An Award-winning Writer
The Wise Owl talks to Dr. Alokparna Das, a print journalist for three decades and also a trained musician, having learnt both Hindustani and Carnatic classical styles. Her first book, 'Prominent Hindu Deities: Myths & Meanings', found mention in the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. Her second book, 'Haveli Sangeet', won the Golden Book 2022 and Woman Writer of the Year awards. Her third book, 'Abodes of the Sun God', won the Non-Fiction Author of the Year and Golden Book Award 2023. She has also won Research Excellence Award 2020 and several prizes at music competitions. As an amateur photographer, Alokparna has participated in various exhibitions and won awards for her photographs.
The Interview : Alokparna Das
(Navneet Kaur talks to Alokparna Das)
The Wise Owl talks to Dr. Alokparna Das, a print journalist for three decades and also a trained musician, having learnt both Hindustani and Carnatic classical styles. Her academic qualification includes Ph.D. in Advertising and three M.A. degrees in English, History, and Mass Communication. She has published more than one thousand articles in newspapers and several research papers in academic journals. Her first book, Prominent Hindu Deities: Myths & Meanings, found mention in the Encyclopaedia of Hinduism. Her second book, Haveli Sangeet, won the Golden Book 2022 and Woman Writer of the Year awards. Her third book, Abodes of the Sun God, won the Non-Fiction Author of the Year and Golden Book Award 2023. Two of her short stories have won national-level competitions. She has also won Research Excellence Award 2020 and several prizes at music competitions. As an amateur photographer, Alokparna has participated in various exhibitions and won awards for her photographs.
NK: You have published four books, of which two have won awards. Besides several news articles and academic research papers, you have also published short stories. Take us through your literary journey and what inspires you to write.
AD: Let me first talk about inspiration. For all of us, life is the biggest inspiration and the greatest teacher, and like many other writers, I, too, get my ideas from everyday life. I have heard professional writers say that ideas for writing come to them only when they are inspired. As a working journalist for three decades, I have had the compulsion of being inspired everyday as writing daily news and features was my profession. As a short story writer, my ideas are based on my observations and experiences. I am also inspired by history and mythology and my award-winning short stories are based on them. As a non-fiction author, my ideas are based on my academic training and research in Indian culture. When writing academic research papers on mass media, my ideas are based on current trends that I analyse as a media educator. Writing is both a job and a passion for me. Every morning, idea is the imaginary friend I drink my tea with; and writing is a tool for crystallising those ideas. Stories are not just made of ideas, they are made of life. Hence, my literary journey is a reflection of my journey as an individual. I believe that variety makes life interesting. Writing news is very different from writing a short story and writing on music is different from writing on mass media. I have, so far, experimented with various genres – from journalism to mystery story to historical fiction to writing on rare musical traditions. I have published more than one thousand articles in newspapers and magazines, and several research papers on mass media in academic journals. My first book, Prominent Hindu Deities: Myths & Meanings, found mention in Encyclopedia of Hinduism. My second book, Haveli Sangeet, won the Golden Book Award and the IIWA Woman Writer of the Year title. My third book, Abodes of the Sun God, won the Non-Fiction Author of the year in 2022. My first short story, The Charioteer, was one of the winners at a national-level creative writing competition; so was my fifth short story, The Lord of Avanti. My thesis, on other hand, was on advertising in India.
NK: Tell us about your latest book.
AD: My latest book, ‘Music in the Bylanes’, is on rarely heard regional musical instruments, particularly the Taus, Nafiri, Shreekhol and Sarinda, and the need to revive and preserve such instruments. Every musical instrument is endowed with an individual character that is rooted in the ethos of its region. My book is an attempt to understand regional musical instruments, their significance within the regional culture, their present state, and the urgent need for their revival, preservation and propagation.
NK: What prompted you to write about traditional musical instruments?
AD: The world of traditional art forms is fast shrinking and this is especially true in the case of musical instruments. Music and musical instruments represent the intricacies of both tangible and intangible heritage. Modernity, combined with the need for ease of playing, has led to the death of many traditional instruments. In such a scenario, documenting and celebrating master musicians and craftspersons who are associated with rare musical instruments is the need of the hour.
NK: Was doing research on rare instruments challenging?
AD: Yes. Since this book focuses on rare musical instruments such as the Taus, Nafiri and Sarinda, to begin with, it was a challenge locating musicians and instrument-makers associated with these instruments. It was also a challenge in certain cases to find someone who, besides being a talented exponent, could also communicate well about the nuances of the art form and its allied professions. Luckily, the musicians and instrument-makers I met were forthcoming in sharing their knowledge with me. The final outcome was an enriching experience.
NK: This is your fourth book. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
AD: While each of my books stands on its own, two of my books – Prominent Hindu Deities: Myths & Meanings and Abodes of the Sun God – are on religion. The other two, Haveli Sangeet and Music in the Bylanes, are on lesser known musical traditions. Similarly, three of my short stories deal with urban life, though each is in a different genre from the other.
NK: How would you describe your writing process?
AD: I believe that a writer writes for herself first and then for others. Writing is documenting your experiences, imagination and sentiments. Originality is the key to good and ethical writing. Informed readers appreciate original work. I feel writing is like making sugar candy; keep boiling until you have distilled the nuggets that captures the flavour you want. This also means that writing is a skill that needs practice. Writing for me is more than a vehicle for communicating ideas, it exposes the gaps between my knowledge and literary logic, pushing me to articulate my assumptions while considering counterarguments. I hope my writing process sharpens my thinking process too. At a practical level, my writing process starts with observation, which leads to idea. The next step is research – both physical and academic. Research is the most important step towards writing. For my books, I take up both academic and physical research. For instance, for my book, Haveli Sangeet, I visited various places across the country, met and interviewed artistes and also read a number of books and even visited museums. It took me almost a year to do this research. My family collection of thousands of books comes handy during my research. Usually, I do not write more than two drafts; editing and proof-reading are very important.
NK: What advice you would give budding writers?
AD: I believe that a good writer doesn’t really need to be told anything except that she or he should keep writing and keep enjoying the process. There is a voice inside you, listen to that. The two thing you are in total control are your attitude and effort; invest in these. There’s no substitute to hard work; however, do not be hard on yourself, write only what you enjoy writing. Do not compare your work or yourself with others. You journey is yours alone. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Explore new areas and enjoy the process. At times, aspiring writers try to churn out a number of works simultaneously, and are unable to do justice to each one of them. I believe that if one wants to evolve as a writer, one should keep writing, but also enjoy the process and not turn it into a task. Writing is hard work, as it involves ideation, research, editing, rewriting. In that sense, it can be exhausting. However, I also energise and recharge myself by writing. So, writing is both energising and exhausting as well as immensely rewarding.
NK: What literary pilgrimages have you undertaken?
AD: Visiting Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s home in Kolkata and his university, Visva-Bharati, at Santiniketan, have been akin to pilgrimage for me. It was an overwhelmingly spiritual experience visiting these places.Recently, I visited a village named Mungpoo, 35 kilometres from Darjeeling, where Tagore had spent considerable time.
NK: What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
AD: Some publishing houses employ ghost writers and monetise the process by charging hefty fees from those who want to have books published and paying a paltry sum to the actual/ ghost writer. This is a disturbing aspect of the publishing industry.