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Interview with Sanjiv Saran

He has been a literature student, a musician, a lyricist, and an actor/director in theatre. Growing up in the '60s, Sanjiv learned to ignore the world’s perception of India: a country of crafty beggars, snake charmers, and religious dogma, constantly battling floods and famines, a country that needed foreign aid even to feed its burgeoning population.

In 1971, with board exams around the corner, Sanjiv and his friends heard terrible stories of genocide in East Pakistan and the influx of ten million refugees into our country. India’s administrative machinery was robust enough by then to handle the crisis. There were blackouts and the screams of jet planes over their homes. There was news of great battles. India’s resounding victory in liberating Bangladesh followed. Our diplomatic and military initiatives got the world sitting up with grudging admiration.

This was the start of Sanjiv’s love affair with India. He trekked extensively in most regions of the Himalayas and hitchhiked on trucks across large swathes of our country. He enjoyed chatting with simple village people. Total strangers would invite him to stay in their homes. He began to respect their intelligence, wisdom, and rich traditions. In the Me-First culture of post-partition cities, it was difficult to discover such aspects.

A successful entrepreneur in IT, Sanjiv’s bond with rural India remains strong. Keenly interested in accelerating economic growth at the grassroots level, he has organized the funding of thirteen check dams in remote villages and participated hands-on in constructing these projects.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
My wife of 46 years, the painter of the book cover, first met me at age 21 while I was on a solo expedition in Assam! We married a few months later.

Q.2 When should we expect your next book?
I’m working on it now. I hope to publish it by the end of this year or the first half of 2025.

Q.3 What inspired you to write The Drop and the Glop?
Close interaction with families in villages in the Himalayas and around other regions in India. Also, close interaction with visiting Americans on treks and other expeditions, and the resulting lifetime friendships with many of them inspired me to write The Drop and the Glop.

Q.4 What challenges did you face while writing this book?
Linking the personal stories and emotional growth of my characters to the historical events of the time.

Q.5 The inclusion of theological discussions and ancient myths adds depth to the narrative. What inspired these elements, and how do you feel they contribute to the overall story?
As described on Amazon, this is a tale of intrigue, passion, love, loss, and redemption that is set against a background of war and divinity. The story evolves from the experiences and emotions of its characters. All dimensions of those experiences enrich the story. 

The cold terror of loss, the power of a schoolboy romance, the awakening of questions about Divinity, etc. The “theological discussions” are a part of the experiences of two diverse characters growing up against a background of war in areas where Divinity is palpable, and “ancient myths” are vividly real for the people, even today.

Q.6 Which character(s) in this book spoke to you the most and why?
The shepherdess and the Westernized schoolboy because I have known both kinds of characters.

Q.7 When did you first realize you wanted to become a writer?
I don’t think I consciously “wanted” to become a writer. However, I always knew I had it in me and that I enjoyed writing. Forty pages of this book were hammered out on an ancient Baby typewriter 45 years ago. At the time, I was alone for several months in Kashmir. It was a time when political insurgency in the state was gathering momentum. 

Unfortunately, it was impossible to immediately support a family as a beginner in the writing world. A break of four decades followed while I battled the demands of earning a living, raising our children, and an increasingly fruitful career that had nothing to do with creative writing!

Q.8 What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, to date?
Well, none, really, since it's only recently that I took it up seriously. That, too, after crossing into my golden years! However, I have some advice to offer to aspiring authors.

Don't fret about success till you've finished writing. Stay away from your book for a week or two. Then, read it through. Change what doesn't sound convincing. Then pass it around among a few friends - only if you're sure they enjoy reading novels anyway! Take their feedback seriously, particularly if they find any parts of your book dragging or boring.

Q.9 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing this book?
I think the most surprising and exciting thing I discovered was that I could LIVE each one of my characters - dramatically contrasting characters. Whether they were male, female, good or bad, I became those characters as I wrote. 

Perhaps this goes back to my years as a theatre actor, when I had only costume, makeup, dialogue, and vocal intonations to get me into my character. No background music either, like film actors. Here, as a writer, I could become my character, imagining and penning every little nuance of his or her thoughts, feelings, and emotions in the first person.

Q10 Your narrative seamlessly blends fiction with historically accurate events. How did you research and approach incorporating these historical elements into your storytelling?
Once I decided the time period in which my characters' experiences would take place (the 1960s and early 70s), it was easy to research the details of events in those years. Blending them into my story required quite a bit of imagination. But I soon figured it out as the tale progressed. 

For example, the news of Pres Bhutto and his glamorous daughter Benazir coming to Shimla for the 1972 peace summit. How would my kidnapped schoolboy and his shepherdess kidnapper hear about it in the mountains? On the old Murphy transistor that shepherds always carried, of course. And why would she be flipping channels just at the time the announcement of their impending visit crackled up? 

Because the shepherdess always looked for the news in English at 9. Why in English? Because she had always wanted to speak English like Melville de Mello when, in 1964, in an army mess in Pakistan, she had heard his commentary on Pandit Nehru’s funeral procession.

Q.11 As an author, what message or emotion do you hope readers take away from this book?
The futility of hate and desire and the final Truth of Harmony with each other.

Q.12 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
To think like them, not only within their personality or character but also to imagine their reactions in relation to various events in their lives.

Q.13 Do you have any quirky or interesting writing habits?
Furious pacing around the house after almost every sentence!

Q.14 It is vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your book. Tell us about your marketing campaign.
Well, I've kind of left it to the Gods. If my work has intrinsic value, it will eventually turn up somewhere. After all, did the Tale of Two Cities depend on a marketing campaign? 

Of course, in today's overflowing literary ocean, my work will need to keep its head above water. For that, I try to follow a slow and steady growth in reach.

Q.15 How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
This one took me about four years! I am not a speed writer; I write as I enjoy.

Q.16 How do you select the names of your characters?
As they come to me.

Q.17 Who designed your book covers? What are the selection criteria for finalizing the cover and artist?
My selection criteria: it has to be a real painting. Any that conveys my theme. Initially, I had commissioned a professional artist in Europe, but he was unable to translate my theme into a painting. Ultimately, after several months, I asked my wife to give it a try.

Q.18 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
Yes, I do read them all, good or bad. I deal with all with a pinch of salt.

Q.19 Are there any particular authors or works that have influenced your writing style?
A. Thomas Hardy
, Ernst Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far.

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