Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 1/31/2022 11:43:16 AM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Dipavali Sen

Dipavali Sen writes on contemporary as well as mythological subjects, often blending the two. She has written primarily for children though she has several publications for adults. She is a retired academic, and a life-member of the Association of Writers and Illustrators (A.W.I.C.), New Delhi. At present, she lives in Gurgaon, after living for more than three decades in Delhi. She has recently come out with the book “Unheard Voices from Ancient Times”. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, she talks about her latest book, her writing journey, her favourite books and authors, and much more. Read on!

Please tell us more about Dipavali Sen as a person.

A mature and reflective person retired from teaching profession.

Has writing always been a part of your life? Or did you chance upon it later on and then instantly fell in love with it?

Writing has been a familiar activity since teenage. But getting the writings published started only with the college magazine and vernacular ‘little magazines’. Getting books published came well beyond middle age.

Please tell us more about your book “Unheard Voices From Ancient Times”.

“Unheard Voices from Ancient Times” is a contemporary novel weaving in mythology as well as science fiction. It is not a mere retelling but contains original creative additions.
In the book, Ananya and her husband Chintan are disappointed because the pandemic has prevented them from travelling and taking a break from their routine life. Chintan suggests that they take a journey through time and tell each other stories from different periods or ages. The stories are based on information from fossils, artefacts, texts and folklores but livened up by my imagination and creativity. They do not contradict existing material but heighten it, bringing out points unheard and unheeded over the ages. They draw attention to old voices so far suppressed or simply, not attended to.
The book presents ten such stories.
In the first story from Jurassic Age, a Tyrannosaurus Rex turns vegetarian for the sake of a Brontosaurus he has fallen in love with. Its consequences have relevance for the concept of ahimsa as well as inter-racial marriages, cross-fertilization experiments and the recent fad for turning vegan.
The second story explores the possibility that civilization on earth is by favour of ancient alien visitations. The story narrates the alien’s point of view!
The third story is set in the Indus Valley Civilization whose still mysterious end is relevant for today’s threat of environmental degradation. The love of two young people is however preserved through an art piece familiar to many of us.
The fourth story is about the Vedic society as reflected in the famous story of Satyakama and Jabala. Have the norms relaxed?
The fifth story takes us to the epic society. Manthara of the Ramayana is generally seen as a villain. Here she is presented as a physically challenged but mentally alert person, loyal and loving, whom even Rama had not noticed.
The sixth story looks at Hanuman from the point of view of his mother, the celestial nymph Punjikasthalee who was reborn as the monkey Anjana?
The seventh story is about Hidimbi in the Mahabharata, the demon-wife of Bheema, and mother of Ghatotkacha, seen as woman.
The eighth presents the famous story of Nala and Damayanti from Damayanti’s own feminine perspective.
In the ninth story, Duryodhana, commonly regarded as the evil cause of the Kurukshetra War, speaks to us from the dark, deserted battlefield where he lies dying. Was he that much of a villain, after all?
The tenth and last story, set in a Puranic background, is Ananya’s own. However Chintan dispels her doubts about their future with references to their story-telling sessions.
The book cover shows sound waves breaking out of cracks of hardened earth’s surface. The ten stories may be interpreted as similarly trying to make themselves heard, and urging us to take a more imaginative approach to the study of the past.

What inspired you to write this book? When did you start writing this book and how long did it take you to finish it?

What inspired me was really the feeling that we tend to take too pedantic or scholarly an attitude towards our understanding of history or mythology. Academic research should be extended and softened by sympathetic imagination and contemporary reinterpretation. The book was not written at one go. Its individual stories were written at various points of time. Then during 2020, the first pandemic year, they were brought together under the umbrella of a young couple telling each other a story.

Can you tell us more about your writing process for this book? How did you go about creating three-dimensional characters and mapping out an engaging plot for this book?

There are three-dimensional characters all around us. I just wrote about them. They are there already, crying out to be heard. One has to listen – that is all. As for the plot, it is the old familiar one of story-telling sessions used in the Epics, Puranas, Panchatantra and Vetala.

What kind of research did writing this book entail?

As the book was put together during 2020, there was hardly any scope for going out to do library work. My earlier reading of mythological, historical and literary work stood me in good stead. Whenever I wanted further cross referencing, I used ‘Google search’.

What were some of the challenges while writing this book?

One major challenge was to select the stories as there are so many to choose from. Another was to provide correct spellings and simple translations of the many Sanskrit terms used in the stories. The pandemic going on was itself a challenge. But my publisher (Invincible Publishers) provided support all through and took care of those.

Can you recommend five books from any genre, for our readers to add to their reading lists, that you particularly cherish?

Sure. These are “The House on the Strand” by Daphne du Maurier, “In the Land of the Mogul” by Geoffrey Trease, “Yugant-The End of an Era” by Iravati Karve, “The Burden” by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie), and “Checkmate” by Nihshanka Debroy.

What are your other interests apart from writing?

Reading, watching television and Youtube. There is so much available these days that caters to every taste. My special interests are unsolved mysteries of the past, say, the flooding of Dwaraka or the construction of the Ramasetu.

There are many new writers and poets who are aspiring to get their work published. What would you say to them?

Now that self-publishing is possible, they should not waste their years waiting for established publishing houses, the ‘big banners’. If they can put out a bit of their own money, they can venture out – become entrepreneurs as well as creative artists.

What are you working on next? Any new literary projects that our readers should look out for?

I am working on a sequel or continuation of Unheard Voices which will include the stories of snake-goddess Manasa, of Shakuntala’s friends Anasuya and Priyamvada, and of Arjuna’s wife Subhadra.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

‘Ruk jana nahin tu kahin haar ke’ – the song from the 1974 film Imtihan.

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