In the words of Francis Bacon, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and few to be chewed and digested”. The book, “In the City of Clouds” is one among them. Sarjana, had an opportunity to interact with Amazon’s best-selling Author, Sweta Rani Ma’am, an alumna of BIT SINDRI. Here’s a travelogue about the journey of writing. The conversation humbly reveals what it takes to be an Author. Have a look!

Sarjana: Apart from the general overview that we have about you, please tell us something about yourself.

Sweta Ma’am– Let me admit that the general overview is sufficient in itself and there is no other personality behind or beyond that description. However, let me frame myself in this manner: I am a Chemical Engineering graduate. I did my graduation from BIT Sindri from 2005 to 2009. In the same year, I began working for one of India’s Maharatna companies, a leading natural gas corporation, and I have remained devoted to the same organisation for almost a decade. I completed my MBA in the oil and gas sector in the year 2015 and am currently employed as a senior manager in one of the company’s petrochemical Installations. On a personal front, I am a senior diploma holder in Kathak dance and all of the creative characteristics that I attempt to incorporate into my personality stem from this beautiful classical dance style to which I am very attached. I am a published author. I’ve self-published two books, the first of which was a poetic anthology in 2018, and my latest release is “In the city of clouds,” which came out in December 2020. I try to enlighten myself through experimenting with language and writing, and I always strive to strike a balance between what I already know and what I seek to learn through my writing. And I believe this ideology is incredibly advantageous in all other aspects of life.

Sarjana: That was really a vivid description. Ma’am, we all have certain unique experiences of our childhood and teenage years. What were your childhood and teenage years like?

Sweta Ma’am– I’m not sure if it’s just me or if it’s a frequent occurrence, but I don’t have a particularly vivid remembrance of my childhood. But I can tell you that I was a good girl, by which I mean that I never looked away by any rule of parenting. I never looked away from books. I was good at my academics. And I had a difficult time finding difficulties because my childhood was super smooth with no bumpers and had full support from my family in all my decisions. One thing I recall is that we are a family of four sisters, each of whom is currently employed in a different line of profession. All of us have different perspectives and interests. So our collision of perspectives was the actual enabler and outlook builder in various facets of my life. That was how I was as a child. And, as a teenager, it was full of revelations and full of realisations. Apart from my studies, I had a fair share of physical, social, mental, and psychological outbursts, which I believe every teenager must experience as they grow up. However, I always made sure that such stepping stones did not come in the way of my development. So, when I look back and attempt to recollect myself, I see a confident teenager who, at the time, knew exactly what she wanted to achieve. Some of these problems evolved into transitory complications that faded over time. And, some of them gave way to constructive hobbies, which is when I began writing, dancing, and painting. All of these hobbies are among my favorites. Even today, that 18-19 year old teenage girl calls upon me whenever I try to keep away from distractions and I find her more wiser and prudent than what I am today.

Sarjana: Ma’am as we know that before writing, there goes a whole lot of reading and research work. What literary pilgrimages have you gone for and how was your interest in writing piqued?

Sweta Ma’am– The list of literary pilgrimages is very long. Because, when we talk about a literary pilgrimage, no matter where you go, no matter what state of mind you’re in, the common aspect of all pilgrimages is that the internal journey should be pleasant. That is exactly what happened to me. It all started in my father’s library, which housed a variety of books in different languages, genres, and of various authors. At that time, it was hard to contemplate what exactly those books were. I only had this much cognizance that there was a presence of books that were not academic. Around this time, the content started building inside me even if I didn’t take notice of it. But, the first breakthrough in this pattern of my literary journey was when I joined college. And, that place where you are in today, infused me with everything possible which is required just to have this aspiration of being a good writer. I met wonderful people, I met wonderful friends, I met wonderful seniors and some of those seniors were like, they lived for literature. They created such pure work, such honest work that either you can be very embarrassed that you can’t write so well or you can uplift your writing. So, these things saved me and showed me the way to progress and thrive in that direction. And, let me be very specific, the hostel room, that little yellow wooden table in front of which there used to be a wall where we wrote tiny descriptions of inspiration. That was my first structural writing place and so much has been manufactured there, including bits and pieces of this very book. Another pilgrimage that I want to talk about is when I visited historical sites and the stories told by the owner of the bygones awakened the storyteller in me. And, any place that can bring back the memories that have the power to create the visuals, I am up for that any time. However, one shouldn’t limit themselves to a particular place or a particular environment to write well. Because I believe, to write well what we need the most is just to have an insight of travel and a sorted peace of mind along with a suitable place.

Sarjana: As you have mentioned that literary works of your seniors were a major part of inspiration for you. Ma’am we are keen on asking what according to you makes a good story?

Sweta Ma’am– That’s an easy one for me. I think, creating a journey is the skill of a writer to allow and give this space to the readers so that they can experience the journey, which the writer has created for the characters in the plot, is what makes a good story. You can make your readers feel what you felt at the time of writing. For example- In “In the city of Clouds” the lead characters are Hridya and Aarav. If a girl is reading the book and she can very well relate to what Hridya thinks, what choices she makes, what she likes, then I think she is very well connected to the story. The alchemy of good story is narration. But, again to your question, I would like to add in my personal opinion that good stories are more or less a very elusive concept. Because one story has a proportionate amount of likes as well as dislikes. It is a bit subjective.

Sarjana: This paves the way for next question. Do you plan the storyline before you begin writing or do you just give way to it as it comes to your mind?

Sweta Ma’am– In reality, there is no set pattern. Sometimes, while I scribe, thoughts just strike and are kept safe which I don’t plan exactly. “Where will I put this thought?”, “Where will I put this piece in my story?”. I don’t plan it. It comes and it evolves during the process. But, usually, a framed outline of the story, especially the main characters, “What their background will be?”, “What the prominent settings will be?”,” What will their ride be all about?”, that is all there in the back of the mind, always. And the rest of the things evolve in the process.

Sarjana: When it comes to reading, various people enjoy different sorts of genres, be it sci-fi, romantic, adventure stories and many more. As a writer, is there a particular type of storyline that you think is most enjoyed by the audience?

Sweta Ma’am– It is, in fact, really difficult nowadays to accurately assess what readers enjoy the most, to assess reader’s behavior, and to determine where their predisposition lies. It’s because there is an ocean of books available in the market. Readers have a plethora of choices. Furthermore, there are so many different types of writers; the famous ones, the celebrity ones, the ones who are doing very well on the commercial scale based upon the number of sales of their books, the foreign writers, and the regional ones.

Therefore, it’s very difficult from the perspective of a reader about what is best for him or her. However, from a writer’s perspective, it is also difficult to analyze where his or her piece of work should be placed in the market. However, there is one tool or, to put it in another way, one area where marketing strategies are implemented to promote and position the book in the market depending on distinct reader categories. For instance, their age, career, backgrounds, social standing, or even their literary awakening, or the amount of literary interest they have in mind. You can analyze what exactly readers want based on these categorizations. Personally, I enjoy reading a wide variety of books. When it comes to reading, I don’t confine myself to any particular genre. However, I believe it is the storyline that strikes a chord with the readers by bringing them to a particular degree of reality check or truth. For example, it can be in any genre, an autobiography, it can be fiction, it can be non-fiction, even in fantasies, through your language, through your art of articulation, you can make unbelievable things believable. I feel those storylines stay in the minds of the people, even after they flip the last page of the book.

Sarjana: Definitely Ma’am! Imagination plays a key role in creative writing. “In the city of clouds” is your second book. How did the idea of a second book germinate in your mind?

Sweta Ma’am– The thought of publishing a book was always there. Because I enjoy experimenting with words and reaching out to people, I felt I have been endowed with the art of articulation, a narrative that might evoke memories and lead to enlightening journeys through the small narratives that surround us, the stories of people who surround us, and the forgotten ones. So, when I visited the Gwalior fort for the first time, I was very intrigued by the storytelling of the guide. Though the storytelling and the style of storytelling of the guides, you must be aware of, is full of masala, spices, and everything. But, that somehow awakened a storyteller within me. It was after that visit that I sat back with a serious intention of finishing my piece that I was working on and giving it the shape of a novel. So, I think it was at that time I was intrigued to create a story that would rally between two timelines and give a flavor of history to my readers. That is how the idea came.

Sarjana: The romantic story, “In the city of clouds” is a fair amalgamation of characters from both  15th Century and 21st Century. Can you please tell us a bit more about the book?

Sweta Ma’am– Yes, my pleasure. (Smiles) Romantic story; yes it is. But, that romance is not just limited to the typical one. The romance of life, the romanticism of life (emphasizes) is more of a focus in the story. The book is a contemporary fiction. A modern story that is entwined with a historical event that happened in the fifteenth century. In the fifteenth century, Maan Singh Tomar was a very renowned and mighty king of Gwalior and he influenced history in many ways. Not only because he fought great battles and established great cities, not because he built monumental structures, but one incident in his life made history. That was when he invited a common girl, belonging to a lower caste to be a part of his life, going against the social stigmas and everything. This bit of his life where he chooses love over every other thing inspired the present characters of my book who are Hridya and Aarav. And, the historical reference in the book is very brief, just enough to connect the dots. The book has two prominent settings; one is engineering college where the modern-day characters, Hridya and Aarav are getting introduced. They eventually become friends. But, as you unleash the pages and the storyline, you will get to know that they are strange in many ways, they are unknown to each other on different levels. And, at this point, I am feeling that if I keep on talking, I will give you the spoilers. (laughs) So, I should stop here. But, I would like to say that there are two primary focuses on the book. One is to realize the power of choices that we make in life. At one point, if we make a choice, we feel it is the best one for us. Indeed, that will be the best one for us. Every now and then, we change. So, the choice and its impact also change over the years. Therefore, we should be flexible enough, agile enough to accept those changes with time. And, the second intention of putting up this book was to relate an environment for the readers where they can dive deep into their custom memories of the college which is the best time of anyone’s life.

Sarjana: Hridya and Aarav, the protagonists of the story, have an endearing story. The story was so relatable. Ma’am, what was your inspiration to sketch such characters who are like each one of us?

Sweta Ma’am– You have answered the question yourself. “It was so relatable.” That was not a new thing. Everybody who writes understand that every next person is almost the same. Their stories might be different; their experiences might be different. But, overall the tiny bits, the bundle of emotions, those unavoidable quotas of doubts in our mind remains the same. So, these two characters also came naturally to me, especially Hridya. She is not totally me but also not me. Though, it was easier sketching Hridya. While writing stories, you also must have come across this experience that when we think about some character, in our subconscious mind, we think about the people around us. People whom we already know. I have met many Aaravs in my life. They helped me while sketching out Aarav and wrapping them up in my naughty imagination.

Sarjana: Indeed! Experience always comes to our rescue during tough times. The book ‘In the City of Clouds’ has a fair share of a story set in a technical Institute. Did your experiences in college help you to weave this tale of love and life?

Sweta Ma’am– Definitely! (Laughs) If I didn’t mention earlier, it is a story that revolves around college and has a fair stake in my memories of college. So, bringing engineers, their lives, their way of thinking, the people that we find in an engineering college in the limelight was quite fun. As I have already mentioned, I met so many beautiful people here, even after ten years I can vouch for this that they were the defining personalities in terms of friendship, in terms of statesmanship, in terms of leadership and so many beautiful stories that I could relate to that time. So, yeah! definitely, it’s entirely about my college experience, the first half of the book, at least.

Sarjana: While going through the book, I came across a unique term, “stomach tree”. We all have this tree rooted deep within us somewhere and it’s quite difficult being unaffected in its presence. What piece of advice would you like to share for decimating these fears?

Sweta Ma’am– I would like to begin by giving a reference to the original idea. We might have a fair remembrance of our childhood when we ate seed-bearing fruits and used to swallow the seeds. Our mothers would warn us that eating the seeds would lead to a tree growing inside our stomach. The main idea behind invoking this fear in children was to idealize their eating behavior. I realized that as we grow up, we develop certain fears, some stomach trees in our minds through different experiences. These are some invisible fears that exist only because we think they do. They are fuelled by our insecurities or our comfort in living with those fears. It isn’t always necessary to decimate these stomach trees because some of these help us to be consistently righteous. For instance, my biggest stomach tree is the fear that one day I will wake up with not the foggiest of ideas to pen down. This fear keeps me devoted to my writing. But if any such fear is compromising with your creativity then you must become aware and know that these are illusions and they can be worked upon.

Sarjana: Ma’am, although being a part of so called, Modern Society, there still exists lot of stigmas and taboos. Postpartum depression is one among them, a rarely discussed topic which you have beautifully described. What are your views on co-parenting, which probably could be one of its solutions?

Sweta Ma’am– Post-partum depression is related to all the social stigmas that the patriarchal society has adopted to torture women emotionally. Not intentionally, but out of ignorance because most people are unaware of it. Although, it is a scientifically established medical condition, this is a very real depression issue that is often overlooked, especially in Indian societies where there is no equity among parenting partners. You might have heard men referring to themselves as a ‘helping parent’. What they need to understand is that they don’t have to be a helping parent but just a parent, with equal duties towards their child. This situation worsens when the newly-born mother is also a working individual. This makes co-parenting of greater importance.

Sarjana: Currently, engineering tops among the list of preferences opted by students in India. How do you think has the craze for engineering changed since you have been a part of it?

Sweta Ma’am– I guess it has changed a lot. Students, nowadays, are more aware of different career options that are more promising based on their interests. And the fact that a lot of engineers end up in non-engineering jobs or jobs that don’t exactly match the engineering profile strengthens my belief. This shows that they are looking for options beyond the conventional offers.

Sarjana:  After completing the book, did you feel that you had let a part of yourself out for readers to read? Also, writing can be emotionally exhausting. So, how can a writer continue writing without being worn out?

Sweta Ma’am– Writing, more than a skill, hobby, or habit, is related to an inner calling. If you can listen to that inner calling and give as much respect as it requires, you are good to go as a writer. The process of writing is full of self-discoveries. One often gets wholly stuck and then suddenly liberated. One does not know when or how exactly that happens. In the process, our main challenge is to not adulterate our writings with a range of inconsistent emotions. This becomes more prominent when you’re writing a book because the overall duration for writing a book can range anywhere between  few months to a year. This makes our work more vulnerable to strange, inconsistent emotions.

Consistency and ongoing inspiration are necessary to stay self-motivated. Few things helped me personally: I always try to write in batches. I generally aim to write one page a day, or go incident-wise. I write about a particular incident in the best possible manner. If one whole episode needs to be stitched then I would sit for an extended period. I do face writer’s block at times but that is only a phase and should not dissuade you. You should have confidence in what you are writing and this will keep you going.

Sarjana Now that you have mentioned about writer’s block, how often do you face it and what all things you do to overcome it?

Sweta Ma’am- It is common and natural to happen. It happens to me very often. To keep my mind stimulated, I have some notions. Whenever I face writers’ block, I open the door and let these notions flow and inspire me. First, I religiously follow the ‘ one page per day ‘ rule. Even when I was at college, I aimed at one paragraph per day and ten new words to improve my vocabulary. As I approach near the writers’ block I realize that sometimes my writeup is just a bit more than scrap and I loathe it. But the fact that I am trying to devote myself to my writing relieves me of that feeling and gives me the courage to go on. The second is that you can always alter the setting and detours from your regular environment to change your perspective. Reading your journals and diaries is also a good way to rekindle your mind. Going over your creative materials offer you the assurance that you have it, as well as the notion that once this writers’ block is gone, you’ll be back on track. Try to shed the overthinker. That is difficult but try to do it and believe in your writing. You know that you are a writer and you have never not been a writer.

Sarjana: This question I guess every budding writers might want to know. What all impediments came your way while publishing the book? What all steps one must follow to publish their work?

Sweta Ma’am– The main objective is to identify a good and credible publisher and finalizing the essentials of the trade-off and the final deliverables in terms of marketing and sales. If you decide to self-publish, you will find it to be a quite hassle-free affair because if you have a decent editor and other services lined up then you don’t have to do much. However, you will have to bear it if you are looking for traditional publishing houses because they’re already swamped with writers, and you’ll have to wait a long time for your book to be released.

Sarjana: Connecting with readers must be a delightful experience for authors. How often do you hear from your readers and what do you enjoy most about connecting with them? Please share one of the most memorable interactions till date.

Sweta Ma’am- The most memorable is going to be today. (Smiles)

Readers do post their reviews. They do not forget to review my book, harshly or by sugar-coating, by any way but reviews are always welcome because it gives me the validation that they have read my work. That is more important to me. It is nice to hear their takes and takeaways from the book. And the best part of my engagement with my readers is to know that they were able to detect “the between the lines nuances” that while writing, I always doubted whether this will click in readers mind or not, the fact that they can capture it gives me the delight.

Sarjana: Ma’am, the definition of success varies from person to person. How do you see your literary success?

Sweta Ma’am– It’s not a success at all. (smiles) First of all, I would like to throw this question back to you guys. Do you believe a writer at any point in time will say that “Okay, now I am done! I have achieved everything that I need to do in my literary journey.”? No, I don’t think so. In the field of writing, there is so much to write, so much to read, so much to experiment, so much to explore that it is too early for me to even envisage that point, where a level of literary satisfaction is reached. I’m nowhere near to that. I have just started and this is my debut novel and in the list of first off first. I know what are the flaws and the strengths in my book. And there’s so much to enhance in my upcoming books, as well as so much to anticipate, that I don’t think I’m close to addressing this question. But, once again, I’d like to emphasize the importance of having a clear definition of success. When you are talking about the journey of writing, what are you exactly looking for? What are you aspiring for? Is it fame that you are looking for? Is it the number of sales or number of readers or is it your bars that you are setting to uplift your writing? If you’re able to define that, I can say that, yes, I am a bit successful because I have defined what success means to me, and I’m not going to tell you guys. (laughs)

Sarjana: There’s this notion going on in many young minds, including me as well that without having a strong grip on vocabulary, it becomes quite difficult reading a book. According to you, is this a fact or a myth? Your views.

Sweta Ma’am–  Based on my personal experience, I believe it is a complete myth because even while reading Hindi novels, I come across certain enormous words that I am uncomfortable with. I’ve never heard of them, but I believe the work is done if the message is communicated and the notion that the writer wishes to transmit to the readers is grasped. So, it is clearly a myth. You should not have any apprehension while picking up a book, whether the language is complex, whether the writing style would not come to you? These things shouldn’t come because you should be open to all kinds of books and all kinds of reading. And you know what? Here is one general assertion made about authors, or a widely held belief regarding the complex style of writing that the writers who use complex statements or who craft unusual phrases do so to appear smart, but I don’t believe this is the case. That is something a true writer would never do. It has something to do with their literary satisfaction. To a certain level, they do not want to compromise with what they think should be best put in this way, not just for the sake of the readers. Again, talking about what you should write is a whole different topic to talk about. But, once again, I have some justice to do with my words. That is why the intricate writing style leans in that way. Furthermore, you can always expand your vocabulary by reading complicated novels, particularly difficult language novels.

Sarjana: Ma’am, it’s generally believed that proficient writing and quality reading goes hand in hand. What all mantras would you suggest for budding writers to improve their writing?

Sweta Ma’am– There is no such Mantra that you don’t know, but read a lot to write a lot. Do not copy or imitate what you liked about some writer, instead, strive to grasp the thinking and emotion behind it and incorporate it into your work while being consistent. Keep the faucet open for the flow to come in. You have to write again and again. Just keep on writing.

Sarjana: They say, “Time and tide waits for none”. It’s fleeting. This brings us to the last question of this Interview. What are your future plans? Can we expect a third book to be on its way soon?

Sweta Ma’am– Yes, it’s already in progress. I cannot give you any spoilers. I cannot give you any idea of that book, but I started last year in September 2020 and the concept is already there in my mind. I am going to feature a personality about whom I currently don’t have much idea. I’m researching about her. Also, you can make out that there is a ‘her’ that is going to be in my third book. So yeah! I’m planning to complete it by the end of the year, or maybe at the beginning of the next. So, let’s just wait for it.

Sarjana: We will be eagerly waiting for the upcoming book. Thank you Ma’am for entertaining our request and giving us this opportunity. It was really an insightful experience interviewing such a humble personality.

Well that was the alchemy of beautiful writing. It’s easy to read but difficult to write. Being a writer, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. We call upon all the Bibliophiles out there to add one more book in their shelves and enrich themselves with the rich subtleties of this literary masterpiece.

You can connect to Sweta ma’am here –
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