Breaking the monotony!
Authors always look out for new subjects for their books. Here, we bring two authors who have delved into past to concoct interesting tales. While one writes about the courtesans of Karim Street, another writes about lesser-known Pradyumna, the son of Lord Krishna.
The Courtesans of Karim Street – by Debotri Dhar
Debotri Dhar is a cultural theorist, traveller, storyteller. She has lived multiple lives in India, the USA, the UK, and other named and unnamed countries in-between. She is passionate about higher education and interdisciplinary research and enjoys giving public talks and teaching in the university. Her new book The Courtesans of Karim Street is a love story set in India and the United States, that straddles the historical past and contemporary present. Here, Varsha Verma finds more about this book.
Debotri DharI believe the best stories are those that draw creatively from our own worlds, the spaces we inherit and inhabit. I have attempted to do that, in order to create authentic characters and a fastpaced, audacious (but hopefully still believable!) plot, with mystery, history, romance, ideas, interpretations…. The geographical settings in the two countries, from Princeton and Newark on the US east coast, to Delhi (New Delhi as well as the old city), are those I am personally very familiar with. Travel in all its complex dimensions has been a recurring thread in my life, so I was able to draw from that. The university classroom scenes are inspired by my own experiences as an academic in America, just as the references to music draw from my training in Hindustani classical music. The research had mostly to do with the courtesan culture of our yesteryears, the stories of the courtesans’ lives, loves and longings against a shifting political, cultural and material landscape. I wanted to take these themes, transforming them to weave a very contemporary love story, tells Debotri
Response so far…
“Well, the book has just been released in India. I flew down from the US for the launch… The response has been quite heartwarming. Several readers from across the country have written to me to say they have enjoyed the lyricism of the prose, the conversations between cultures, the friendships, the love. We have had launches in two cities in India so far, Delhi and Kolkata, where the audience was so lively and engaging. I also did a book reading and talk at JNU, at an event organised by the English department and the Forum for Mutual Learning at JNU. It was a joy interacting with the students, especially the Ph D students. A wonderful review in the Sunday Guardian described my novel as having succeeded in addressing the historical silencing of courtesans in public discourse and presenting an alternative reading of the present and future through an array of Indian and American characters. I am really looking forward to more readers reading the novel, bringing to it their own interpretations, and deciding for themselves if I’ve told a good story,” she shares.
Journey as an author…
“I ’m an ear ly career academic, so academic research and teaching take up a lot of time. When the day job ends, the night job of writing fiction begins. When I wrote my first novel, I was an undergraduate preparing for final exams! In the years that followed, I was only able to write short stories as I completed a Masters degree from Oxford University and a Ph D from Rutgers University. Some of them were published in literary journals in the US, UK and elsewhere. One, I remember, won a literary award…I was so thrilled! These were later published as a collection. It was only when I was close to completing my Ph D in 2013 and had a lectureship that I wrote this novel on the courtesans. A friend owned a beautiful home on the outskirts of Princeton, and I wrote some portions of it there, the parts that are based in Pennington, US. It’s been a very interesting journey for me as an author, an academic and an individual.
Future plans include academic books, non-fiction as well as fiction. I’ve currently joined the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, so may be that setting will inspire a new novel. I just want to keep writing…,” she shares. So, as a writer, what does she aim to achieve? “To tell a good story and connect with my audience. Academic writing and fiction are two different forms of writing, different audiences. Since I already write for a specialised audience as far as academics is concerned, I want to make that my fiction is more fast-paced and readable, with romance, humor, adventure, eccentric characters and attractive, entertaining storylines,” replies Debotri.
Most difficult part of being an author…
“I would say the hardest part of writing a novel is definitely the marketing aspect! Perhaps it seems harder to me, in comparison to those writers who are gifted with a keener sense of selling. Earlier writers could afford to be reclusive, but these days the writer is a commodity to be consumed in the market. I am an idealist, I live in a world of ideas, even while recognising the role and importance of the market. One has to learn new skills everyday…,” she shares.
What reading means to her?
“There is such cacophony in the world sometimes… relaxing with a book will always remain a great option. Besides, what other form of entertainment allows us to retreat into beautiful worlds of ideas and expressions? Yesterday, a young reader confessed that she had hesitated to pick up The Courtesans of Karim Street. Turns out she was worried a novel written by an academic would be boring! But then she found it such an engrossing read that she stayed up the entire night and finished it in one go!” shares Debotri.
“I’m doing a non-fiction book on gender. As far as fiction is concerned, a work of social satire is already underway. It’s a humorous story of a young woman, set against a backdrop of contemporary local and global politics,” concluded Debotri.
Pradyumna – son of Lord Krishna –by Usha Narayanan
The urge to be different motivated writer Usha Narayanan to explore the life of the lesser known mythological character, Pradyumna, son of Lord Krishna. Janani Rajeswari S chats with the author about memories associated with the book and her journey as a writer. Usha Narayanan has donned many hats in her career. From teaching to corporate communication, advertising, e-publishing and finally writing. “As I moved from one to another, the scope for creativity became limited. I finally landed in writing to explore it better,” she says. It all began with a short story that she penned for an anthology a few years ago. “But I discovered that novels were favoured to short stories,” says Usha. Thus, began her journey as a novelist with Madras Mangler, a thriller novel in 2014. It tells the story of five college girls whose lives are altered by the entry of a serial killer. Usha also reminisces a little about creating the character of the villain in the book. “It was indeed a challenge as his character was completely contrary to my sunny nature. So, I needed to improvise the character by adding more evilness to it,” adds Usha. But for a voracious reader who enjoys almost every genre of writing, she chose mythology as the base for her second book Pradyumna- Son of Krishna.
The ‘Pradyumna’ connect
Usha NarayananDescribing the hero ‘Pradyumna’ in a line, the author says, “He’s a super hero, an amazing lover, every man’s destination and every woman’s dream.” But that wasn’t the only reason why Usha picked the little known warrior scion, Pradyumna. “I also connect with ‘Pradyumna’, as the hero of my first book was called Vir Pradyumna,” Usha adds. She says that Pradyumna played a vital role during his times and also bears a lot of similarity to the man of today’s age.
Epic fantasy and authenticity go hand in hand
Usha prefers to call Pradyumna- Son of Krishna a fantasy epic. “It is not a retelling. Different versions of the story are available today. One of them is presented in Amar Chitra Katha. But my story takes off at a tangent that suits today’s sensibilities, “says Usha. That would be mean adding facets to suit the hero’s stature while adding depth to his character She adds only half of her book is truly fiction. Usha points out that mythology has always been a challenge. To authenticate facts in the book, Usha’s research took her to Pancha Dwaraka and visiting the places looking for research and evidence in the form of literary works. “The palace of Lord Krishna from that era still exits. I found out that Pradyumna was called ‘Kalyan Rai’ as he was believed to have brought prosperity to the kingdom,” she reveals. Incidentally, he came into existence at the very beginning of the Kali Yuga. Also, he was weighed down by pressure of saving his Yadava clan that was cursed to doom by Queen Gandhari. She adds that there is evidence in research works that Lord Krishna’s Yadhava clan did not end after him. Pradyumna actually made valiant efforts to save the clan. Usha includes a version of Bhagavad Gita in the book. In this version, Parasurama guides Pradyumna just like Arjuna was instructed by Lord Krishna. “There is evidence that different versions of The Gita also existed. The Gita was initially a conversation between Lord Krishna and Surya Deva (Sun God),” she says.
Journey & responses
Usha reveals that ‘Pradyumna’ gave her a chance to rediscover the richness of our native literature. “It was a multilayered experience with respect to finding out interesting facts about the hero. There are research works that show that Pradyumna was an incarnation of Kama Deva (God of Love) who was burned to ashes by Lord Shiva,” she adds. For instance, the research gave her a chance to explore the meaning and significance of the names of some characters. ‘Ghatothkacha’ means one with a head shaped like a clay pot. It is not a completely serious story. She offers a comic relief through the adventures of Ghatothkacha (son of Bheema). Usha also sticks to the language that was pertinent to that age but ensures that does not mar the flow of the story. Her first reader was a 10 – year old girl. “ She told me that Amar Chitra Katha gave her only a sketch about the life of Pradyumna. She also encouraged me to continue writing mythology,” says Usha. She adds that some readers appreciated her on the human dimension offered to the character of Pradyumna. The book reflects on his thoughts in different situations – what is his responsibility towards an ending race and so on.
Usha‘s next is a rom-com ‘Love, Lies and Layoffs’ set in the corporate world that goes into office politics and other challenges. The next year will see the release of the sequel to ‘Pradyumna’ that will narrate his attempts at redeeming humanity. “Through the likes of Pradyumna, I would like to contribute to the redemption of interest in our native literature in a small way,” adds Usha.