Today, we feature two young authors. Anvita and Anika are sisters, currently studying for their 8th and 6th-grade exams, respectively. They are two-and-a-half years apart and separated in temperament by several yugas. They were twelve and ten, respectively, when they started reading the abridged translations of the Puranas in 2017. Their interests are reading, music, binge-watching Netflix, and painting. For a year they also published monthly book newsletters. Their favorite pastime, however, is driving their mother up the wall in any free time that remains.
A Year With The Maha Puranas is a book by these girls, a compilation of reviews of the abridged English translations of the Mahapuranas written by Sri Bibek Debroy. These reviews were written over the course of a year. The book includes the authors’ favorite stories from the Puranas, including interesting bits and different versions of commonly narrated tales. We talked to the girls about the writing process.
Tell us the process of framing this book. How did you do your reference and how did you share your work between yourselves? Since you read multiple Puranas, how were you able to keep track of the multiple shlokas, stories and explanations?
We never planned on writing a book. We never even wrote the reviews with the purpose of including them in our book. It was just meant to be put up on our blog. Once we were done with all the reviews, our father came up with the idea of compiling the reviews into a book. Our references were taken from the abridged translations by Sri Bibek Debroy and in a few circumstances, from the original translations of the Puranas as well. We didn’t share our work with each other. Since we have only included two-three favorite stories each, whoever wrote the review of the Purana first got to pick their stories first. Only in a few of the Puranas, you will be able to notice that we have repeated a few stories. As we were reading the Puranas, we would highlight the parts we found interesting and make notes as well to keep track of the shlokas and stories.
Now that you have understood the gist of the Puranas, do you intend to read them all in detail?
We hadn’t actually thought about it, but it very well could be a future project. As the short versions of the Puranas were a very good read, one can only imagine the joy of reading the Puranas in detail.
Tell your readers about some of your favorite stories from the Puranas.
This is a hard question to answer. There are so many stories I would like to share with you, but if we had to select a few, they would be:
-How Ganesha’s head was cut off (Brahmavaivarta Purana)
-Sita who was an illusion (Kurma Purana)
-How Saraswati, Lakshmi and Ganga became rivers (Brahmavaivarta Purana)
-The Ketaki Flower (Shiva Purana)
How do you balance academics, research and writing?
We didn’t try to rush ourselves. While reading and reviewing the Puranas, we would give ourselves enough time – about two weeks to complete each Purana, which meant that we would have two weeks to read and review the Purana. As each Purana was only about 80-100 pages each, it took us only a couple of days to read and understand it. This left us one week to write, edit and complete the review. We spent at least one hour each day, reading the Puranas and then we would write the review on the weekend. This left us with plenty of time for our other hobbies and academics. As both academics and writing are important to us, we try to give ample time to both.
What are you reading now?
We have read a couple of books recently. My sister Anvita, has recently read Draupadi: The Tale of an Empress’ by Saiswaroopa Iyer and the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I read the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare and am currently reading ‘The Vedas and Upanishads (For Children)’ by Roopa Pai.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
The writers who have influenced me are Roopa Pai and Rick Riordan. Roopa Pai has the knack of making her stories simple and entertaining. She also interacts with her readers which makes you want to read more. Rick Riordan writes fascinating books that are packed with action. His ideas are simple yet he spins these into bestsellers. For example, using Greek myths to create such an amazing series was something very original and also helps you learn about the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians and the Norse gods. I am really inspired by his creativity.
My sister likes the writings of Saiswaroopa Iyer and Eoin Colfer. She likes Eoin Colfer’s sense of humor, his originality and his fascination with Irish myths. She likes Saiswaroopa Iyer for many reasons, particularly the author’s choice of protagonists for her books – strong female characters who are both flawed and have their strengths. It taught her how flaws could be corrected and turned into strengths. Apart from this, she also likes Saiswaroopa Iyer’s unique style and the suspense that lasted till the end.
Are you working on any new books?
As of now, we are not really working on anything new, but we might think about new projects in the future.
Was lovely talking to you, Anika and Anvita! All the best for your exams and future projects!
We also spoke to Abhinav Agarwal, their father.
What’s your favorite Purana in the book?
I would say the Bhagavata Purana would be it, but it’s a favorite of many. The other would be the Skanda Purana, which is also the longest Purana, at eighty-one thousand verses, making it longer than even the Mahabharata! I am reading the unabridged translation these days.
What’s your advice for young readers today? Not many of them know about the Puranas.
It is indeed a tragedy of sorts that not only children but many parents also have grown up so disconnected with their literature. My advice for young readers and their parents would be this: make books and reading a part of your lives. Read books, buy books, go to bookstores, shop online or at physical stores, talk about books, discuss books, write about books, write your own book(!), go to old bookstores like Blossom and interact with other book-lovers. Remember the famous lines from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
“We are said to be what our deep, driving, desire is. As our desire is, so is our will. As our will, so are our acts. As we act, so we become.”
As a specific example, if you are a young reader, start with Amar Chitra Kathas. There are, literally, hundreds of them! Ask your mother, father, or elder brother/sister, to read them to you. Follow the pictures and words. See which other Amar Chitra Kathas contain stories from the Puranas, and from which Puranas. Hope this helps.
Thanks Abhinav for sharing your thoughts!