenge – the different versions of these stories that were out there. It wasn’t easy comparing, reconciling, or verifying the different versions. Sometimes the contradictions existed between the many different scriptures and the puranas itself! It was then that I had to ask myself the question – which story do I go with?
When I finally began writing the stories, the doubts were very much still there. In fact, at every stage of the writing and publishing process, I battled thoughts of why I was doing this at all. Or how do I make the stories relevant to the world we inhabit today.
These ten stories are an outcome of that research, combined with my own imagination and creativity to fill in the gaps and make the stories more believable where needed, while also keeping true to myself and my beliefs of feminism, justice, equality, and respect.
The question that I kept asking myself – Would anyone read these stories? – was finally answered on January 4th, 2020, when the book officially released at the World Book Fair, and readers excitedly picked it up.
Now that I have received reviews and congratulatory messages from readers, I have come to several realisations. Only one of which is to never doubt my publisher again!
Wait, he just called me up again, with another such random idea. YIKES!
What was your experience like as a debut author? Did you battle similar doubts and challenges while writing your first book? Do share your experiences and journeys via the comment box below.