A few days back I had posted a book review ‘Trade winds to Meluhha‘ . Today we have the author who was kind enough to answer a few questions for us , offering insights into his writing methods and career as a part of his Virtual Blog Tour.
Interview with Vasant Davé, author of ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’
1. What was the train of thought that led you to write a book like “Trade Winds to Meluhha”, how was the idea conceived?
Ashok, your readers might be aware that Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in the Wonderland’ has imparted ‘historical importance’ to common places like the treacle well in Binsey village and the Jabberwocky tree in Christ Church, both in Oxford, England. Isn’t it ironic that despite the Indus Valley sites in Pakistan and India being 4,000 years old, are yet unknown to most Americans and Europeans?
During vacation trips with my family, as also during official tours, I discovered astonishing facts about the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. I was pained about my ignorance of South Asia’s great past. Talking with friends over lunch in our factory canteen, I realized that they were as little informed about our past as I.
It struck me that awareness about our great past could be created through the medium of entertaining fiction. So after retirement when I decided to write a novel, the thought of plotting one around the Indus Valley sprang out like a jack-in-the-box.
2. Have you always wanted to be writer? Or was it something you developed a passion for over time?
It wasn’t practical to take up writing as a career in India of the 1970’s even if one wanted. When I failed in my first year in Engineering, I cleared the papers and then didn’t have anything to do as I wasn’t permitted to continue studies till the following academic year. So I did a correspondence course in fiction writing. ‘Shankar’s Weekly’ published several of my spoofs and short stories. It was edited by Shankar Pillai, the doyen of political cartooning in India.
While serving the electrical and electronics industry, I regularly wrote technical articles and presented papers in various professional forums. Perhaps all that practice over the years gave me the confidence to take up a three and a half year long project of writing this novel.
3. What were the roadblocks you hit while you were writing “Trade winds to Meluhha”?
The biggest obstacle in writing ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’ was that all the written records about Indus Valley Civilization come from the baked clay tablets discovered on Mesopotamian sites. Indus Valley script is not yet deciphered, and only the ruins and the excavated artefacts tell its story.
Obviously, there exist contradictory viewpoints on many vital inputs. For instance, the land which the Mesopotamians mentioned as ‘Meluhha’ has another contender in Ethiopia. We do not know which language was spoken by the Indus Valley people, and several South Asian languages beside Sanskrit and Tamil lay claim to it. Many people believe that Indus Valley Civilization is related to the land mentioned in ancient Hindu literature, and many more challenge it.
You see, such inconsistencies are quite convenient if an author intends to stir up controversy.
Since my objective was to cater to rational readers all over the world, I selected one possibility that’s in line with archaeological evidence discovered so far. Based on them, I recreated the life of my characters in the two ancient civilizations. Some of my assumptions might be proven wrong when more evidence is unearthed and more sophisticated tools of scientific research are applied in future.
One’s memories do tend to get into any story that one weaves. My characters have some aspect or another of people I met or with whom I worked. Some events have resulted from newspaper stories and the anecdotes narrated by friends.
What I find hilarious is that sometimes the reverse happens. An incident similar to one that I had cooked up in ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’, actually happened and grabbed newspaper headlines!
An ex-Chief Minister of a state was speaking at a political rally. Those readers who are familiar with the Indian politics would know her as a stocky person in possession of a sharp tongue. In the vicinity of the stage, there was a tree from which suspended a huge bee-hive. When the lady was going full throttle criticizing her political adversaries, someone threw a stone at the hive. The enraged bees dispersed helter-skelter the worthies seated on the stage, and imparted some juicy stings to the honourable ex-Chief Minister before she was escorted away by bodyguards.
5. Do you ever have a writer’s block?
The writer of Historical Fiction is fortunate in that s/he rarely suffers a writer’s block. There is so much to see and discuss in order to make the scenes and the characters realistic that you keep constructively busy even when you aren’t writing. Let me illustrate.
At several Indus Valley sites, alters with animal bones lying nearby have been discovered, indicating that people sacrificed animals as a ritual practice. On one of those lean days of writing, I visited the Maharaja Sayajirao Museum in Vadodara, the city where I live. As I strolled past the glass cases, I came to a replica of the famous Belur Math of Kolkata providing an excellent representation of an event. In the temple compound, the priests had sacrificed a buffalo and its severed head stared at me from under the glass.
I recollected having seen it many years ago when I used to take my children to the museum. However, it looked different. If I turned blind to the Belur Math building and concentrated only on the gathering, it seemed as if I were witnessing a buffalo sacrifice in the Indus Valley Civilization.
It gave me enough food for thought to create and incorporate such a scene of animal sacrifice in my novel.
6. What kind of books can we expect from you in the future, apart from a sequel to “Trade winds to Meluha” that is. What are your plans for the future?
I wish to highlight the adventurous spirit and the technological proficiency of the South Asians, which unfortunately is mired by a perception of fundamentalism and corruption. I would like to take the role of the Indus Valley people further to the West (Africa and Europe) and to the East (South East Asia, Japan and China), if I find adequate evidence of their links with those lands.
By the way, a recent DNA study of Australian aborigines has traced their roots to the Indian subcontinent.
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I am still climbing the learning curve, Ashok, but I’ll share a few things with your readers if it helps.
When Harper & Collins and Penguin rejected ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’, I doubted the editors’ ability to recognize a best-seller when they read one 😉
I published it as an e-Book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other sites. Reviewers applauded the plot but pointed out several glaring limitations such as a huge cast, wide fluctuation in Point-of-View characters, and the use of words which stood out like a sore thumb in a narrative rooted in the Bronze Age.
I considered the merits of each comment and made suitable changes in the novel. It is gratifying to see a rise in the average review ratings of the 3rd edition of the book as compared to its 1st.
8. What is your view on the digital versions of books? Do you think they’ll ever replace paperbacks completely?
Digital or e-Books will gain further acceptance with wider usage of handy reading devices. However, I believe that e-Books might remain complimentary to paperbacks for about 2 decades. During that period, they are likely to evolve into a mix of text, pictures, sound and video. The facility to interact might also be incorporated in digital versions of academic books and professional case studies.
You can also participate in a giveaway organized by the author , and might just end up with a copy of the book.Here’s the link.