The author of the day has the childlike love for the airplane’s window seat. So, imagine this author sitting in an airplane, holding a book in his hand, and enjoying the view of the azure sky, while I interview him. Where is the plane heading to, you ask? To a beach destination, as he enjoys the sea for its expansive magnanimity. The magical colors in the western sky at sunset work for a wonderful background as he listens to the waves’ tales, and that’s how he gets inspired to tell his own.
Meet… Sayan Bhattacharya…
Born in 1974 in Kolkata and a Post-graduate in English Literature, Sayan’s professional career spans twenty years, initially in banking and financial services and presently in the FinTech industry. An avid traveler and reader, Sayan’s passion for writing is his hobby and a medium to showcase his own kaleidoscope of life’s stories.
Q. I like the amalgamation of history and mythology? How were you inspired to write on this genre?
A. I have always been fascinated by the Indian mythological tales and equally by the chequered history that our country has had. However, there is not always a clear link between where mythology ends, and recorded history begins. During some of my reading on the subject, I was inspired to explore this area and taking up the history of ancient cities was probably the best way, as such cities carry mythological references and the stamp of history.
Q. Which story according to you is the most fascinating one in your book.
A. Well, going by the feedback from readers and reviewers, I must say the story of Lahore is the most fascinating one, as many people do not know its mythological origins and its historical heritage. Further, Lahore has featured prominently in almost all centuries and important periods of Indian history. Add to the fact that now the city falls outside the geography of India, it is indeed fascinating to know about its historical links. The same could also be said about Multan, Peshawar, and Qandahar, which also feature in my e-Book.
However, my personal favorite is the story on Hastinapur, the mighty capital of the Kauravas during the Mahabharata era. While many are familiar with the name and its epic reference, they may not be aware of the story of Hastinapur before or after the Mahabharata: how did the city originate and eventually get destroyed, only to remain as a tiny town today.
Q. What was the biggest challenge that you faced and how did you overcome it?
A. I must say that my biggest challenge was the ‘problem of plenty’! First, there were many cities which qualify as ancient cities of India and it was difficult to leave out one over the other. So, I had to apply certain ground rules based on which I selected the cities: for example, the city had to have been in existence before 1000 AD (which is a tipping point in Indian history). Also, in this edition, I have focused on the ancient cities of North India or ‘Aryavarta’ as it was known in mythological India. Second, the challenge was to fit these cities alphabetically into the A2Z sequence. Of course, I took a deviation in X and Y, but logically both Xuanzang and the Yavanas (though not cities) were an integral part of Ancient India.
Q. Historical fiction is quite popular with the readers. Do you plan to write a historical fiction in future? Why or why not?
A. I am glad that Historical fiction is getting popular with readers and it is very encouraging to note that people are showing genuine interest to read history when presented in a more engaging and story-telling manner.
I certainly have plans to write historical fiction in the coming days. In fact, there are two writing projects that I am working on, which belong to this genre:
First is a novel based on more recent history and set in the backdrop of the India-Bangladesh relationship. The story and characters are set in the context of the Bengal partition of 1947 and then the Bangladesh Liberation War or 1971. This novel, titled “My Land Across the Border”, set against a historical backdrop and details events of the times, is more a fictional thriller which searches its answers in the fold of history.
Second, I intend to expand my research and blog-posts on the lost imperial city of Kanyakubja, (today’s Kannauj) and the history and fate of the Kanyakubja Brahmins, into a full-fledged historical novel. In February and March, I have written a six-part series on the mythological and historical story of the lost city of Kanyakubja on my blog, which has received good readership and reviews. The next initiative will be to write a historical fiction based on this city and the life of the famous Kanyakubja Brahmins during the ancient times.
Q. When was that point in your life that you realized that being an author was no longer going to be just a dream but a career you were going to turn into reality?
A. Well, this goes about six years back, when I was writing a series of connected blog-posts on a very personal experience that had left a deep impact on me. As the series of posts unfolded, the idea of putting it together as a novel came up. I wanted to share the story with the world and I thought that writing a book would be the best way to do that. The result was my debut novel “Friendship Calling” which I self-published by end of 2013. As more and more people read the story and shared their views, reviews, and feelings with me on that story, I became more convinced about the power of story-telling and my abilities to weave stories from real-life incidents.
My second novel “A Case of Connections” published in 2016, was written with more characters, complex plot and on a wider canvas. Once again, good reviews and encouraging comments from my readers have boosted my confidence as a story-teller and writer. Thus, began my journey of being an author, and I am still learning!
Q. What other secret talents do you have?
A. I love traveling and somehow can very quickly develop a sense of the roads, locations, and directions about the place. My family and friends always cheer me on that when we are out traveling. Adding some dashes of information and history about the place, I have often thought that I may well be a tour-guide someday, showing my country around to people and making them better aware of our heritage.
Whilst I love reading and writing, what gives me the most pleasure is ‘story-telling’! It has a great power and you can pack a lot of ingredients into it, viz., history, information, fiction, fantasy, imagination and come up with a delightful story to entertain your listeners.
Q. What’s the most amusing thing that happened to you?
A. I still remember the night when I was narrating a bedtime story to put my son to sleep: the original story, based on ancient history of two fictional kingdoms of south India, ended soon but my son still not having slept, I continued to add fiction and fantasy and weave on the narrative, until we suddenly realized that it was almost 4 in the morning and we were completely immersed in the imaginative world of the story! Well, though the purpose of the story was grossly defeated (the bed-time story kept my son awake rather than making him sleep!), both of us enjoyed the story immensely. My son still reminds me that I need to write that story down someday!
Q. How do you overcome Writer’s Blocks?
A. Oh, I suffer from Writer’s Block quite frequently I must say! I find it very difficult to write to deadlines, and to write something just because I have not written for a while. It is more about the content and the urge to write about it that pushes me to my writing desk.
When I think I have been hit by the Writer’s Block, I take to reading or trying to imagine a story plot (I have so many of them going on in my mind anyway!). As I tend to write primarily based on true life experiences, I try to overcome the Block by writing about some experience which I always wanted to write about but haven’t done yet.
Q. Describe your process for research while writing.
A. Research is very important while you are writing. I always want to give my readers a cinematic experience while they read so that they feel transported to the scene. To achieve this, mere descriptive words are not enough, you need very minute detailing. Such descriptions and detail can be extremely convincing and valuable to your readers if you have done your research well.
For example, cities come alive as characters in my earlier novels. The descriptions of different parts of Mumbai and Kolkata in ‘Friendship Calling’, or those of London and Brussels in ‘A Case of Connections’ help he readers to virtually be in those places and ‘see’ action in front of their eyes. My research on these cities during my visits and planning the story around these locations was very important.
Then, while writing the e-Book on Ancient Cities of India, I had to ensure that the information presented to the readers is verified, authentic and validated. In content based on history, factual accuracy is extremely important. Also, you need to provide valid references to support your comments or facts, so that the readers can validate them or read more about it from those sources.
While the primary source of research remains the internet, I make it a point to validate the information before absorbing it for writing purposes. This I do through cross-references and by reading up other books and documents on the topic. To authenticate a small piece of information which you want to include in your story, you may have to spend a few hours of research effort on it. But overall, it is very interesting, so I enjoy the research process totally.
Q. Share some valuable tips for publishing and marketing your e-book.
A. I sincerely wish I was better at doing this! I have always adopted the self-publishing route and have been lucky to have got some good publishers for my books. I think it is important to know how the publishing industry looks at you as an upcoming author and the catch and salability of your book or e-Book in the market. The self-publishing route gives us that comfort of publishing our work the way we need to and saves us the heartburn of rejections and indifference of so-called larger traditional publishers.
Marketing of your e-book should be with the aim to reach it to as many people as possible, rather than counting sales numbers. As an author, the greatest joy remains when people read our work and share their views on it. Social media channels are important, but word-of-mouth is equally a strong vehicle to market your e-book. I would say, adopt these few handy ways, which are economical and don’t need much effort:
Book Blurb Content: This eBook presents to you a graphic retelling of the stories of select ancient cities of India. Packed with mythological tales and historical anecdotes each story lets you re-discover ancient India in a new light.
Written in light story-telling fashion, this compilation will make you time-travel to the past and take you through many mythical and imperial cities in different historical eras. Scattered across ancient undivided India and the subcontinent read about the cities of the past and their destiny as it has turned out over the centuries.
@Sayan74, do comment and let us know how this interview experience was for you. And do read, share and comment on your fellow author’s interviews as well. Here’s wishing you all the best for the eBook and all your future endeavors. Wishing you lots of success!!
Read an entertaining interview with Balaka on Anshu’s blog. And Ashwini had an opportunity to have a rendezvous with Reema. Check out other interviews in the series conducted jointly by @Ashwini_Menon, @anshuwrites, and Yours Truly – Paresh, Maheshwaran, Sitharaam, Kathakali, Mahak, Natasha, Lavanya, and Jayanthi.