Author: In The Footsteps Of Rama: Travels with the Ramayana -Vikrant Pande, PGP 1992

A simple thought of translating a book of interest for his friends led Vikrant to be the writer he is today. He has translated over 12 books from Marathi to English and In The Footsteps Of Rama: Travels with the Ramayana is his first independent non-translational book. When asked what the book is about – He simply said “in a sense, it is mytho-travelogue retracing Lord Ram’s travels through his exile”. His enthusiasm and interest in Indian history comes through clearly from all his work. Many of his translation works and upcoming books-in-writing are a reflection of a rich past and has a takeaway for every reader. An up & close interview with Vikrant Pande about his book and journey as an author.

And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time – T. S. Eliot

Please tell us something about yourself.

I graduated from IIMB in 1992 and worked till 2014 in various roles, largely in financial services. In 2014 I wanted to move out of the corporate rat race and found ‘Education’ as a nice sector to be in. I got an opportunity to start and head India’s first Skills University, TeamLease Skills Univ which was based at Baroda. I like Baroda as I was born there, did my engg and was married there. So I grabbed the opportunity. It was also a way to move slowly into non-corporate roles to allow me to pursue my translations, which I had just begun.

How and when did you get into writing? Please tell us about your journey from a corporate to a writer.

For a lark, I translated Ranjit Desai’s short stories and they came out very well. To my pleasant surprise I realized most Marathi classics were not available in English. I was lucky as I met an editor in HarperCollins who instantly gave me a carte blanche to translate any book which I liked. My first one was Ranjit Desai’s Raja Ravi Varma as I was then collecting some of his oleographs and had done an exhibition cum sale of the same with Maneka Gandhi’s NGO in Delhi. The journey in translations began after that and I have done 12 translations so far including bestsellers like Shivaji the Great Maratha, Shahenshah, the Story of Aurangzeb, Rau, the Great Love story of Bajirao Mastani. My latest two translations were Duryodhan and Sambhaji.

Is translating more cumbersome than creating your own story?

I feel translating is more difficult; I call translation as ‘creativity within a defined boundary.’ The translator has to do consciously what the author has done intuitively. The translator has to get into the author’s mind to understand what he or she wants to say about the characters. And it may not be possible to always ask the author. He or she may not be alive. Also, the milieu, the experiences of the author are his own while the translator has to imagine all that. So it is not cumbersome but surely more challenging. Which is why most translations look like transliterations. The author has to consciously keep in mind the reader is NOT the original language reader and should write accordingly. I have to be careful about the words and phrases I use.

Please tell us about your new book – In The Footsteps Of Rama: Travels with the Ramayana.

It started when we, that is me and my friend Neelesh Kulkarni who is the co-author, asked ourselves questions like where Chitrakoot and Kishkindha were? I asked around a hundred of my acquaintances and found that 98 did not know the answer. Most didn’t know Kishkindha is next to Hampi. That made us curious. What about stories that are local? The unknown and lesser-known- those which are not there in Valmiki and Tulsi? How many Ramayans? It was a set of endless questions. We didn’t want to write a story of Rama. We wanted to experience the travel first hand and then write the stories which we discover there.

What kind of research went into writing this book?

The first was about geography itself. We stuck to Valmiki as far as the places are concerned. The next was to plan a visit there with the intention of spending at least a week or ten days in most places. We read Valmiki, Tulsi, Kamba and Eknath’s Ramayan. And many books written about the main characters.

Did you have any fascinating/ extraordinary experiences while researching or writing this book?

There were adventures, surprises and emotionally charged experiences. Like finding temples in Chitrakoot where the Ramcharitmanas is being recited 24/7 for more than 40 years. Or the amazing jungles in Sri Lanka where the war took place. Visiting some of the caves near Istripuram is another beautiful experience. The serenity of Sarayu at Faizbad near Ayodhya, the scary parts of Dandakaranya, the beauty of Hampi and Kishkindha, the fascinating stories at Rameshwaram and the sheer natural beauty as we traverse through the tea gardens of Sri Lanka- they were all mesmerizing. Meeting people devoted to the faith was mind-boggling.

Any upcoming projects that you are really excited about.

There are many ‘works in progress’ like my book tentatively titled From Princes to Peasants, 200 years of history of State Bank of India, being published by Amazon Westland in next few months. A translation of Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s biography. Then there are ‘thoughts in progress,’ like a mythotravelogue on the parikrama of Narmada and a business book on brands of Gujarat. And a few other translations being discussed with my editor in Amazon. There are many such works which I foresee myself being occupied for the next few years.

How has writing impacted your life as an individual?

I am blessed in many ways; I get to read fascinating books, I meet fascinating people, I have an avocation which is becoming a vocation. I am able to spend 4 to 5 hours a day for the next few years on the projects already signed.

Any words of advice for aspiring writers?

Everyone has a story and many of us want to write. It is important to understand whether any interest, be it writing, skiing, mountain climbing, storytelling, hosting quiz competitions, coaching individuals, consulting- is it an inclination, a weekend activity, timepass, hobby or genuine passion. Ask yourself whether you can do that 5 hours a day for many years. Then it is worth pursuing it as full-time work. Same for writing. It does not pay money. Yes, one can earn a little but it does not substitute for the money one gets being an IIM grad. Finding an agent is crucial. The story or the book need not be unique. It has to be told in a different way. The topic can be as well known as Ramayan. On writing: the single most relevant advice I got- write a line, a para, a page—each day. There is nothing like going to the mountains or sitting by the seashore and waiting for inspiration. Writing is a mundane, boring job that needs the discipline of doing it each day; whether a few lines or a few pages.