Ajit Kumar Jha completed BA Philosophy from St Stephens College and MA Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. He is currently a Freelance writer writing for clients and editorial consultant. He presented a paper at an international conference (Network of Asia Pacific Schools and Institutes of Public Administration and Governance) Thiruvananthpuram in 2010. Let us know more about his writing.
What inspired you to start writing?
The inspiration came from my English teacher in class V, who asked me to promise him that I will be a writer. Nobody tells you to become a writer…they want you to become an engineer, doctor or a bureaucrat. I was never serious with my writing career till very recently when I began to feel extreme degree of disenchantment with the kind of work I was doing. I was writing for publishers or for clients who decided what I was going to write.
So I grew disenchanted with the routine and the monotony that comes with it. Then I decided to actually write. It sounds pretty contradictory. You are already a writer and yet you feel you are not a writer. I will tell you what…when you have the freedom to write you are better off mentally and spiritually, but when you write under compulsion to be paid for each word you feel estranged and nothing is worse in life than the sense of disenchantment, a malady that is now so much common in the current cultural age.
You either succumb to it and forget your true identity and go on living mechanically all your life or you come off it not in a planned manner but suddenly as if you rebel internally and shake off the burden that you thought was too much to carry any longer. That’s when the true inspiration comes and that’s how it came to me, one day, suddenly and passionately and I went on writing until I completed the first chapter.
What did you like to read when you were a boy?
I read chandamama, nandan, parag, champak, Lot-Pot, Bal Bharti (magazines for children), and Phantom till I came to class V. In class V, I came across a series of books in the library with the title “I am so and so. I live in…” with the cover page showing a child from a particular nation pointing at the map of a nation on the globe. That’s how I came to know about the life of children in poor and rich nations. Then I started reading Enid Blyton.
After that I read “The Chariots of Gods”, “Life After Death”, “Damien Omen”, “Dracula”, and God knows what. But in Class VII, I read Munshi Premchand as part of our text and I was completely awed. I read several novels by Premchand and could not help weeping while reading. However, I used to be intrigued by the supernatural and paranormal kind of books. When I was in class IV, I bought the Hindi translation of Mahabaharata.
It was a very thick book, but I remained glued to it whenever I found time and would read from anywhere. I think I might have read and reread it several times over and felt intrigued by the characters like Karna, Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu. I wept when I read about their valorous but unethical death. About the same time, I read Bhagvadgita, again its Hindi translation. In class IX or X, someone procured the banned book “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” that made me think over the darker side of the grown up adults.
In the first year of college, I read “A Search in Secret India” by Paul Brunton. This was the kind of book, I could never tire of reading and hankered for more. Later I read, “Autobiography of a Yogi”. In short, my reading habits were not balanced and directed. I used to read anything that came my way but could remember the few that impacted me and forget the rest. I always wondered how my friends could so avidly read book after book like Harold Robins, James Hadley Chase, and Agatha Christie, while I could not hold my attention after trying few pages.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
First, it is the ideas. Innovative ideas cannot be just thought of but can come in flashes. But the greater challenge is to retain those ideas and focus on it persistently because if you cannot hold on to it, it simply vanishes. However, this challenge only relates to extraordinary books that are truly innovative. Otherwise, nearly 90 percent of the books are rehash of old ideas, or text book kind of works with predefined content and features.
I am not saying there is no challenge in writing these kinds of books because here also you must present the content innovatively. Once you know what you are going to write, you will be struggling with research, content and presentation. The greatest challenge it to persist with whatever you are writing or want to write.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
I did not do much research for this book because of its very nature and my intimate familiarity with the subject matter. Nevertheless research is critical to successful writing and I believe every time whether several times in a chapter or just once in a chapter if you are introducing something new, it must be thoroughly researched. This is especially important whether you are writing on real or fictitious events or real or fictitious personality.
For instance, if you are referring to opium war in China in a historical fiction, it would help immensely if you go through original historical documents. If you create a fictitious character, then you need to work out on the personality traits relevant to age and circumstances of the character. For instance, if your character is a boy from Mumbai slum, you cannot just assume about the character whatever you want because you think you know it well.
His ideas, dreams and imagination will be completely different from a boy of same age living in a middle class family. This is where you need to research, dig information and mine facts. I definitely think you need to do lots and lots of research to make your story different and interesting. If you are writing a science fiction book, you need to do even more rigorous research.
What motivated you to write the book “Write or Wrong”?
Let me recall: One day I got simply bored with whatever I was doing. I said, what the heck! Why am I doing something I don’t want to do consistently? I said let me write something that I actually want to write. I began writing without planning and went on and on till I completed the first chapter the very same night. I felt so wonderful that I decided I was going to complete it and then I began writing in a somewhat planned manner.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “Write or Wrong”?
This is the book about a character who doesn’t know what he wants to do and be in life. His teacher in class v told him that he wants the boy to be a writer. That is when the contradiction set in the life of this boy because everyone is telling him to become something that society more easily relates to – an engineer, a doctor, a bureaucrat. This character wonders if the communication between him and his teachers, his friends and the others is the deeper level of communication or is it that each character speaks their own mind with their own unconscious wish imposed on the character.
Evidently, all communication is a reflection of each character’s specific ideas, thoughts, wishes and the resulting interaction is meaningless. The point is, whether the teacher who asked the central character to become a writer was reflecting his own unconscious desire as in fact your parents, friends and associates do. Nevertheless, the wish of the teacher triggers the process of self discovery in the boy, who wonders who is he, and what he wants to be even as he sets on the journey ahead in life.
The character discovers valuable lessons in life through this process of self discovery and the journey as the story begins to emerge. The boy questions the meaning of freedom, meaning of truth, meaning of communication in the process of self-discovery as he is trying to become a writer while working in different publishing houses. The book, I hope would be quite useful for those who want to make a career in writing as they would come to see how publishing houses operate in India. It would also be valuable for those who want to write a book because in the journey undertaken by this character, the process of the writing of a book is also taking place at the same time,
How did you come up with the idea of writing fiction genre book?
Fiction writing is a very wide genre, but I think fiction is the better approach to communicate with the readers because you have the opportunity to tell stories. The readers relate better to the message driven through stories. If I write on the subject of genetic engineering 50 to 100 years down the line, no one would listen to me because not only the subject would be boring to most of the readers but also because I am not an expert on the subject, but the same can be depicted through a science fiction book that would not only be interesting to write with some research input but it would also help me draw in readers. In other words, the task of a writer is to communicate and the best they can communicate is through fiction.
Who are your favourite authors?
Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Hemingway, Camus, Khushwant Singh, R.K. Narayan and several more.
How much time do you dedicate to writing on a daily basis?
As it is I am a writer, so I do nothing except writing for others but if you mean writing for myself, then probably I would write once in several months and then I would not be able persist because of other assignments for which I am paid to write.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
I would recommend them to explore the niche they are best at because writing itself can be very broad. So, if you are interested in writing fiction, you need to explore the genre further down – stories for children, teens or adults and what is going to be your central message.
Having once decided to write and having decided on the topic to be written, all you need to do is persist with writing because I know after writing first few pages, it is common to forget it and get busy with life.
Third and that is most important, you have to decide who are going to be your readers and how you are going to market your product to them. Like most of the aspiring writers, I also mistakenly believed that once you write, you are done with as your publisher will do the rest. That’s not how it really works these days. Writers must develop marketing skills to take their products across the readers’ spectrum.
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