Monday, March 27, 2017

Meet Ram Sivasankaran - Author of The Peshwa

We are back with another remarkable author Ram Sivasankaran. His book "The Peshwa - the Lion and the Stallion" has got really good response from critic and audience. We will go through Ram's journey as writer of "The Peshwa".

Can you tell your journey through the “The Peshwa: The Lion and the Stallion”? How did you get the idea for the book?
My major inspiration is my firm belief that our history textbooks are biased and even sometimes downright inaccurate in the depiction of events and characters from out past. As an example of a biased report of history, the years between 1100 and 1800 is dominated by chapters on the Delhi, Mughal and Deccan sultanates with almost zero mention of the Vijayanagara Empire and the rise of the Marathas to supremacy. The combined period between the dominance of the Vijayanagara and the Maratha Empires spans across this entire 1,000 years. So why the selectivity and bias in what we learn? I get the feeling Chhatrapati Shivaji is, in textbooks of national boards, shown as something of a brigand – an expert in guerilla warfare who snatched power from the Mughals a little at a time through unfair means. On the other hand, there may be a paragraph or two at most describing what an able, egalitarian ruler he was. On the other hand, the Mughals, Khiljis and Tughluqs have whole chapters dedicated to each ruler.

Of Peshwa Bajirao and his heirs who spread Maratha Saamrajya over the entire subcontinent extending to the far reaches of Afghanistan, we barely hear anything. Of Mahadji Scindia who fought and defeated the British in the First Anglo-Maratha War, we barely hear anything. Of whole dynasties like the Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas and Pallavas, who conquered not only lands up to the Ganga but built fleets to go as far as Vietnam, Cambodia and other parts of Southeast Asia, we barely hear anything. Of Krishnadeva Raya, the greatest Emperor of Vijayanagara who smashed the power of the Bahmani Sultanate, we barely hear anything. On the side of inaccurate history, we study about the ‘Aryan Invasion Theory’ which says a small band of horsemen came from Europe and Central Asia and replaced local culture with their own. I could go on about this but let me stop here.

My book (and future books) are a fictional take on what actually happened in history. Any historical inaccuracies in my book are not only to be expected, they are a part and parcel of my storytelling style. My goal is to arouse interest in the actual history by telling stories in my way – so my readers may be intrigued enough to go out and do some research for themselves. However, I will always narrate the tale in the true spirit of what the protagonists are remembered for. For example, Bajirao is known for his military genius, chivalry and valor. There are zero compromises made in that front regardless of what events and characters I choose to omit or exaggerate.

In summation, the work on Bajirao exemplifies what I am trying to put out – stories of less sung, formidable heroes who had a huge impact on Indian history despite their lack of adequate recognition in our textbooks.
When did you actually start writing this book?
I started writing my book when I was finishing up on my Master’s thesis in Stanford University in early 2013. So on one hand, I was working on a completely scientific work. I have always been a dreamer so I needed the respite to channelise my writing skills in a medium that gave me greater flexibility to document these dreams in a poetic manner. Why not do it in a field I was interested in and on a historical figure I had grown to admire?
In last 7 years, we have seen gigantic wave of books on mythological or historical fiction. Tell us in which category you fall into and tell us how that category suits you well. 
I would definitely think I fall under the category of historical fiction although I will not rule out exploring other genres in the future. I think that category suits me well because I am driven by a motive and a purpose as I have described on my answer to your first question. Also, history was one of my favorite subjects in middle and high school.
Do you consider yourself as a creator of wave or you got inspired by wave? How?
Neither! I would think of myself as one who is incidentally in the wave (if there is even one) because of my own personal interests.
Did this wave help you to get your book selected by publisher? Would you like to tell us how was the initial response of publishers for this series?
First, there is something fundamentally incorrect about this question. I do not think an interest wave of any kind would help anyone get published. Only one’s writing quality, content in the story (and a bit of luck) and persistent efforts to get noticed would. Without going into details about the specifics, I’ll say that my submissions were graciously approached with an offer by no less than 3-4 top publishers in the country before I settled for one that worked for me. I feel very, very lucky and blessed for this.
Are a perfectionist? Do you plan every character and their role in your story before you put them? Do you write a story with perfect ending in mind?
I am a perfectionist in that I try to tell a watertight story with as few logical flaws as can be found. Obviously, nobody is perfect and I am far from it. I do try to be as detailed and vivid in my descriptions as I can though. I do start with a hazy view of the plot and characters in mind but it is only when one starts putting pen to paper that the story evolves and starts telling itself, often extending to dimensions not previously imagined. Once the book is completed and reread, more dimensions and room for improvement and omission are found – so the process is iterative.
I write my books with one underlying philosophy. Life is not perfectly predictable where good always wins over evil and heroes are indestructible and emerge on the top in the end. Fictional plotlines should follow the same rules.
Do you have a mentor? What is the best advice you have got from your mentor?
In my writing career, nobody has been more supportive than my wife. She is my mentor. As a beginning author, I had been very sensitive to criticisms when my book first came out but it was my wife who coached me into becoming more accepting of the negative with the positive. She makes this hobby of mine possible.
Can you tell something to our aspired author which will boost their confidence?
My mantra is to dream big and write simple. Have a good story in mind and tell it very, very well. There is nothing that can stop you from the dream to publication if you have adequate interest and put in huge amounts of effort to put together a respectable piece of work. Focus on the story, not on dreams of how much royalty you can earn or the publisher who will select you. Once a good work is ready, publishers will line at your doorstep instead of the other way round.
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