When ‘Padmavati’ movie is taking big space in media, Sutapa Basu came up with his book ‘Padmavati: The Queen Tells Her Own Story’ which is based on a popular story of India of queen Padmavati. Here is an interview with the author of the book Sutapa Basu.
What is the story behind your book? Where did you get your idea for the book?
Well, I have been reading historical fiction for a very long time but most of the books I read have been penned by international writers and were tales based on the history of other countries. I have always regretted that very few Indian writers have chosen to write stories from Indian history despite our country’s claim to such a rich historical heritage. Over time, I have been feeling very strongly that the world’s readers must become conversant with our country’s remarkable kings, leaders, teachers and reformers. However, personally I have always been fascinated by the queens of India. They have stood centre stage in our country’s history since times immemorial. There have been innumerable brave and brilliant women scattered across the eras from different regions, religions and social strata. Most of them had to struggle against difficult physical and social conditions. Yet they managed to change the course of history during their lifetimes. One of them was Padmavati, or popularly known as Padmini of Chittor. Ever since I had read about her during my schooldays, I have been intrigued by the magnificence and tragedy of this beautiful queen. So when I began my journey in the genre of historical fiction, it had to be with her tale.
Challenges you faced while writing this book and in your life as an author?
Padmavati being a historical fiction, it was imperative that I research the historical personality, archives, events, social environment, regional influences of the period thoroughly. So I began with poring over academic treatises, then visited libraries and museums, did tours of Chittorgarh and Udaipur. Imagine my surprise, when I found no archived factual evidence of the existence of any Queen of Chittor called Padmavati. All I discovered were innumerable myths, legends and tales…all beautiful, infinitely interesting but no hard facts. In fact, the first time people had heard of Queen Padmavati was 200 years after she was supposed to have existed…in an Awadhi epic by a Sufi poet called Malik Mohammad Jayasi. I don’t know whether to call it a challenge but there it was. Did she exist or not? Of course I found historical evidence of the siege of Chittorgarh by Allaudin Khalji in 1303 and a stone plaque claiming that the ruler of Chittor during that year was a Rawal Ratan Singh. So that was all I had to weave my story around.
As an author, one of my challenges has been to juggle a full-time senior-level corporate job along with creative writing. I solved it by chucking the job and its fat package to become a writer in the proverbial garret. And I have never looked back.
I am also not very comfortable with all the marketing and promotional events that I have to participate in for my books. I would rather sit in my study and write than face audiences.
Another challenge is a personal target I have set myself. I am always on a self-improvement binge. I keep trying to nudge the bar up so that I reach a little closer to the standards of my favourite authors. I don’t know if I ever will but I am certainly trying.
What is your life mantra?
If one door closes, look for the window has been my life’s mantra. There is always a window, you know. You only need to look for it. My eyes are always set on the path ahead and I never look back. Besides I believe that nothing ever lasts…neither sorrows nor joys. So I don’t take myself too seriously…just enjoy what I can and learn lessons from the rest of whatever life dishes up.
What is your writing process like?
Every day, I write. It may not always be a novel…could be a feature, an article, a short story, a review, a travelogue. But I write. Every day.
When an idea for a story comes to me, it is always a character who brings it. I let the person be born and pester me for a while in my head until the picture becomes clear…all the nuances and all the flaws…most importantly; the flaws. Then the story begins to unravel…the beginning, middle and end. Finally, I sit down to write.
I may draw out a structure or I may start directly writing the first draft. This draft is usually to get the plot all out. Once the basic plot is written out, I am relieved and I can focus on fleshing out the main character properly. The third draft is usually about filling out the secondary characters and plugging gaps in the plot and subplots. By then both the plot and the characters come alive for me. The fourth draft sees me on a refinement binge… polishing the characters, the subplots, the language, et al. Yes, I do need to write several drafts before I decide to send out my manuscript to beta readers.
Once the suggestions that emerge from my interactions with the beta readers have been incorporated, my manuscript is ready for submission to Readomania, my publisher.
Anything special about your book that you want to share?
To put it succinctly, Padmavati, The Queen Tells her own Story is a unique narrative that reinvents traditional values in the modern perspective. That I believe is the special flavour of the book and will linger on in the memories of all its readers.
According to you, what are the three qualities an author must have to achieve success?
I am not sure if there is a formula to becoming a successful author. If there is, I would like to know it, too.
However, I believe it is the passion for writing that marks a good author. You see, one must write for one’s own satisfaction first before catering to readers’ needs. To leave an impression on a reader, a writer needs to say something more impactful through his writing, not just write a tale. It is the unique voice that makes for a well- remembered author.
Finally, whether they like it or not, it is essential for a writer to promote his or her books. Innumerable books are being written and regurgitated by the publishing industry every day. To get the eyeballs, a book has to be visible all the time. Therefore public events and social media presence is a must for an author’s success.
What are your plans for next book?
The two genres that drive me are thrillers and historical fiction. So I could try my hand at either one…or both.
What advice do you have for young writers?
I cannot stress more on the fact that writing hardly ever brings fame or wealth. If young writers are looking for either of these, they must look for some other means of earning them.
Following market trends blindly is suicidal especially when choosing the genre of writing. In fact, it is best to write what one’s likes to read. If one likes reading thrillers, but decides to write a romance because love stories are popular, it could turn out to be a mistake. A thriller lover would probably write a good thriller because the person would be familiar with the nuances of one, but could end up writing a terrible romance.
Share a quote or line that has been your inspiration.
‘Just because everyone is going in one direction doesn’t mean you should, too. Everyone could be wrong.’
—John Green, The fault In Our Stars