Last month, I read a brilliant book called "The Tree with a Thousand Apples" written by Sanchit Gupta and I am still in a book hangover. To know more about the book, you can read my review here.
So, I got an opportunity to have a quick virtual chat with the author Sanchit Gupta and we talked about his writing journey, his books, publishing obstacles, research, backlash and his upcoming projects.
Hi Sanchit, please tell us about yourself.
Well, I am an engineer turned brand manager turned author and screenwriter.
What inspired you to write ‘The tree with a thousand apples”?
Empathy. I lived in Kashmir in 2009 and saw a 12-year-old Kashmiri Muslim boy sit beside a 20-year-old Indian Army soldier sipping cups of Kahwa together. My very good friend and roommate in college was a Kashmiri Pandit. I have heard stories from all of them, and I have seen that they are all right in their own world, yet wrong in each other’s. I just wanted to tell their story as honestly as I could.
I absolutely loved your book. Can you tell us about the research you had to do while writing this book?
As I said before, I lived in Kashmir in 2009 for a few months. The time I spent there interacting with the locals and the army people became a big source of my research. They told me about their history, about their lives, how they feel, what they want. My two very good friends are Kashmiri Pandits. I talked to them about their past, the experiences of their families, the little incidents or anecdotes that they would remember. Plus, there is enough material in books, movies or the internet too to help put together the jigsaw puzzle.
What is key is to understand that research is simply an enabler. What one really needs to identify is the core theme and the thoughts of the book, what are you trying to say. If that is in place, research helps you identify the how of it.
So true. Talking about the theme, your book addresses some important topics. Did you expect any backlash before going for publication?
Yes, I did. And I continue to receive so. You would have seen that the book does not take sides. I have shown the truth, and the truth is not partisan.
But those who are partisan or wish to be, do find problems when you show them a side different to their point of view. At the same time, I would say that most of the readers I have come across have kept their minds open to the book. They have particularly loved the non-partisan nature of the book or have been influenced by it to shape their own opinions better. That is my biggest reward.
What was your writing process like?
See, 90% part of the writing process is to think. When you are working on a project, there could be several days where you are not writing but simply thinking through. That is essential as it sharpens the axe before you try to chop down the tree.
When I eventually do begin writing (be it a script of a book), the single most important factor is discipline. Now, I must write every day. It could be 30 mins or 4 hours but it must be every day as that helps us remain in the world. Even if you give a day’s break, you come out of the world and it takes an even more time to get back in, or the worse, you write something that is not connected to your theme and the world, which leads to poor output. For this book, I used to write at night for 2-3 hours every day and then edit what I had written in the morning. This went on for 6 months straight.
The Tree with a Thousand Apples is a catchy title and when I read the book, I loved the reference of this title. What brought this title to your mind?
The phrase was part of the prose when I was writing the book. I romanticized this idea of a giving tree, the one rich with apples that is the soul of Kashmir. That tree doesn’t discriminate. It gives it fruits to both the Kashmiri Muslim and Kashmiri Pandit families as its branches laden with apples reach out to both the houses. It’s a metaphor for Kashmir. The tree doesn’t move from its place, it doesn’t order its branches to change their nature. Such is also the idea of Kashmir and Kashmiriyat.
The people, however, change. The way they look at the tree changes. They make it wither. The tree was and continues to remain silent, yet it speaks volumes. This phrase I felt embodied everything I wanted the book to be about, and hence later became its title.
Wow. It is always amazing to know backstories about the title or any element of the book.
Rejection is an integral part of the publishing journey. How did you deal with it?
The most difficult part for a total outsider like me is really to find someone who would be willing to read my work. I went from agent to publisher, through their official ids mentioned on their website and sent them the synopsis and sample chapters. However, either I didn’t get any reply or it used to be a standard rejection mail. I didn’t know whether someone even read what I sent to them. There is so much clutter in the market and so low attention spans that for an unknown to even get some face-time is a huge challenge. It took me 7 yrs and 3 manuscripts to finally have someone read my work. Once they did it (in my case my publisher Bikash ji of Niyogi Books), he loved it so much that the book came out in 8 months.
What did you learn while writing this book?
That any story that we want to tell must be told with heart and courage.
Which authors/ poets/books influenced your writing journey?
Khushwant Singh, Vikram Seth, Khaled Hosseini, Neil Gaiman, Ernest Hemingway, Premchand- to name a few.
Are you working on your next book? Can we expect to read more from you?
I am currently working on my third book- a grand tale of Magical Realism. It is a book very close to my heart and I hope to bring it out soon. My second book- Second Wind, is already out. Very different from The Tree with a Thousand Apples, it is a simple and relatable story of our struggles between passion and paycheck.
What advice do you have for someone who is planning to publish a book or new authors?
In the words of Richard Bach, a professional writer is an amateur who did not quit.
That's amazing. Thanks so much for your time and these amazing answers. I wish you all the luck and success for your upcoming projects.
Buy the book here.