Journalist Gayatri Jayaraman is experimenting with new writing. From feminism to fiction, she is pushing boundaries to explore styles distinct from the daily reporting ways of journalism. In her latest self published book, Gayatri is fusing fiction and folklore with a story she has worked on for over ten years. Shambhu Immortal is story of a boy who survives moral & political sieges and that’s superimposed on the world we live in and the assumptions we make to succeed or struggle every single day.
What’s Shambhu Immortal about?
Shambhu Immortal is the story of a boy who glows. It’s set in the Town of the Temple Beyond Time, a temple that has stood for the syncretic nature of the Indian religious ethos since time immemorial. It has withstood sieges both moral and political and adapted and absorbed. Shambhu is a foundling who is adopted. He has no caste and yet he must traverse a world today that is politically and socially fraught.
The story draws heavily from local Tamil legend, folklore, folk song, oral tradition and culture, and military and religious history
To make matters worse, he is taken with the urge to scale the rajagopuram of the temple, which is kept in an eternal state of under construction, because local legend says that the isle of Lanka will sink under the sea when it is completed. The story draws heavily from local Tamil legend, folklore, folk song, oral tradition and culture, and military and religious history. There is a complete list of references at the back of the book. It took me over 10 years to research. But of course it’s completely fictionalised and reinvented.
What’s most exciting about writing fiction?
Your mind. You can set it free. The story becomes what you can make it. You can reinvent history and re tell your stories till you understand where you come from. To me, I grew up visiting my grandmother who lived against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful and vital temples in the country. I was only ever taught and witness to the beautiful integration and adaptive nature of Hinduism. At a time when the world is falling apart at the seams, stories are what remind us of the centre that holds.
You chose to self publish – what was the thinking behind that?
I have been writing this book, as my son who is now 15 puts it, ever since he could remember me writing. The first draft of this book was the first draft of any novel I ever showed a writing mentor. It’s gone through multiple iterations and been rewritten and rejected by publishers more times than I can count. But underneath all the struggle, I began to live with Shambhu in my head. He is very real to me and he, being Immortal, simply cannot die.
I have been writing this book, as my son who is now 15 puts it, ever since he could remember me writing.
One of the first people who made me promise I would never give up on him was Deepa Mehta. I owe her much gratitude because every time I wanted to give up on him after a rejection, I remembered her and kept going. Shambhu wanted to live, and at some point it hit me, if all I need really as a writer is to share the story, why am I not doing that? Whose approval am I waiting for? Why is Shambhu sitting prisoner in my Word files. So here he is, after 10 years. Whether he’s good enough or not, he’s alive.
One of the first people who made me promise I would never give up on him was Deepa Mehta. I owe her much gratitude because every time I wanted to give up on him after a rejection, I remembered her and kept going.
What’s changed for you as you moved life into author-mode?
Being a journalist you live in a world of constant feedback. You instantly know, when an article is sent back to you with changes, or for a rewrite, or is up for discussion at an edit meet, there’s a constant flow of ideas. Writing a book, especially fiction, is a very lonely profession. People are grudging with praise and if there is censure, then it goes in silence. But equally I have learned to live with characters and words longer, and allow them to change and find their own way inside the book. It’s a struggle. Sometimes the character decides. Sometimes you do. Oh, and you’re always poor (Buy the Urban Poor book people, for real!)
I have learned to live with characters and words longer, and allow them to change and find their own way inside the book.
You have a slew of books lined up – is that the plan ahead, being full time author?
For the longest time I told myself I was being a journalist until I could be a full time author. But the minute I began writing books I realised, and was grateful for all that journalism brought me. I think I have been made a better author for my journalism. I have learned research, integrity of writing, reference, to listen to people, record, analyse, and process information differently from journalism. I would very much like to go back to full time journalism soon. Also, as any journalist will tell you, we work best under pressure of deadlines. Without a deadline, we forget to write. Give me back my pressing deadlines please! And I miss the company.
Three specific tips for an aspiring author
1. Write for yourself, for the story inside your head, for what it means to you. There is nobody else to write for. It’s lonely, but it’s you and the book. Nobody else will get it.
2. Sounds like a cliche, but it’s the oldest lesson in the book — rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. If you’re not ready to rewrite, writing is not for you.
3. In the end, what you leave out and throw out is as important as what you put/ leave in. Be ready to kill your babies.
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