An eminent writer, Sutapa, whose talked-about book is soaring the bestsellers charts tells us about her journey in the year that was. She also shares her review about some of the books she recommends, in
the Special Feature, exclusively for Different Truths.
The year 2017 has been a watershed year for me. I have grown in many ways. Making inroads into certain aspects of my potential that I never knew existed has been seminal while at the same time receiving validation that I was walking the right road assuaged a lot of self-doubts.
Writing has been second nature to me since I was about eight years old. Then I used to write play scripts for my brother and me to act out. It was only a game. By that age, I was already a bookworm and wondering what it would be like to have my name appear on a book as its author. Books, reading, and writing have been my constant companions all through the years of growing up. Everybody, including my parents, assumed that I would write to publish one day. Though I was good at Science and Math, it was English Literature that I chose to take up for both undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
Travelling frequently from childhood since both father and husband were in the armed forces, I could not expect a hold down to a job in the business world. There were no online options for long distance careers then. Intuitively, I veered towards teaching the English language to schoolchildren. But whatever I did and wherever I was, I constantly wrote; features, children’s tales, stories, poems, and travelogues. A few were published but most stayed between the pages of my diary.
It was only in 2001, when I joined the Oxford University Press as the Editorial Manager that I began to think seriously about publishing my works. But it was difficult to find the time and mental space to write alongside an aggressive corporate career. Seven years later, taking up the position of Director Publishing at Encyclopedia Britannica, South Asia, I had a niggling doubt if it was the right decision. Soon the continuous chattering in my head became unbearable. Myriads of stories, plays and poems were knocking about wanting to see the light of day. So in 2014, I decided to quit my 9 to 5 job and become a full-time writer. It was a difficult decision and there were many who thought I was foolish to eschew the job and the fat take-home package. But I wanted to try out my wings. After making several long and short flights over the next 3 years, 2017 finally ratified that I could actually fly…long distance.
It was providential that a few months after quitting my job, I met up with the publishing house of Readomania. Quite aware of the obstacle race one needed to navigate to be published by the mainstream publishing houses, it was refreshing to make the acquaintance of a publishing entity to whom merit was the first criteria and who promised quality publishing and production. We took to each other from the very beginning and I have not looked back since. Readomania has published my debut novel, Dangle and second novel, Padmavati as well as three anthologies where I have contributed my short story; Crossed & Knotted, Defiant Dreams, When They Spoke and one poetry collection, Kaafiyana. My winning story has been published by The Times of India in Write India Stories and my poem on conservation in a poetry collection, The Dawn Beyond Waste by Microsoft.
I began working on my second novel, Padmavati in early 2017, long before the controversy regarding the film of the same name spilled over. I love reading historical fiction and never understood why so few have been written based on India’s rich historical heritage. I especially regret that there are hardly any stories about the brilliant Indian queens, who despite the constraints of their social environment have proved historical game changers and earned their rightful places in history. Among them, Queen Padmavati or Padmini of Chittor has held my attention since schooldays. So my foray into the realm of historical fiction about this beautiful, tragic queen was an instinctive choice.
Obviously, I needed to do a great deal of research but surprisingly; I was able to dig out very little information on Padmavati. I read two academic books written on the topic, Rani Padmini, The Heroine of Chittor by BK Karkra. Pub: Rupa Publications India Private Ltd and The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen, Historic Pasts in India c.1500-1900 by Ramya Sreenivasan. Pub: University of Washington Press. They were well-researched treatises with excellent information on 13th-century historical background, history of Chittorgarh, Alauddin Khalji and briefly about Rawal Ratan Singh but gave me no clear evidence of the origins or existence of Queen Padmavati. I visited the museums at Udaipur and Chittorgarh but other than tales, myths, and legends, there was no deductible, conclusive evidence of the queen’s life. I read Malik Mohammad Jayasi’s translated epic, Padmawat, Gora-Badal Choupai and others that are literary works and no author has claimed the basis of historicity for their work.
While I cannot say whether Padmavati was a myth or a reality, I have lived with her for the best part of this year. To me, she has become a living, breathing entity. However, the focus of my novel is directed towards delving deep into the unique personality of Queen Padmavati and analyzing the causes for her exceptional exploits especially reflected against modern perceptions.
To the readers, Padmavati, The Queen Tells Her Own Tale is a traditional narrative interpreted in the modern context.
However, to me the splendid reception accorded to Padmavati has buttressed my belief and decision that this attempt to carve a niche for myself in the realm of writing has been vindicated.
In the coming year, I am looking forward to probably publishing two to three more books. What do you think I ought to write about? No, I am not about to tell you. If you are willing to wait, all will be revealed when you begin to read them. However, I expect to remain as happy as a humming bee in summertime this coming year. So cheers to 2018!
But I cannot end my description of 2017 just here. That would not be fair! There were so many more colours of the kaleidoscope it brought me.
How about the magnificent gifts that landed on my reading shelf throughout the year? Mentionable among them are these books.
I Let You Go, by Claire Mackintosh, pub. Hachette UK is a murder mystery with an amazing twist right in the middle of the narration that leaves you gasping. I have yet to read a chronicle with such a skillful build-up of suspense.
Staring At The Square Moon, by Atima Mankotia, pub. Readomania begins as a light-hearted story but soon reveals its sordid and tragic undercurrents. The character sketches are drawn by a fine brush with subtle nuances that make for an absorbing read.
The Red Queen, by Phillippa Gregory, pub. Simon&Schuster is a historical novel set during the war between the Houses of York and Lancaster. Her ability to weave an engrossing story around excellently referenced historical events and bring to life renowned figures as well as little-known characters is an exceptional skill. I got so immersed in the tale that I couldn’t leave it even when it was over. It spun in my head for at least a few weeks more. How I wish I could write like her!
There Are No Gods in North Korea, by Anjaly Thomas, pub. Niyogi Books is a travelogue par excellence. Not only do you discover new places, new people, new food but you accompany her on all the jaunts. When she leaves each country, each city, you tell yourself, ‘I must visit that place.’ In fact, mid-2017, I went on a fantastic tour of Kenya inspired by Anjaly’s adventures. Next on my bucket list is following her trail through Mongolia!
I look forward to many such inspirations that allow me to dream with open eyes…
This year also brought me loads of friends who blessed me with love and laughter. Since I firmly believe that all joys and sorrows are transient, I try to enjoy one to the fullest and wait for the other to subside.
As 2017 is rung out, I can only reiterate that life is a series of tiny miracles. So, on many days, even if there was no song in my heart, I tried to sing and learned to tinge my grey with light.
Photos and video clips from the author
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