02 October 2017

Author Interview with Saiswaroopa Iyer

Long before the times of Draupadi and Sita
Immortalised in the hymns of the Rig Veda
But largely forgotten to the memory of India
Is the Warrior Queen with an iron leg, Vishpala

Brought up in the pristine forest school of Naimisha, Avishi reaches the republic of Ashtagani in search of her destiny. When Khela, the oppressive King of the neighbouring Vrishabhavati begins to overwhelm and invade Ashtagani, Avishi rises to protect her settlement. But peril pursues her everywhere.
Separated from her love, her settlement broken, with a brutal injury needing amputation of her leg, can Avishi overcome Khela?

An Interview

When did you decide to become a writer?
Wish there were a simple answer to this. My mother has a post graduate degree in English literature and is a big admirer of Indian writers like Maharishi Aurobindo and also the poets of the British romantic era. The roots of my love for writing were sown by her. But the trigger was mainly when I started reading Krishnavatara by KM Munshi and Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthi. Both the writers had just the amount of inspiration in their writings to make me take up the pen, errr…..I mean take up my laptop and start typing the first draft!

What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I love delving into the minor episodes of Indian Purana-Itihasa corpus and expanding them into full length novels. Abhaya was my first attempt to reimagine a couple of chapters of Srimad Bhagavatam and expand the episode into a novel. This is inspired by a literary exercise called Prabandha, which was in vogue in historical India in the 16th Century. Avishi, my second novel was a re-imagination of the legend of Vishpala who is mentioned in only a precious few hymns of Rig Veda! In the coming years, I want to write some stories associated with both these books and also attempt a historical series on Eastern Chalukya Kings and their contribution to Telugu Literature. Beyond that, I strongly believe that characters and stories choose their story tellers. Let us see which of those intriguing figures of our past choose me :)

Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
My protagonist Avishi (known as Vishpala in the Rig Veda) is a head of a republican settlement in very ancient India. Vishpala is one of the earliest recorded female warrior in Indian literature. Not only that, she loses her leg in a battle mentioned as Khela’s battle and returns with a prosthetic leg! A phenomenon which is no less than a miracle even in our times. The legend is considered as the world’s first reference to prosthesis and is a unique example of innovation and egalitarianism in ancient India.

Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Having a dedicated writing time is advisable and I am trying to fall into that discipline. But roughly, my typical day is divided between reading, writing and marketing. Each activity takes the lead depending upon the priority for the day. I love to network and that is one activity. Going forward, I want to devote a couple of hours to writing every day independent of other deliverables and schedules.

Where do the ideas come from?
They mostly come from my readings of ancient Indian literature. I am also a huge fan of Telugu Pravachana and Katha sessions by scholars like Dr. Garikipati Narasimha Rao and Sri Samavedam Shanmukha Sarma. They manage to delve into the lesser known stories of our literature and also deliver the implied wisdom behind them and that makes me think and read more. 

Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I do both! The early drafts of Abhaya were a result of euphoric ‘pantsting’. It is exhilarating to discover the story as you write and acknowledge the story teller hidden in your fingertips! But I have also realized the advantages of outlining. Avishi and my current WIP happened because I had a rough outline and worked on it. Outlining and plotting help us anchor the story and explore deeper into the finer aspects of the craft. 

Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Writers block is a problem we all writers have to live with. One of the most painful writer’s blocks I have passed through lasted for more than 18 months with several bouts of self-doubt urging me to give up writing altogether. But thankfully my characters did not desert me and I could get back to it. Three things help me break the block
1) Forgiving myself for bad writing and writing anyway. (After all bad writing can be edited. No writing can’t be!)
2) A change of place for writing. (Library, café or any place different from the usual one)
3) A change in writing topic itself. A short break from the current draft helps at times

What can we expect from you down the line?
More stories and episodes that are hidden in our epics and recent history too! I hope they reveal themselves to me and I can do justice to all of them! 

About the Author:
Saiswaroopa is an IITian and a former investment analyst turned author. Her keen interest in ancient Indian history, literature and culture made her take to writing. Her debut novel Abhaya, set in the times of Mahabharata was published in 2015. Avishi, her second novel set in Vedic India explores the legend of India’s first mentioned female warrior queen Vishpala.
She holds a certificate in Puranas from Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. She is also trained in Carnatic Classical music and has won a state level gold medal from Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.