• Monday, June 24, 2024

Interview with Deepak Dalal, Author of “Vikram-Aditya” & More

Discover insights from Deepak Dalal, author of the "Vikram-Aditya" series, in an exclusive interview with Frontlist.
on May 20, 2024
Interview with Deepak Dalal, Author of “Vikram-Aditya” & More | Frontlist

Deepak Dalal chucked up a career as a chemical engineer to write stories for children. He enjoys wildlife and the outdoors. Not surprisingly his stories are inspired by nature and the landscapes of India. He has written several books set in wilderness destinations like Ladakh, Ranthambore, the Lakshadweep Islands, the Andaman Islands, and the Sahyadri Hills. The Feather Tales is his latest venture is a series of illustrated books for younger children.

Genre: Young Adults

Frontlist: Deepak, your transition from chemical engineering to writing children's stories is fascinating. What inspired this shift, and how has your engineering background influenced your approach to storytelling?

Deepak: The truth is that I have no love for engineering. I was born into a family where everyone is a chemical engineer, so I drifted along with the rest and became one, too. We have a family engineering business, and in a sense, the business sealed my academic fate, placing blinkers on my head, eliminating all other intellectual pursuits, and steering me towards engineering and the family enterprise. 

It was while I was studying engineering that I discovered I had no appetite for engineering journals. Contrastingly, if I came across a wildlife or travel magazine, I wouldn't put it down till I had sped through it from start to finish. It was revelations like this and my insatiable desire to travel to wilderness destinations that convinced me that engineering wasn't for me. 

In those days, I trekked a lot in the steep and rugged Sahyadri Hills of Maharashtra. Those early wanderings were eye-opening, and I soon realized how little I knew of the hills. Each outing was like a voyage of discovery. We explored Shivaji's magnificent forts, stumbled upon tracts of wilderness that never seemed to end, found hidden lakes, and trekked valleys so deep and winding that we often got lost in them.

Other than trekking, my favorite hobby is reading. I have loved books ever since I was a child, and several have impressed me so much that I secretly wished I had written them. I have always harboured the desire to be a writer, and after several outings in the Sahyadri Hills, visions of a future I much desired took form. These hills were chock-full of adventure, wildlife and history - a perfect setting for story writing. And it wasn't just the Sahyadris. India brims with destinations like these: The Andaman and Lakshadweep Islands, the Himalayas, our game sanctuaries, 8000 km of coastline …, and I could go on and on. Very few children's writers have used India's wilderness destinations for their stories. I grabbed the opportunity, and that was how my VikramAditya adventure series came to be.

Frontlist: Can you share some insights into your process of world-building for your adventure stories? How do you ensure that the settings and landscapes contribute to the overall sense of adventure?

Deepak: Since I was a child, I have been drawn to the outdoors. In particular, wilderness areas attracted me. Wilderness landscapes are at the very heart of my writing. They inspire my stories. In a sense, stories are a vehicle for me to share my love of a landscape with the reader. My Andaman and Lakshadweep Islands books were inspired by my love for the oceans. My snow leopard book and my Ladakh story were inspired by the grand panorama of the Himalayas. My infatuation with the craggy and rugged terrain of the Sahyadris resulted in my two Sahyadri stories.

Frontlist: How do you approach the task of making each installment in your book series interesting and distinct from one another, while still maintaining the overarching essence of the series?

Deepak: When I select the destination for my next story, I visit the location with a blank slate. My traveling, my interactions with people, and my research - all help create a platform for storytelling. The deeper the research, the more time I spend, the more solid the platform becomes. For each story, a different platform is created, and hence, it is distinct from the others. The wildlife and wilderness themes remain constant throughout, and that is how the series' overarching essence is maintained.

Frontlist: Are there any upcoming projects or new adventures on the horizon for Vikram and Aditya, or perhaps new characters and worlds you're excited to introduce to your readers?

Deepak: I'm working on a book set in a fishing hamlet on the Konkan shoreline of Maharashtra. In some of my books, megafaunas are the main focus of the story. This is the case with my Ranthambore and snow leopard books. This new book, too, has a species of megafauna at the heart of the storytelling. For a change, the species is an ocean-dwelling animal – the dolphin. Specifically, the dolphins in this story are the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins, animals that are found all along the Indian coastline. The book is a 'work in progress' at this point. There's no guarantee that I have a story, but I'm continuing with my efforts and I hope something works out.

Frontlist: Writing can be both exhilarating and challenging. What brings you the most joy in the writing process, and how do you overcome moments of creative block or self-doubt? 

Deepak: There are two distinct aspects to my work – the research and the actual writing. The research is the fun part, as I travel, meet people, and discover different landscapes. The actual writing is the hard part. Writing can wear you down. The dreaded writer's block can afflict you, and self-doubt can drown you. You can either give in and abandon your book or dig in and stick it out. Over the years, I have learned that if you keep at it, you overcome the blocks and the self-doubt, and eventually, you have a book on your hands. The greatest joy in creating a book is that moment when the story all works out and you know that you have a book worthy of all the effort you have spent on it. 

Frontlist: In today's digital age, with numerous distractions vying for children's attention, how do you see the role of books in nurturing imagination and empathy while creating the joy of reading?

Deepak: For books and most things cerebral, the advent of the digital age is an unmitigated disaster. The digital world has presented children with an El Dorado of options for spending their free time. Although several intelligent options exist, children, unfortunately, choose the mindless ones. They chat endlessly, watch videos for hours, and play games. The wondrous world of books is forgotten. Discarded. Why read? Why engage the mind intellectually when there are so many senseless things to do?

Maybe I'm presenting a grim view. Yes, reading has been pushed to the margins by this digital onslaught, but we can fight this. It will take effort and cooperation. Parents will have to chip in and read stories to their children. Schools will need great librarians. Teachers who can choose the right book for the right child. Special periods need to be devoted to reading. A lot of innovative action and thinking is required. If we get this right, we can rekindle the joy of books, revive imagination, relight empathy, and enjoy all the good things that books and reading bring to our lives.

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