Did you know that each avatar of Vishnu arrived with a specific purpose? Time and again, Vishnu has manifested in different forms to fulfil his role as a ‘protector’ of the world. Among the long list of 24 avatars, ten avatars have captured our imagination for centuries together—matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parshuram, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki. But how exactly did these avatars impact the society? And how do they link to the Charles Darwin theory of evolution? While each avatar has its own set of legends that extoll their characteristics and deeds, the stories behind them are just as interesting and informative.
Piyusha Vir, the author of Dashavatar, presents these stories in a contemporary and unbiased perspective. She makes mythology more believable and relevant to the world that we live in today. In this interview, Piyusha shares with us about her latest book, her writing process, her teaching experience and more.
- What are some learnings that you’ve taken away from researching and writing about one of the most epic stories of our country, Dashavatar?
Mythology is a veritable ocean of knowledge and wisdom. While each story provides some lesson or the other, what completely left me in awe was how these stories relate to the world we live in today. These stories have been passed down from generations to generations and have still not lost the charm.
The world has surely changed since then. People have too, we have evolved and become a more aware, technologically-driven society but these stories hold relevance through every age, circumstance, and for every person.
- You have mentioned that there are varying accounts of the avatars across regions and sects. How did you choose what version of the story to focus on while writing the book?
Yes, there is quite a difference in the many versions and the many variations were confusing to begin with. But then I started drawing the parallels and it began to become clear what was the common thread at the core of each story. After a point, the minor variations ceased to matter and I went with whichever version I found more believable. In some of the stories, I have even merged two or more different versions to form what I thought was the most convincing story.
These stories are authentic in the sense that they are based on some solid research and in the narration of events there is nothing that I have added from my own imagination. But, nevertheless, there is some creativity and make belief that is there in each story to give it that novelty factor.
- You had worked in the publishing industry before. As writers, we are fascinated by what goes on behind the closed doors of a publisher’s office. Please share with us some common myths about publishers and publishing.
It is interesting to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of the publishing world. What most writers and authors don’t see is the hard work that goes on inside the offices of a publisher. My experience has been limited to only one publishing house and so I can’t generalise but I have come to realize that publishing a book is no easier than writing it. Sourcing good stories, encouraging new writers, dealing with established authors, ensuring the book is of a certain quality, and then marketing and selling the book is tough work.
And, sometimes, even we writers and authors are very egotistical and difficult to deal with. If a book does well the author gets all the accolades. But if even one minor mistake occurs, it’s the publisher and the editor who get the brickbats.
A publisher’s life isn’t as easy as we envision it to be.
I think, one major misconception most people have is that publishers demand money to publish a new writer. There are several ways one can get published and a new (or established) writer shelling out money is just one of them.
I have been lucky to have made my foray as a published writer with a publisher of repute and integrity. Readomania Publishing has always been extremely professional and transparent for all the three books I have to my name. And to my and their credit, my having worked in the publishing industry has had no bearing, at all, on their evaluation process for my books. In fact, all my manuscripts have undergone several rounds of scrutiny to ensure they are worthy of a reader’s time and money.
Another common misconception is that one needs to be a famous name or have a certain following to get published. Again, this is not true. Irrespective of how big a person may be, if the story isn’t well written, there is nothing that will draw the readers to it. So, one should focus on improving their craft of writing rather than making themselves more famous.
- You teach English language. There are many debates surrounding MA and MFA degrees and how much ‘value’ they add to a writer’s work. What do you think? Has your specialisation influenced your writing style in any way?
I too have at one point of time contemplated pursuing such degrees until I realized that for me the value wasn’t in the certificate itself. The only thing that matters is the writing. One can be a good writer without an MFA degree. Short term courses, reading good authors, and seeking critiques from people you trust can be just as helpful.
I think a writer should always keep working on improving their skills, and while writing courses go a long way to help with that, I don’t anymore believe that it can only be done with a Master’s degree.
I often sign up for such courses and programs too. I do think it has helped me improve. The one with Writers’ Village University was particularly useful. It introduced me to writing techniques that I probably wasn’t aware of earlier or was following instinctively. Now that I have become more aware, I can use these techniques more effectively in my writing.
- Your short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies and have won many awards. How would you contrast writing a novel with writing a short story?
Correction, one short story has appeared in one print anthology. All the award-winning writing you mention has been for my online articles or blogs.
I have a special affinity for short stories. Somehow, the one novel I wrote hasn’t met my own approval while the short stories have found many appreciative readers.
Unfortunately, people often consider short stories to be a distant and poor cousin of the novel, whereas the truth is a short story is as, if not more, difficult, rewarding, and complete as writing a full-length novel.
Writing short stories leads to a better understanding of the intricacies of plot and character development. Writing a short story is akin to a wise parent managing the entire month’s household expenses on a frugal budget while a novel is like handing over to a child their own personal money-minting machine. With no limit to how much they can generate – it can lead to excesses, confused and convoluted plot lines, eventually ruining the story completely.
- Who is your writing mentor? How did this person influence you?
I don’t have one specific person who I would call a mentor. My love for writing stems from reading and therefore, all the authors I read become my teachers. However, two authors have influenced me a lot – Elizabeth Gilbert and Stephen King. Their books, Big Magic and On Writing, respectively, have been valuable sources of advice for someone like me who began writing only a few years ago.
Having said that, I do consider some friends, many of whom are authors (including you, Archana) whose advice and feedback I rely greatly upon. My publisher, Dipankar Mukherjee, editors Indrani Ganguly and Rima Kar Ghosh, and award-winning author Radhika Maira Tabrez are part of that support system too.
- Describe your writing routine.
Uh oh, I should have known someone as meticulous as you would come up with this question.
Ideally, one would expect an author to say some really sane and inspiring words here like ‘I wake up early in the morning’ or that ‘I write every day for at least four hours’ but the truth is none of that happens.
I don’t follow a specific routine and usually have phases when I am writing non-stop followed by phases of no writing at all. The only rule I have is to write every day – it doesn’t have to be fiction only. Just a few words of something I feel strongly about, a personal opinion, a diary entry, even a book review is good enough. All I need is to put words together in a way that makes sense to me. Today’s quota is complete with writing the answers for this interview. :p
Usually, this works for me, unless I am working on a specific book like I was with Dashavatar. Then it is a writing phase when I can write all day and night, sometimes even ignoring to eat or sleep on time. (Not a healthy habit. Writers and aspiring authors, please don’t follow this!)
- The beauty of language or the nitty-gritty of a plot – what would you choose?
Good writing is not just one or the other writing. A good story is one that’s well-told (or written) and consists of a strong plot. As a writer, both are equally critical for me to present a good story.
As a reader, however, I can still digest a weak plot but not poor language. Because, for me, poor language like bad grammar and weak sentence construction mars the reading experience.
- What is the worst thing that you were asked as a writer?
I remember around this time four years ago, when I was still finding my identity as a writer (And therefore, it was still new and scary, and I was struggling with a lot of things including my own and my parents’ expectations), someone asked me whether I wrote anything meaningful or did I only write flashy stuff. It amused and irritated me to have to answer such a question from someone who had never even read my writing and so had no idea whatsoever about what I wrote. For them to ask such a question was demeaning and did nothing to boost my already low confidence.
Another time, and this is more recent, someone chided me for writing fiction. ‘Fiction has no scope,’ they said. ‘You should instead write non-fiction.’ Again, this person too had never bothered to read my writing. It hurt less this time round because by then I had managed to gain some confidence in my writing abilities.
It is only now, after having come this far, that I can manage to laugh over both these incidents.
- What is the worst thing you have faced as an editor?
I think it will pass this question. 😀
- If you could name only one favourite author and one favourite book, what would that be?
It would have to be Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. It’s a perfect read for everyone – for those who love reading and are just curious about writing, for those who wish to begin writing seriously, and for those who ‘want to publish a book one day’.
- What is a genre that you can never see yourself write?
Well, they do say, ‘Never say Never’, but I think I can safely say I would not ever write horror. I am scared too easily!
- What is one thing that you would like to change in the literary/publishing community?
I wish it was easier for new writers and authors to get noticed by publishers and readers. Being one myself, the journey has only begun for me.
I am lucky that my publisher, Readomania, decided to back me with this book, and that the only thing that mattered to them was the quality of the writing and not how big an author or blogger I am.
I also feel there is too much focus on selling and marketing, and this leads to some very questionable practices being followed. It scares me to even think how I would make my mark in a place where celebrities with poor writing skills sell more books than by an author who writes well.
- Name one lesser-known writer whom you would hugely recommend.
As this point, I am going to be selfish and at the risk of sounding immodest, recommend myself.
Her articles on various feminism related issues, have been published on various platforms like Sheroes, LBB Delhi, Readomania, Momspresso, and WomensWeb and have won her many awards, accolades and appreciation (including a Kindle and an ‘Author of the Month’ felicitation!) In 2018, she was awarded the Top 5 position in the Orange Flower Awards 2018 for the category of Writing for Social Impact. Her only credible claim as an author was with Mock, Stalk & Quarrel―a multi-author anthology of 29 satirical tales, and later an ebook of short stories, Just Another Day, published by Readomania Publishing.
Dashavatar is her second attempt at calling herself an author of a solo-authored book. After writing short stories, she is dreaming of writing a full-fledged novel which, if at all, should be out sometime within the next hundred years. When not gushing over the latest book she is reading or whining about the pile of unread books, she is found gazing out her bedroom window, day-dreaming about becoming the next JK Rowling.