13 October 2016

Author Q&A Session #83: With Nayanika Mahtani

Good Afternoon my lovely and loyal readers,

I know I've skipped and cheated myself from this space for quite a while now. Well who can blame it on this ongoing festive season?! As I just wrapped up celebrating Durga Puja, the biggest and the most grand festival of Bengali's, I'm prepping myself up to get ready for the upcoming Laxmi Puja, the goddess of god fortune and wealth, then next in line is the festival of light, Diwali.

So with all those festivals running in the back ground of my life, alongside with my full time job, I finally managed to make some time to use this space to host an author interview of a really sweet, charming and talented Indian author, Nayanika Mahtani, who is here to talk about her debut book, Ambushed, which is an incredibly adventurous and thrilling book for children.

So let's greet this amazing author with a warm **virtual** hug to have a cozy yet edgy chat with her about the book she wrote, about her journey and about all those adventures. Hence stay tuned and keep reading my dear folks.

Read the review of Ambushed

Me: Hello and welcome to my blog, Nayanika. Congratulations on your new book, Ambushed. How will you express your feelings about this book that has already won the hearts of so many readers?

Nayanika: I have honestly been blown away by the response of children to Ambushed and the issue of tiger conservation. It has been so heartening to see that kids across the world have connected with the story- and have wanted to do their bit (like the book’s protagonist Tara does) to help save the tiger. Just recently, the children of Year 5 at a school in London read Ambushed and were so moved by the plight of the tiger that they raised a staggering £4000 for Tiger Watch, through a sponsored read. (Tiger Watch is an NGO in Ranthambhore, that has set up a school for the kids of ex-poachers, to give them a window to alternate livelihoods. All royalties from Ambushed go to Tiger Watch.)

Me: How did you do the research for your book that depicts the current day issue of tiger poaching? Can you tell us briefly about it?

It all started two years ago, when I read an article in the National Geographic. It carried the photograph of a jailed tribal poacher and a tiger – and that image stayed rooted in my head. Giving seed to this story.  To me, they both – the tiger and the tribal poacher- were hopelessly trapped. Without a voice. It was as if they were beckoning someone to try and help set them free.

(This was the picture in the National Geographic that started me off on this journey)

I started reading up about tigers and this huge international poaching mafia that traded in tiger skins, claws and bones. Initially, most of my research happened online. I spent days reading about and watching sting encounters with poachers, interviews with ex-poachers, the history of the Moghiyas – and how they retreated into the forests when the Mughal Emperor Akbar besieged Ranthambhore in 1568 - and have lived there ever since. Today, the Moghiyas are the world’s best tiger trackers – employed (for a pittance) to kill tigers by an international illegal wildlife trade mafia.  They remain a marginalised tribe with no other means of livelihood.
I then dug out my copy of the National Geographic and had another look at the article that had started me off on this journey. It carried an interview with a ‘reluctant tiger hero’ – a conservation biologist called Dr Dharmendra Khandal, who has dedicated his life to saving tigers and heads Tiger Watch, an NGO in Ranthambhore.

I’d been so inspired by his story that I had based one of the characters in Ambushed on him. I realized I should ask Dr Khandal’s permission to do this  - so I emailed him and requested to meet  – and he was kind enough to say yes.

So, last April, our family – my husband, our two daughters and myself – visited the Ranthambhore forests. We got the chance to meet with Dr Khandal and his wife Divya, who runs Dhonk, a craft collective that trains the families of ex-poachers, so they can make a livelihood selling their embroidered handicrafts. In the three days that we were there, we saw not one but 8 wild tigers – including a tigress who had very recently given birth to 3 surviving cubs (who have found their way into the book too!) It was as if the tigers had allowed me into their world. And I felt I had to honour that. And the only (small) way I knew was by donating my book’s royalties to the school Tiger Watch has set up.
(The tiger cubs we saw at Ranthambhore, that made their way into ‘Ambushed’ )

Me: How will you describe your journey so far as an author?

It has been an incredible, unforgettable adventure – and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it. The best part is that my two partners in crime for my writing are my daughters – who come up with all the best plot possibilities – as they did for Ambushed too! They are my in-house production crew- and have even created a book trailer for Ambushed.

Me: Was it always your one true dream to be an author?

Not really! Though I have to say that I always wanted to do something around story telling. After college, I wanted to pursue theatre, but did an MBA instead and became an investment banker. However, life came full circle when Ambushed happened  - and I am so glad that a certain tiger and poacher that I met in a National Geographic magazine, compelled me to write this book  - and that Penguin (Puffin) Books believed in the story.

Me: What other passions do you have apart from writing?
Travel, travel, travel…and especially if it involves nature and wild life

Me: What's next up on your writing sleeves? Please tell us briefly about it.

I’m working on another book series for children - it is historical fiction done with a light touch – and I cannot wait to see how kids will respond to it. The first book should hopefully be released next year. I’m also working on a couple of screenplays in other genres.

Me: Thanks Nayanika for joining me today on this interview session. I wish you luck for all your future endeavors.

It was a pleasure! Thanks very much Aditi!

Nayanika's Bio:

Nayanika spent her childhood following her parents across many incredible parts of India, with the longest stop being in Kolkata. Though she harboured dreams of becoming an actor in musical theatre, she followed the proverbial left side of her brain to do an MBA at IIM Bengaluru and became an investment banker. A decade later, she followed her heart to live in Africa. Since then, she’s been following the right side of her brain and is a copywriter by day and a storyteller by night. She now lives in London with her husband, two daughters and their goldfish named Sushi and Fishfinger - who spend their days following each other. Mostly.

Connect with Nayanika on: FacebookGoodreads


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