Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Twice Born

When I took a break from my corporate career in 2009 (has it been THAT long?) was both exhilarating and agonising at the same time. Exhilarating because I no longer had to wake up to the pinging of the inbox. Agonising because my bank account would not get replenished every thirty days.

On my last day at work, I sent out a good-bye email to my colleagues, and mentioned that I would now pursue projects that are soul-enriching and therefore, financial disasters. I had no clue what that meant – it just felt sexy to sound reckless and mysterious. A few of my colleagues who’d witnessed eccentric outbursts from me in the past, figured I’d be starting a cult, or joining one. A few others thought I was joining a competitor who’d given me an obscene offer; all this ‘soul-geel’ stuff was to throw them off-guard. But a large majority gave an all-knowing smile and yawned. They said this was temporary insanity. They laughed into my face and said I’ll be back in no time. I was not the ‘domestic’ type apparently. A few of them genuinely cheered. Truth be told, there was a niggling fear in my guts. What on earth had I done? What on earth was I going to do?

Here was the root of the fear - the empty time that stretched in front of me, everyday, without fail. Perhaps the scariest part of it all was the introspection: discovering that I was not passionate about anything. I’d watched interviews of classical dancers, singers, painters, actors, sportsmen; they’d all gush, ‘Oh dancing is my life’; or ‘I’d die if I couldn't sing’ and so on. I reflected – did I feel that strongly about anything? I drew a blank. I’d say that was a moment of damning realization – that I was empty. It was not about being an expert at something, it was not about becoming world’s no 1 in something – but it was about not having even a tiny piece of me that was distinct; that was removed from my what I did or did not do for a living. A piece of me that gave me happiness from within.

Somewhere in those dark moments, Kaivalya was born, although I did not know about it then. All I knew was that I enjoyed writing; I felt happy when I wrote and so I decided to take up writing more earnestly. I did not want to go easy on myself and take umbrage in blogs in short stories. I wanted a mind-over-matter challenge. I decided to do a full-fledged novel. It felt good, for all of one day.

Then, my best friend Self Doubt sat on my back like the Betal. You hear writers often say, ‘This story was in me, it was waiting to be told.’ Well, there was no story in me. I stared at a blinking cursor on Document 1 for days on end. But all that staring did help me understand what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a story that I would personally love to read. I knew it had to be one of my favourite genres: thriller and horror.

There was no eureka moment for me - I never woke up one morning with a story all worked out in my mind. I agonised over where my story would take place for weeks. I had no clue about the characters, or in fact what the story would be. For some reason, it was very important that I get the location right.

One of my cousins is an avid trekker, always dashing off to towns and villages bordering forest areas of the Western Ghats in Karnataka. He’d come back with stories of leeches crawling inside his shoe or of elephant herds crossing the highway. Once he spoke of an eerie spot inside a forest where his group had stopped for lunch. They were in a jeep, on their way to a base camp. All of them felt uneasy for some inexplicable reason; as if they were being watched very closely. They did not finish their lunch; they packed up hastily and left. They were all seasoned trekkers and were very much used to camping in dense forests. Nobody knew why they had felt so uncomfortable and edgy in that particular spot.

 And thus, I knew my story had to begin and end in the belly of Western Ghats - in those mysterious, dark, brooding lush forests of Kukke Subramanya, Sakleshpura, Bisle – the abode of the majestic king cobra.

As for the plot, it did not come together all at once; in fact, it never came at all - right to the end. I had to put together story snippets, like unshaped mosaics paving a driveway.  I just wrote as the words fell out of my head. I did not know what happened next in the story. But as I wrote, the sequences revealed themselves. It was like driving in the dark: you don’t know the road and you can see only a few feet ahead. To me, this was the best part of the process. There were some mornings when I knew what would happen in Kaivalya. I would write at a feverish pace for a week. And then, nothing. Not a word could be squeezed out of me. I called these the ‘blackies’. I had to wait out these black patches patiently till the next deluge hit.

A year later, the manuscript was ready. I did a bit of research on publishers in India and came to a conclusion. No one would touch my manuscript with a barge pole. It was way too different, way out of the ‘catchment’ demographic of quick reads and self-help titles. I never even sent out a synopsis. I decided to self-publish. I collaborated with the awesome Goa-based CinnamonTeal and Kaivalya came into existence in September 2010.

The glowing reviews that came in made me venture out to traditional publishing. An agonising year later, in December 2011, I received a confirmation email from Westland. They signed me on. And now here we are in 2013. Kaivalya is reborn. Westland decided to change the title to The Revenge of Kaivalya (I still prefer ‘Kaivalya’ J) and redid the cover design.

So dear readers, for this Halloween, settle down with kaapi and Kaivalya. I’m not a marketing whiz. I just about set up a facebook page at the insistence of a dear friend. I can’t give away mugs, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, socks or whatever it is the marketing fellows do...just to entice you to buy my book. But this I can promise – it is a sumptuous and entertaining read. As a chikna boyband once crooned – it’s only words, and words are all I give my book away.

I am not sure in which stores the book is stocked yet. But for within-India orders, you can buy on FlipkartAmazon and Sapna. For international deliveries, you may please order directly on URead website. 

Curious what Kaivalya is all about? Here goes...

Deep within the womb-like forests of the Western Ghats, an entity manifests itself at the malevolent moment when the ocean rises to devour hundreds of thousands. Kencha, an unwitting witness to Its birth, is soon found dead – his body branded with a strange message written in HaLegannada, an ancient version of modern Kannada. Even as Dhruv Kaveriappa, Chief Conservator of Forests - Hassan division investigates Kencha’s death, he senses an unseen danger in the forests of Kukke, Bisle and Sakleshpura. Animals drop dead; plants wither away and just as he feared, the forest claims its first victim. Shivaranjini, on vacation in Sakleshpura, suffers a devastating tonic-clonic seizure moments after she returns from a visit to the forest. Soon, she begins to exhibit a bizarre personality disorder. Perhaps there is an outbreak of an unknown rabies-like disease? Or, as ridiculous as it seems, could it be a case of tantric witchcraft? 

The truth unfolds in a dizzying maelstrom of events - a truth far too terrifying to comprehend...

© Sumana Khan - 2013


  1. Hearty Congratulations! Will you be coming to india to promote your book?

    1. Thank you Deepa! Not sure abt India trip yet.

  2. This is great! Congratulations.

    Cannot wait to get my hands on it! I do wish there were a Kindle version available in the US. How does creating a Kindle version work from your perspective? Just being a curious cat is all :-)

    1. Thank you :)

      If I had it my way, I'd do Kindle. The reach is instantaneous and widespread. But I think traditional publishers introduce e-books after an interval - their main priority is the physical book. Perhaps it is because of the Indian demographic - I don't know how deep Kindle penetration is in the market segment. I am not sure what my publisher's stance is. I hope we can sell enough copies for them to think of the e-version.

      But once again, thank you...and I hope you do buy the book, and enjoy it!

  3. Selling your book to the publishers is a tough journey. I am undergoing it right now.
    Congratulations for getting the book published. I have added it to my wishlist in Flipkart.

    1. All the best for your book Amit! Trust me, even after you are signed up...getting the publisher to give a bit of attention to your book is another tough journey.

  4. Hi Sumana,
    Congratulations !! I placed an order for the book through Sapna...
    Have been reading your blog for quite sometime now.... feel as if a friend has got her book published !.

    1. I am so touched by your comment Ashvini. Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the book :)