By Pramudith D Rupasinghe
Vijai Kumar Sharma’s revered father was in Academics, an author & writer. His family thus provided literary environment, with opportunities to read books and inspiration to write. He says he is a humble person looking after social welfare, Institution building, training, academics & writing, along with being a Mechanical Engineer from B.H.U. He took voluntary retirement from Govt. of India, with 34 years industrial/management experience. He believes that God has given opportunities to visit 14 countries which included advanced education and practical training in Germany and Egypt. He has penned several books and have been awarded for his work. The Asian Review is pleased to unveil this detailed and insightful interview with Vijai Kumar Sharma.
If you were given 59 seconds to introduce yourself to the world how would you do it?
I am grateful to God for the opportunities given to write six technical/managerial books jointly, participate in 14 International/National conferences/seminars in India, write book-reviews of fiction, non-fiction, technical, managerial & Hindi books and publish in 8 magazines/journals in India and publish other scripts in 2 foreign and 14 Indian publications. The total comes to 175 scripts in English and Hindi published in India & 10 abroad, 24 Radio talks broadcast over All India Radio, 1200 Abstracts/book-reviews & 60 blogs posted on web sites.
God has been kind to me to give recognition in writing as President of India award, Winner as ‘writers of the month’ bonus Shvoong.com, Interviews posted by Alumniportal Deutschland and 7 authors on websites, third prize in a contest by Raj. Patrika, former Editor-in-Chief of a magazine and former visiting faculty, paper setter & examiner, referee, guide, project evaluator, project guide, assessor. This kindness also includes six other major awards and some appreciation letters in technical field, from several organizations. I am grateful to God for my successful journey with words and I seek His blessings.
You are a busy professional and an author. Can you tell our readers across the world about how do these two poles connect? Do they really connect or on in parallel?
This is a good question. As an author, my contribution has been in jointly writing and publishing 6 technical books. Other 3 scripts of books could not be published. I have not written any novels or collection of stories so far. I started my life with a basic service in engineering to earn livelihood for myself and my family. My father was in Academics. He had generated my interests in Academics also, side by side. So the two things were in connection. But my other writing work like blogs, interview blogs, book-reviews, abstracts etc. should be taken as in parallel.
There are many points to be attended to in this process. When one has a job, family, children, hobbies and other problems of health and house, it is difficult to write a book. So only if one has deep interest and involvement, book writing can be done. For book-writing I have gone through the general steps like this: asking myself if book writing is really required, choosing a proper topic, thinking and deciding on an appealing title, making an outline, making parts of the book, setting deadlines for each part of the book, writing each day, setting the gadgets aside and concentrating on the book only, taking help for ascertaining the overall status and errors, taking breaks if required, verbal editing, getting the cover design done and proper marketing.
As an author from the Indian subcontinent, what is your opinion about the contribution of South Asian authors to the global literary scene today?
The contributions of the authors depend on the individual authors. A large percentage of the population of the world is living in South Asia and it has contributed in many areas including writing. South Asian Literature is in English and in many national and regional languages, also multiethnic and multicultural. In my opinion, it has been a substantial contribution for long, but it did not get due encouragement and recognition. Also the authors of this area did not get adequate opportunities. Sometimes, people do not get credit, in some cases, even if justified, for some reason or the other. In the global context, encouragement should be given, so as to get recognition.
Many South Asian writers have emerged on the literary scene and contributed to the literature of the world. The literature is consisting of novels, short stories, important historical events etc. The literature of this region is lively, original, innovative, but has not been getting its due importance. Along with the literature written by the residents of South Asia, many of the books are written by people of this region, but living outside due to their own reasons. Several of these books written by such authors cover the way of life for such persons in countries like USA, UK, and Canada etc. Some of these novels have been influenced by some of the western values. Many of the writers have made a great impact in USA, UK etc. and won some awards and recognition, but they definitely deserve more.
You have written several non-fictions, and you review fiction across many genres. What do you think of the famous narrative that the fictions are more truthful and influential in social change?
Due to the social media a large number of persons read the books and they are influenced by them. Even otherwise, social media has been seen to affect various fields. Now reviews, interviews, blogs and other information are being provided in various social media and these become medium of making changes in the society. Human power can be resisted and changed through the writers. It is expected that the writers will be able to imagine the things of future, considering the present reality, existing fear and unbalanced development in the society and take us out of the problems. For making changes, we should have goals based on vision, not just planning by so called experts but by experts thinking out of the box. In the past also, literature has contributed in making changes and shaping the things in society. This role should be allowed to continue.
A large number of novels are being written mostly on the imagination of the authors, though to some extent affected by their personal experiences and views. So after reading these novels, people get different ideas. A fiction can be used for social change by imagining or dreaming things for a new way in the society. We should have a vision through fiction, of a future set up as we would like to have, having drastic changes through radical ideas. A book of fiction has the capability to influence and change our life partly or completely, due to the opportunity to go outside of the present reality of the world, into an imaginary world due to the plot and the roles of the characters. The thoughts of the fiction stay for a long time. Communication through a novel is very powerful.
When you review a work of fiction, what are the key elements you look at if the story is set out of your familiar cultural context?
My basic point for book-review is input-output. Any input as effort, work, and activity in any form should have output but it may even be intangible. A book of fiction is for entertainment, it should fulfill this part adequately and it should keep the interest of the reader. The same yardstick applies to other categories also. But it will be an additional point in its favour, if it also sends out a clear, positive and beneficial message for the readers.
For a fiction book, there are six major elements viz. character, plot, point of view, setting, style and theme. While reviewing it, I normally start with book title, name of the author and other details of the book like no. of pages, price, ISBN etc. Then while writing the review, I introduce the book, outline its contents, give a brief summary of the story of the book or the plot, main characters and their role and highlight some important aspects or parts of the book or Chapter or theme, if possible a few examples as quotes, giving my evaluation thereof, and summarize as conclusion. Constructive and friendly criticism, honest & unbiased feedback & its usefulness are given briefly. General points about style of the author, simple and easy to understand language, printing mistakes, grammar and spelling errors, quality of paper, and design of the cover of the book are also given. However, I do not reveal the end of the story, so that interest of the reader remains alive.
How much research involves in your books? Can you elaborate on your writing process?
The books published so far by us are Non-fiction books, for the readers to meet their requirements in technical & academic books category, which have been generally written as per the requirements. So here the need of research is limited. Here research is required for adding sources, references or for obtaining information from other books to complete the requirements of the book. A right research plan varies from book to book. Sometimes overemphasis on research, causes delays in completion of the book. For academic books, we have to write clearly, in a simple language and in a concise manner, in short sentences and keeping focus on the topic so that the readers can understand well. The writing process for academic writing is for conveying knowledge, for understanding & giving information. Basically, writing process can be taken as to consist of planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising, editing and publishing.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? How did you overcome it?
A writer’s block may happen due to various causes. Fortunately I have never experienced Writer’s block, as such. So the question of indicating the method of my overcoming it does not arise. However, when I look back in the hindsight now, I feel that I was involved in writing work, mostly for technical topics, on piecemeal basis. Earlier I used to write by hand. Now I type on my laptop. This is the only difference. But without having experienced such blocks, generally I have been following a system of giving breaks on my own, during my work, on the same day. This has been done when I am feeling tired. During this break, after leaving my desk, I may go in for a glass of water or a cup of tea, chat with my family for a while, phone somebody, go out for a short walk etc. Sometimes I have had to leave the script incomplete for several days even, due to paucity of time. May be all these helped me, without my knowledge. It may however be stated that several techniques are said to be available for this purpose, which however may vary from person to person.
You were asked to do a work of fiction set in India, what would your choose to write about? Why?
According to me the most important, delicate and sensitive aspect is the relationship between a husband and wife, especially in India. Although marriage is a beautiful institution, problems have been encountered from time to time in different cases and over a period of time, the things have been changing. Therefore if at all I have to write a novel, I would choose to write about it.
As an author, what is the most unforgettable moment of your life and why?
In my young age, I was very keen to see my name and my photo, on a book, as an author. At one stage, it was decided that three authors will jointly write and publish a text book in Physics in Hindi language, for graduate level students. I was one of the authors and the second author was one of my former Professors, whom I held in very high esteem and it was my commitment to him to substantially contribute to get the book completed. The third author was another Professor. I had taken lot of pains since this was my first major attempt to get a book published, even if jointly. Physics was one of my pet subjects. Hindi is my mother tongue. I knew the requirements of the students. I certainly wanted it to be a success. I also used standard glossaries for choosing the appropriate words, where required and also edited the work. I had put my heart and soul into it, even though this work was taken up during the personal free time available, during the period of my full time service.
After completing the manuscript, and subsequent discussions, all our efforts failed to get the book published. It appeared that the publisher was not willing to take the risks involved due to the expected inadequate sales of the book and so the publishing of this book was rejected. Such a book would have opened up avenues for teaching and learning Physics in Hindi language. You can imagine the agony of the authors in such a situation. It hurt me a lot. Finally I had no option but to destroy the complete manuscript. As an author, it is absolutely an unforgettable event in my life, since I failed in my very first attempt to get a book published.
Social media has conquered everything in the modern world; publishing is no exception. What do you think of this new reality as an author?
In my opinion, it should be taken as a robust opportunity. Social media platforms are important for different types of persons, including the authors, for self-presentation, publicity, contact and connect with readers, cultivation of community of the readers & marketing etc. Through social media, we are able to obtain and give feedback, form groups or community of writers and authors even amongst those from long distances and whom we have never met, render cooperation and help the other authors. The readers also come close to the authors through tweets, re-tweets, comments, emails, joining groups on Facebook, interacting with other groups, interacting with other writers etc. We, the authors should build the relationship in a genuine way, try to promote our book online by spreading the information about the book, sending email messages, through blog posts, articles and influencers, giving advance copies etc. Considering in an overall manner, social media is very useful, since the response and communication is very fast, the speed of writing and publishing of books is tremendous and self-publishing opportunity is very helpful.
There are thousands of new authors emerging from India; what is your advice for them?
First of all, the new emerging authors should do some introspection and homework to find out, as to what exactly they want to do, why they want to do, whether on part time or full time basis, what is the final goal and assess themselves whether they have passion for writing. Then we should identify those things which interest us, which we love and on which we would like to write. For this we should hold discussions with family, friends, and known writers, authors, publishers & reviewers for matters like kind of book, topic, number of pages, method of publication etc. and do some research. We should prepare the outline, plan from broad picture to small parts/activities, write drafts, revise drafts, get feedback, carry out editing etc. Writing, writing and self-reviewing should be continued. Points like title of the book, decision about the publisher, cover design, marketing etc. are also to be considered.
But we must write and continue to write, and not feel dejected, even if the scripts are rejected by the publishers. Every author must have received one or more rejection letters. Assessment of a book for publication is purely subjective and not like measuring a product in engineering, with a measuring instrument. But we should have open mind to consider the constructive criticism in a positive manner. Failure is the first step to success. We should have self-confidence for our success. We should be clear as to what is required by the people, what we want to tell the people, what we are capable of telling the people through the book. There is enough competition in all fields including in the book writing field. But this should not deter any writer. We must enjoy writing and continue to write and enjoy.
“Writing in the times of pandemic” how do you face this?
Writing of a book requires many long undisturbed sittings. In normal circumstances, this is quite difficult. Normally a writer gets disturbed as he has also to look after some of the family needs, household and market works. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. In the pandemic period, since there were several lockdowns for long periods and also there were restrictions for outside movements, many people got free time at home in this period. But many activities could be performed online from home. Many companies allowed employees to carry out official work from home, by online working. Work from home got extended to working from anywhere, not necessarily from the same station. So lot of flexibility was observed. Writers also got more time for writing and thus the quantum of writing also increased. According to my information informally received, some authors completed partly or fully, some books for publication. I have used this period to write blogs, interview blogs, the proposed book and other works at home. But for this small benefit, I would not, and for that matter, no one would like to ever accept the horror of this pandemic.
There is a saying that writers never stop writing. Do you have anything in the pipeline for your readership?
Yes, you are very right. Writers never stop writing and should not stop writing. I have continued to write for so many years and I wish to write for many more years. At the moment I am giving finishing touches to a self-help book for the young persons, based on the experiences of my life. I hope it sees light of the day soon. Another book which is being jointly written and is based on weekly discussions by some intellectuals, over a long time, on general topics, is in the pipeline. But my other writing works like book-reviews, blogs, interview blogs etc. are in progress.
Any final parting remarks?
I convey my grateful thanks to Mr. Pramudith D. Rupasinghe for extending an invitation to me to participate in this “Author interview” feature and respond to the questions for “The Asian Review” web site. Even after posting of this interview, I desire to have continued association with “The Asian Review”. I also convey my grateful thanks to the readers for going through this Interview. I wish that all the readers should continue to read a lot, write a lot, should continue to be happy and should take care. I convey my best wishes to Mr. Pramudith D. Rupasinghe and the readers for their continued success in their future literary pursuits.