Thirty-nine-year-old Shivendra Kapoor is an instrumentation engineer by profession, and an astrologer and writer at heart. Shivendra has published twenty-five short stories (both fiction and non-fiction), several educational and technical articles, and some book reviews in reputed publications like the Strategic Book Publishing, The Times of India, The Hilt, Cheeky Angles, among others. In 2019, his story The Doctor who Cured me was included in the book titled Dear People, with Love and Care, Your Doctors: Heartfelt Stories about Doctor-Patient Relationship published by Bloomsbury.
As Shivendra prepares to publish his debut masterpiece, Answers & Beyond, we had the chance to have a candid conversation with him.
You have written several short stories, which have been received quite well by readers and critics alike. What prompted you to author a full-fledged book?
Coming from an engineering background, I wasn’t quite sure if I could actually write a book. In fact, I had no idea how to pen down a story, let alone author an entire book. My journey actually started with a very short story, which I had written casually. But, as fate would have it, it was published in a local supplement of the Times of India in 2003. This happened while I was undergoing one of the most testing times in my life. That published piece gave me the much-needed motivation to take my focus off that chaos. This was followed by some stints as an advertising copywriter. I also happened to write gags for some TV comedy shows. I even learned to work as a news anchor.
That said, I realized I was fulfilling the needs of others, and that I was unable to express myself as freely as I would have liked to. Still, I continued publishing some short stories here and there, and tried to participate in writing contests, contribute to anthologies, post in magazines, and so on. Some attempts were successful, while others ended in utter disappointment.
Even so, I first felt like writing a full-fledged book in 2006, while I was on deputation in Canada. It was there that I had sufficient time to both work on my writing skills and enjoy the scenic beauty of my surroundings.
I even had the opportunity to share a short story for an anthropology that was being written and edited by a US-based author. Luckily for me, the story was accepted, and the book was published in 2009. I was in seventh heaven when I first received the hard copy of the book from the States and saw my story, The Undergarment Child, published in it. It was here that I decided to be an author.
But the trials and tribulations of life prevented me from actually working on it for a long, long time. For the next seven or eight years, I kept on writing short stories, articles, and technical papers. On my thirty-fifth birthday, with around thirty published works to my credit, I finally made the firm resolution to publish a book under my name. That is how I started off with Answers & Beyond.
Most writers these days begin their journey with fiction. What motivated you to foray into writing a non-fiction novel? Do you think it was a calculated risk, or was it something instinctive on your part?
Well, I love fiction, but I personally believe that even a small thought of fiction has an element of non-fiction. While Answers & Beyond is a non-fiction, it has its fair share of fiction as well.
To quote a sentence from – in fact, the very first sentence of – my book’s prologue, “In the world of fiction, there is always an important contribution of a non-fiction element. Nothing is purely fictional. Even a thought of fiction has somewhere a connection to a non-fiction element.”
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me nineteen officially recorded revisions and around four years of full-time writing to complete my manuscript, find a publisher, and get it ready for its release. Right now, we’re waiting for the pandemic to relent, so we can present the book to the world (laughs). In fact, several major plots were penned down at the most unexpected places – public transport, airports, airplanes, railway stations, roadside stalls, dense forests – you name it!
Did you face any challenges along the way, or discovered something new?
There is rarely any activity in my life that has progressed smoothly (smiles). This is a reality, and I’ve had, and still have, a lot of trouble coming to terms with it.
Even though I began writing this book in 2016, there were several obstacles along the way, both personal and professional. Honestly, some personal issues were so intense that they actually motivated me to write another story, which was published in a book in August last year. There were times when I just trudged along, not quite sure what I was doing, with only hope to cling on to. The paucity of time and the burden of family responsibilities seemed to weigh me down whenever I had the urge to write. This prompted me to rework my writing pattern to adapt to those circumstances as best as possible. You see, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that COVID came knocking just when I was almost ready to launch my book (laughs).
Spirituality is often looked at as something outdated, something completely out of sync with the fast-paced modern life. What role do you think it can play in helping us strike the right balance in our humdrum lives?
Oh, I beg to differ. I strongly believe that spirituality connects. It knows the thirsty dots – and by dots, I mean people – that are desperate to connect for leading meaningful lives.
People who think that spirituality is out of vogue are actually too immersed in their materialistic journeys, which will obviously end one day. Even so, they find it hard to disconnect materially, so it becomes fairly boring, tiring and even frustrating for them to strike a spiritual connection. That’s because it takes a lot of time and patience to realize the benefits of leading a spiritual life.
From my personal experiences, I’ve seen that the craving for a true spiritual life is on the rise – not just in India, but across the world. I’ve been to many countries, and everywhere, the moment I hint at something related to the Vedic sciences – for example, astrology – people hop and flock near me. They are desperate to see and discover India, and there is a mind-boggling number of people who have even expressed their sincere desire to make the Himalayas their permanent abode!
What’s your take on astrology? Do you regard it as an art or a science? What relevance does it have in the twenty-first century?
Oh, this is the one topic I really enjoy talking about, so please bear with me a bit longer for this one (smiles).
Astrology works, works and definitely works. It’s definitely a science, but you need to learn the art of prediction for its application for the benefit of mankind. This is obviously easier said than done, and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I feel that spirituality is the only way forward to keep yourself on the right path of astrology – and I’d just like to clarify that I’m referring to Vedic astrology here, so as to distinguish it from Western astrology. You see, I am, by no means, an astrologer. In fact, I rather like to be known as an astrology enthusiast. Anyways, I’ve learned this big lesson during my extensive practice of astrology, which is that I’m not even supposed to trust my own eyes.
Now, several space agencies worldwide are caught up in a rat race to land on Mars and other planets. I think it’s a very materialistic and desperate attempt to get to the planetary bodies. You see, astrology is all about planets, the energy that they carry, and the influence this energy has on every living being.
If you’ve ever noticed, many people are ready to pay an astrologer – I mean a good astrologer – anything. Some are even willing to give up on their entire fortune, just so that someone can help them work their way out of their materialistic nightmares! Every TV channel telecasts an episode on astrology. Most newspapers publish daily, monthly, weekly or even yearly predictions. That is just how relevant astrology is to our society and the world in general.
Now, the problem is that there are hardly any astrologers who know the real science behind it. Most practicing ones have nothing more than superficial knowledge of the subject. This kind of ends up diluting the public’s trust in astrology itself!
Let’s take a current example here. There are so many scientific and statistical models that are being used for predicting the spread of various coronavirus-related parameters, like the number of possible infections, the possible number of fatalities, and so on. But none of them can assure you or me of an accurate prediction. If you’ve read the reports, they clearly say that these models are predictive in nature, and that these predictions may or may not materialize. No one can say anything for sure.
Likewise, astrology is also a predictive science. You are essentially predicting someone’s future by looking at something that neither speaks or conveys anything on its own! To add to this, there is always the likelihood of human error. No one is perfect, and this is one fact we need to accept and embrace. That is the only way we can clear up the air of distrust that has been built around astrology.
The theme of rebirth and reincarnation is still regarded as a taboo in several cultures. In fact, it is still looked at as some sort of a forbidden fruit in most non-Indic traditions. What does your book have in store for readers from such backgrounds?
My book, Answers & Beyond, has one word that would answer this question. And that word is ‘desire‘; the desire to find the answer to the one question that bothers someone the most in their life.
Now, how many times do we wonder why our life is riddled with questions that completely evade our understanding? For example, why does this repeatedly happen to me?, why do I keep getting pulled into a relationship I don’t want? and so on.
I’ll give you a real-life example: my elder sister has a birthmark on her abdomen. She’s my second sister, by the way. My first sister had died a couple of days after her birth. My grandmother had sprinkled holy water on her abdomen and blessed her, asking her to come back as we were waiting for her. The very next year, my second sister was born, with the birthmark of the holy water – at the same site! Surprisingly, even my horoscope suggests that I would have two siblings. It’s hard to ignore such “coincidences”. There are many more personal episodes that have time and again endorsed and supported my belief in rebirth and reincarnation.
Now, my book is obviously not about rebirth, though it does hint at it. The core focus is on finding the answers to the one most troubling question of our lives. As always, there is a catch – you need to know what that question is! The book also aims to help the readers discover that.
How encouraging was it for you to have someone as reputed as Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai write the foreword to your book?
That’s a good question (smiles)! Frankly speaking, it was a dream come true. Sometimes we don’t realize how a simple message can completely change the course of our lives. You see, it was just a simple SMS that had motivated me attend Dr. Pillai’s writing workshop in Mumbai. There, he methodically explained his intricate approach to writing bestsellers.
The workshop also made it possible for the participants to meet the then CEO of Crossword, Mr. Anup. During lunch, I used a touch of astrology to strike a conversation with him, and pitched my story plot at him. My manuscript was around 60-70 percent complete at the time. He was impressed by the plot and allowed me to send in the manuscript to him. He happened to really like it, and the book is now being published by The Write Place Publishing, which is the publishing arm of Crossword Bookstores. I even got a letter of appreciation from the Honorable Minister of State, Shri Arjun Meghwal.
Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai’s books on Chanakya are full of real-life knowledge. Personally, he is a very hardworking, down-to-earth and spiritual soul. He even invited me to his office and, to my utter surprise, his office was just a ten-minute walk from my residence! I would recommend all budding writers to give his writing workshop a go.
Did you eventually decide to edit a few things out of your book? If so, could you please tell us about them and why?
Yes, of course. In fact, it happened all the time, especially when I was rereading the manuscript. Curiously, most of the editing happened at the dead of night, when I would dream that I had made an error in the flow of the story, or had used a word inappropriately, or had even included a sentence that was a misfit in a given context.
My interactions with my friends and even my observations of strangers helped me realize that stretching a plot, character or situation too much kind of kills the charm to read between the lines. Actually, when writing a story, we often don’t realize that not everything needs to be mentioned. Some things have to be left to the readers’ wit and imagination. That, I believe, is where the real fun lies. After all, that is what keeps the readers motivated to read to the end!
How do you think the ongoing pandemic has affected authors and publishers? Do you perceive it as an opportunity or a threat?
In these trying times, sustainability and survival are everyone’s primary goals. Considering the massive layoffs in almost every sector, the publishing industry has also taken a hit. When the lockdown began, there was a sudden increase in the sale of books. However, as the pandemic spread far and wide and more and more people were forced to stay indoors like Big Boss participants (smiles), the publishing industry was always going to be hit hard.
That said, every threat brings with it a hidden opportunity. Many people who always complained of not having enough time to read books or conceptualize a story that had been in some corner of their minds, they actually got a chance to fulfill their wishes. A friend of mine, who was desperate to become an author and lives at a serene hill station, said to me, “I always thought I could write effortlessly when no one is disturbing me. I felt I could complete a book within five working days, but now – even after 100 days of lockdown – all I have managed is a meager 30 pages, and I’ve got no idea how to take my story forward.”
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? Could you tell us something about them, if any?
Well, I have many of them (smiles). Some are mere ideas waiting for their chance to be penned down, while others are intricate jottings in my journal. This is an excerpt from a 2018 diary entry.
A word of advice for all aspiring writers out there?
Be there for yourself and believe that your writing will turn out just fine. Sometimes it may feel like, let’s see, a foreign experience, but you will learn many valuable life lessons along the way. You need to put in those extra hours to polish your work and learn to shake off the negative thoughts and emotions that keep telling you that you will fail, that things are not going to work.
You also need to be wary of the many skeptics and critics who would criticize you unnecessarily, be jealous of your gift, and wish you failure with all their might. Listen to them – remember, anyone and everyone is a potential reader of your to-be-published work – and get the best out of their criticism, but do not let it bother you too much. Your happiness is what matters the most. Who knows, one day you may inspire some other budding writer with your book!
Your favorite book?
If not an Indian, which nationality would you have liked to have?
As a writer, which animal best describes your avatar and why?
Owl. It has a different look, is awake at night, and stares endlessly into the infinite, just like I do.
Which is the one author you look up to and would like to emulate in the long run?
Actually, there are two. Khorshed Bhavnagri and Ruskin Bond.
What would you do if you woke up a millionaire one morning?
Honestly, I don’t want to be a millionaire. The soul’s inclination is different (smiles).
Do you ever Google yourself?
Yes, I do it when I need my Facebook, Insta and Twitter account names (laughs).
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