Introduction to the Authors:
Ravi Sharma and Kartik Sharma are the authors of a 2011 novel with many recognitions – The Quest of the Sparrows. The book, since its publications, has been featured in many national newspapers and the authors have also made it to many features and magazines. Now that they are getting ready for their second book together, Alok Mishra talked to both of them about the novel published, novel to be published and also literature in general.
Alok Mishra: Since you both have done hard work as well as great work in coming up with this novel with so unique theme and a sparkling narrative, I would direct my questions in vacuum and anyone of you two can take it. My first question is what prompted the authors to write The Quest of the Sparrows?
Kartik Sharma: The novel came from personal life experiences. When I was twelve years old, I became very sick and couldn’t eat or drink anything. There was nothing that was wrong with me, but my body was simply rejecting all food. In absence of any clinical issues, the doctors were perplexed and told dad that I had probably lost my desire to live. That’s a very unsettling thing for a twelve year old to hear. Dad had been meditating for quite some time and introduced me to it. For the next few months, we started meditating together every morning before he left for work. Gradually, I started getting better and was able to appear for my exams. I used to be a below average student, but I topped my school in those exams. That was a major turning point in my life. I couldn’t pursue sports anymore since my fitness had taken a major toll and since I was suddenly good at academics, I started studying a lot harder. A few years later, I was at IIT Delhi. Spirituality, hence, became an inseparable part of my trajectory in life and I had a strong desire to pen something down about that episode.
Dad, who has always been more spiritual than me, started writing a diary about a train journey he took – very similar to the one in the novel. We decided later to convert that diary into fiction and started writing what eventually became The Quest of the Sparrows.
Alok Mishra: The genre of novel is popular and widely written; that may be a cause to take it up. What are the other causes that you both agreed to write only a novel, and not a collection of short stories?
Kartik Sharma: We have in fact written several short stories. Science Fiction is our preferred genre for short stories. We have been thinking of compiling all those into a book for some time now and might actually do it one day. For now, we are focussing on the new content that we are both really excited about.
Writing a novel was a dream that we both have had for a very long time. When this idea came to us, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
It’s true that the genre is quite popular. It points to the fact that we have all searched for answers to existential questions like “Why do we exist?”, “Is there a deeper meaning for our existence?”, “Why are we so different from animals in that we have a consciousness and can alter our behaviour?” But in all our reading, we didn’t find a convincing answer. There are a variety of perspectives on the matter and ours is an experiential and personal learning driven approach to the existential questions.
Alok Mishra: The time this book came up, was the time when Indian fiction was getting into a kind of transition – shifting towards a ‘quick-read’ trend with some spices and ready-to-devour content with no depth. Why did you two take up a rather serious issue to write a novel?
Kartik Sharma: I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true. It’s a fact that lot of that type of fiction was being churned, published and appreciated but there were authors going about their literary fiction work as well. This book sits somewhere in the middle – while it’s an easy, quick read, it tried to tackle an ambitious topic. I believe that authors who write what comes from their heart, are much more authentic and convincing.
Also, it depends on what goal is a particular author trying to establish. If they are writing to play to the readership trends, they are knowingly writing a book with a short shelf life. It’ll sell for sure and that’s surely an enjoyable thing. We, however, wrote Quest of the Sparrows more to feel and share the joy of being free from the clutches of materiality. Writing this book was a cathartic experience for us. And that’s why, we believe, it’s an authentic book. We hope it will outlast our limited time on Earth because of the topic it addresses. It will be there like a beacon, flashing its insights and showing the path to finding answers for all who ponder on the unresolved questions on life. We believe it will always be relevant till the time we have definite answers to the existential questions.
Alok Mishra: As a writer, I do believe in the theory of impersonality brought forward by T. S. Eliot. However, I do believe this also that behind every story, there is a part of the author’s experience. What is the story behind the creation of Guru Partibhan?
Kartik Sharma: There are several obstacles in one’s life be it inter-personal, professional or individual. A mentor, a guru, is essentially someone who doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do to get out of a particular problem. Nor do they give you a well-defined path or a list of things to do. Rather they equip you with the right set of tools to figure out your own path. And that’s the symbolism that Guru Partibhan personifies. He’s figuring things out for himself but in the process of self-discovery he also enriches the lives of others around him. They see analogies in their own lives from his sermons – which are essentially him trying to understand a variety of things we struggle with.
Also, you can help someone by solving one problem for them, but what happens when they face a problem again? All of us face new problems and challenges almost on a daily basis, don’t we? Equipped with the right tools and approach, you can navigate through the sea of life effortlessly compared to someone who struggles to find an approach for every trouble.
That’s the story of Guru Partibhan’s origin – he’s a metaphor for our search for the right tools and approach so that we are better equipped to chart our own path through the difficulties, challenges and struggles of daily life. Guru Partibhan is the embodiment of the tools that you need to ascend to a higher level of existence so that you can see your path through the maze of troubles from 30,000 feet, instead of being inside the maze and struggling to find the path through hit and trial, where you take every turn to know if it holds a dead end or leads you closer to the way out.
Alok Mishra: And this question is more about writing than about The Quest of the Sparrows. Guys, what is your writing motivation? And I would like the views of you both here. What makes you write and what are the genres that you casually write?
Kartik Sharma: My motivation is to create something beautiful and of real value. I have seen too many cynical people around and it’s so easy to be destructive and mock everything. To create something, however, is challenging. It lets us be constructive. For me, it’s a beautiful, and a very powerful feeling to create a world and characters. Telling stories that people would read, enjoy and be moved by is a very motivating thought. I would go as far as saying that the only true joy I have felt is when I am writing. It’s the one thing that lets me forget everything, even eating and sleeping, and takes me into this zone which others have described as ‘The Flow’. For me writing is an essential part of self-actualization – something that helps me ascend from the mundane that’s everyday life of going to work, coming back home, watching TV, taking a few trips with loved ones, filing taxes, worrying about promotions and increments, buying a house or a car. It gives me a sense of purpose.
Ravi Sharma: For me writing began more as a process of healing during my early, turbulent phase of life. It helped me hold on to a positive view of life despite the fact that everything around me was crumbling. I had clutched to my pen literarily like a drowning person holds to a log to stay afloat. And it helped me inch my way back to life. The magic of healing and transformation that it brought about goaded me to shift the focus from myself to others. And weave their stories of struggle, pain and salvation into my stories.
The human condition has always intrigued me. We have the potential to annihilate everything or create, like Kartik said, something essentially beautiful. Today we sit over our nuclear bombs even as we cross new frontiers in genetics. It is fascinating where all a human being can choose to go and the ultimate choice rests with us. How two individuals can react with different outcomes to the same situations they go through has fascinated me and has been the basis of all my stories – science fiction and slice of life. And as a writer I wish to provoke positive thought in my readers and appeal to their higher selves.
I believe from my very core and strongly that each one of us is unique and here on earth to fulfil a larger role only we can play with our gifts and individuality. Everyone earns a living, even a sparrow. But are we living up to this other expectation from our higher selves? As a writer I am trying to fulfil a role which I feel compelled to play. Of leaving behind a mark in the sands of time. Not for the sake of fame but to absolve my existence.
Alok Mishra: In 2011 and in 2017, many differences are there. As readers as well as authors, what differences do you people feel have come in Indian contemporary fiction and overall literature? What good and what bad things can you see in the air?
Kartik Sharma: It’s tough to say. I feel that there are several new voices and authors nowadays – people can get published digitally at a click of a button. Independent publishing is no longer frowned upon by the readers. It’s a great time to be a reader. Thanks to the rising popularity of e-books, good content can now easily transcend geographical boundaries. It’s also great that readers can find a lot of content in the genres they prefer on a variety of media.
It’s largely good, but the slightly worrying aspect is that a lot of content nowadays doesn’t go through the necessary rigor of editing. It’s not necessarily being filtered by the guardians and gatekeepers of the literary world – the editors. I fear that this might lead to a dilution of quality, but at the same time, I believe the readers are discerning enough to find good content.
Ravi Sharma: This is a truly exciting phase. The setting and the characters of Indian authors feel authentic because they speak and emote our way of life. So relatability has gone up several notches.
Readers get to see India the way it is and not through the eyes of foreigners who projected only one side of the country. I feel they could never truly understand the people and the country because India is a complex organism. Now, thankfully, we get to see India from many different complex, but authentic, perspectives.
But along with this great trend we have to watch out for mediocrity. There is a tendency of ‘jugaad’ and ‘chalta hai’ attitude which can seriously jeopardize this revolution by compromising quality, like Kartik pointed.
Alok Mishra: I am very frank about the ramification of literature. Though, I do submit to the fact that it’s purely on the author’s disposal to write what he or she feels good. However, my question to you both is – why there are no Nobel Prizes for us in literature? Where do we lack?
Kartik Sharma: That’s a good question. I am not sure I am qualified to answer it, but I think the Nobel in literature is just one award given to one person every few years. There are many other regional, commonwealth and global awards for writing that several Indian authors of repute are winning. Also, I don’t think every author writes with the objective of winning a Nobel Prize, or some of these other awards. It’s perfectly fine to write for the ‘reward’ of knowing that someone, somewhere – a stranger who you would probably never meet – read something that you wrote and loved it or was moved by it. That’s not a small accomplishment by any standards. I know quite a few writers who write for themselves first, then for their readers and lastly, if at all, for awards or recognition. Awards and recognition follow for some of them – but if you flip the order, it dries out the joy.
Also, writing for awards requires a very different skill set and motivation but I am sure we have many literary greats in India today who might go on to win the Nobel someday!
Ravi Sharma: I would like to point out that we do have an Indian writer who won the Nobel Prize – Rabindra Nath Tagore. What you perhaps mean to ask is that it’s been a long time since anyone has stood up and measured to his calibre.
I believe we are in the process of a metamorphosis. Of shedding many of our blind beliefs and crippling social norms, ritualism and coming into our own as a nation. Out of this churn will blossom new writers of calibre. India is a giant which has woken up in sports in the most unexpected of the ways. It is like we are finally shedding the last chains of colonialism and are truly liberated.
It’s also about creating an enabling environment – an ecosystem where good writers are discovered organically and supported. They are mentored and nurtured by the best. That’s missing in India right now – writers are mostly individualistic at this point.
Alok Mishra: And what are some upcoming writing projects for you guys? Been a while… 2011 to 2017 and no second book? What’s the story and please do tell about your upcoming work.
Kartik Sharma: We both have day jobs that we love and they have to take priority because things there are typically urgent and important! Publishing a novel is perhaps more important to us, but it is not the most urgent thing we are doing.
Writing helps us stay afloat and creatively engaged so we have written a lot in the last six years. We have a science fiction trilogy, two satires and slice of life novel in the works. But submitting a manuscript to publishers is a very different ball game. It’s difficult to find the time for editing, since it’s a very hard, time consuming and not as creative a process as writing something new.
That being said, we have an adventure comedy novel that we are expecting to be out this year – so be on the look-out for that!
Alok Mishra: And a last question before I wrap it up. What were your expectations from The Quest of the Sparrows and how far did it come true? Please share the readers’ responses over the time about your debut novel.
Kartik Sharma: Being debutants, we had no idea what to expect from a new novel. There was an idealistic dream where we thought success would mean that we are able to reach one person who is struggling and looking for answers to the all-important and pertinent questions about life. Someone who is stuck with the problems of the mundane and is looking for a way out. If the book could reach someone like that and help in any way – that would be the happiest day of our life! And that has largely panned out. Readers have showered love on the book and written amazing things about it, which fills us with joy!
I remember coming across this blog that a girl wrote back in 2012 – she picked up the book on a bus ride when she was going through a frustrating phase with some day to day worries. 20 pages into the book, she wrote, she had already started feeling calmer. That day, six months after the book’s launch, I felt we had accomplished what we had set out to. Then a student from IIT Kharagpur, in an interview he was giving for a magazine, called Kartik the most underrated author in India! Such love and blessings from people from different parts of the country has kept us going.
Thanks for your time, dear Ravi and Kartik; all the best for your future endeavours from my side!