Interview with Vasant Davé, author of pre-historic novel ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’
As you know, I’m a big fan of historical fiction. Today, I have the honor of hosting a fellow author. Mr. Davé has written a “pre-historic” novel set in the Bronze Age. Our fascinating interview follows:
1. Give us a short synopsis of your book.
Samasin, a Babylonian youth, was falsely implicated in a murder. He fled to the distant land of ‘Meluhha’, Indus Valley Civilization, in search of Siwa Saqra whose name had dropped from the dying man’s lips. There he met a beautiful damsel named Velli and fell in her love, but was dismayed to find that she was devoted to another Mesopotamian. Finally when Sam found Siwa, he learnt of the mystery behind the murder. Circumstances led them to Babylon where they discovered the truth behind the trade between Mesopotamia and Meluhha.
2. How were you inspired to write this story?
After retirement in 2008, when I mulled over writing a novel, I found that there was hardly any fiction based on the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. I strongly felt that the innovative and the adventurous spirit of our Bronze Age ancestors called for many more stories which could be narrated to the world.
Having worked as a marketing engineer throughout my career, I viewed it as a ‘niche market’ of users who enjoyed reading about ancient civilizations in the form of fiction.
3. How did you come up with the setting?
Doing industrial market research, I had travelled frequently through the length and breadth of India. I enjoyed visiting nearby archaeological sites whenever it was possible, and had visited several Indus Valley sites like Lothal, Dholavira and Kalibangan.
I found that four millenniums ago, my ancestors built houses in rows cutting at right angles, and had devised underground drainage in all their settlements. They harvested rain water and built granaries whose solid structures stand firmly even today. Readers who are not familiar with South Asia might see a set of comparable images on this link to spot the sad irony (http://policyforindia.blogspot.in/2013/02/indus-valley-civilization-in-2013.html)
A setting such as this naturally appeals to an Indian trained as an engineer. So the moment I decided to write a novel, I knew where I would plot it.
4. How did you research your story before you began writing your book?
I did about 5 months of desk as well as field research before I started writing the novel. I read books and extensively used the Internet to know various aspects of Indus Valley and Mesopotamian cultures. I studied the Adivasi tribes of India, as most of them still live in jungles and are the closest reflection of what the people of Indus Valley would have been. I also visited several Indus Valley sites and museums to get a feel of the bygone era.
More research continued as I structured the plot. It was in the form of seeking answers to the doubts which arose as I wrote. Website Harappa.com facilitated contact with authorities on Indus Valley and Mesopotamian cultures, viz., Dr(s) Asko Parpola, Jane McIntosh, Richard Meadow, Rita Wright and Shereen Ratnagar who patiently addressed all my queries.
To be fair to them, I confess that I did not accept all their advice. Despite the fact that my suggestion about the possibility of human trafficking was dismissed, I included it in the narrative to make it spicy.
5. Tell us about the characters in your book.
Two of my characters evolved from well-known artefacts of the Indus Valley Civilization. Siwa Saqra, the Merchant of Meluhha, grew out of a figurine of a bearded man named ‘Priest King’ by the archaeologists. Velli, the leading lady, developed from a bronze statuette of a young woman.
Readers familiar with the ‘Dancing Girl figurine of Indus Valley’ might recollect an image of a confident young woman. In Pakistan and India, most women – especially those living in rural areas – are still subservient to men. It’s incredible to imagine that women looking as feminist as the one represented by the statuette existed on the same land 4,000 years ago.
6. Who designed your book cover?
Discussing about the book cover with Neelkant Choudhary, artist of old Madhubani style of painting in India, I highlighted my objective. It was to attract readers who enjoyed imagining that they were witnessing the happenings of a bygone era. I showed him photos of several artefacts depicting the people from Indus Valley and Mesopotamian cultures.
Neelkant took his time reading the manuscript, did a bit of his own research, and came up with a cover which depicted two important women characters in the novel – Meluhhan Velli on the right and Mesopotamian Ann on the left.
The first cover carried a brown background depicting dark clouds which portended a storm. Then one reviewer commented, “The gloomy cover design needs a facelift.” I appreciated his point and promptly modified the background to that of a bright day.
7. Who is your publisher? Can you tell us about your publishing experience?
I self-published ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’ as an e-Book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and several other book sites in January, 2012. I expected that the lion’s share of my sales would be generated from India due to its connection with the ancient Indus Valley. To my utter surprise, the book has been receiving a warmer response from USA, UK, Canada and Australia.
8. What advice can you offer other authors?
Other authors reading your Blog are likely to give me a tip or two on how I could further improve ‘Trade winds to Meluhha’ J So let me just recount an experience.
I had created as many as 24 named characters while in total ignorance of the ‘Point-of-View’ aspect in fiction. That statement should be enough to make your author friends click their tongue. In fact, the Publishers Weekly commented: “The novel’s epic scale and focus on ancient Mesopotamia are immersive. However, an ever-growing cast causes confusion.”
It took me a year to cut out less important scenes and condense my ‘epic’ by one-third, reduce the named characters to 14, and rewrite each scene from the ‘Point-of-View’ angle. The improvement in the average rating indicates that the value of the novel has risen for the readers.
9. Are you working on other projects?
No, Ms. Hawkins, I prefer not to write another novel when my first is not yet discovered by most potential readers. In the absence a traditional publisher’s support, it takes longer to create awareness about what you have to offer. So currently I devote my time to request bloggers for honest reviews, write informative guest blogs, give author interviews, and participate constructively in forum discussions.
10. What is your favorite quote?
I like Emerson’s famous quote, attached with a little appendix of my own: “Success is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration, (and a wee bit of help from the Almighty).”
Many years ago, I saw a cartoon which showed a profusely sweating man pulling a loaded cart up a steep slope. He had almost reached the top when a bump in his way made it even more difficult for him to keep going. That was when a giant finger broke through the clouds and gently nudged the cart to the top of the hill.