“Having books published itself is not necessary – having supportive friends and family is.” In Conversation with Samhita Arni…

Here’s an interview with authoress Samhita Arni, which I did for the Flight Magazine. Arni shares with us her experiences of getting published as a child, her challenges in school, taking chances to discover her choice of career and her views on mythology, society and storyteling.
When she was eight, Samhita Arni started writing and illustrating her first book. The Mahabharata – A Child’s View went on to be published in seven language editions and sell 50,000 copies worldwide, winning the Elsa Morante Literary Award, and receiving commendations from the German Academy for Youth Literature and Media and The Spanish Ministry of Culture.Samhita’s second book, Sita’s Ramayana, a graphic novel developed in collaboration with Patua artist Moyna Chitrakar, was on the New York Times Bestseller list for Graphic Novels for two weeks in 2011. Elle Magazine named Arni as one of twenty young upcoming South Asian writers to watch out for.Her latest book, The Missing Queen, is a speculative-fiction mythological thriller.
you can know more about her at www.samarni.com.
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Flight: How did you get into the world of writing? How did you start?
 
Sam: I started as every writer starts – with reading. I loved reading, loved books – and that’s what made me try to write.
 
Flight: How did it feel to be a published writer at the tender age of twelve? 
 
Sam: It was nice to be published, but the kids at school weren’t very friendly to me afterwards – I guess it was in part because I got a fair bit of attention in the media etc. It’s also tough to deal with this later on in life – very little that one can accomplish later on – good grades, etc – can ever measure up to being published.
 
Flight: All four of your books are based around mythology. What intrigued you into writing about Indian Mythology at a young age?
 
Sam: Three books. I love mythology, it’s what interests me – original versions and retellings, and how mythology is often timeless and reflects situations and issues that every society, in every time, faces.
 
Flight: How was life as a child? You were already a published author before you joined high school! Was school fun?
 
Sam: I’ve changed eight schools and they were all rather different. It was important, though, when I changed schools not to let other students know about my books. If they did learn about it -there was distance, sometimes jealousy. I just wanted them to like for who I was and accept me as just another kid. I learnt, early on, to keep my books to myself. Now that I’m much older I’m glad I did that. Life is not about what you achieve, or how successful you are, or how many books you write – it’s about relationships with friends and family – that’s the most important thing, and that’s strangely – what publishing at a young age taught me. Having books published itself is not necessary – having supportive friends and family is.
 
Flight: We see, all your books tell the stories of traditional epics from a “different” perspective. What have you got to say about it?
 
Sam: That’s what makes it interesting to me. There’s nothing challenging or interesting about retelling the story exactly the same way storytellers have retold it before – there’s no need for that book or story if there’s already a version that has the exact same message. 
 
Flight:  Are you a feminist? What do you say about your books “Sita’s Ramayana” and “The Missing Queen” being based on women and their roles in society?
 
Sam: Yes, and if you want to know – read my books!
 
Flight: Did you always know you were going to be a writer? What was your parents’ role in it? Was there any debate on not being a doctor or an engineer?!
 
Sam: No, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer. I toyed with wanting to be an astrophysicist – I love science fiction! Yes my parents would have preferred me, during college and afterwards to have a picked a more stable, conventional career. But I knew I wasn’t going to be happy doing what they wanted me to do – so I stood up for myself. I studied film in college and After college I had a job offer with a tv channel in New York, in the programming department, and my parents were excited and wanted me to take up the job. However, I turned out the job and bought myself a one-way ticket back to India. I didn’t like living in the US, and my instinct was that I’d have more freedom and opportunity to discover what interests me here in India. So I came back. My parents weren’t happy with my decision and argued with me a about it, but it was what I wanted to do – and they’ve always encouraged me to make my own choices.
 
Flight: You illustrated the first book you wrote. So did you have any inclination towards art as well?
 
Sam: I think i do. And I like visual storytelling – which is why I studied film. I’ve also worked on a graphic novel, and I have written scripts for TV (for a tv series that aired in Kabul, Afghanistan, about the Afghan police) and film scripts as well. My first film  – Good Morning Karachi – was released last year, and will premiere in European Theaters next month.
 
Flight: How does one go about being a PROFESSIONAL writer? What advice do you give to young and aspiring writers?
 
Sam: My advice – don’t write because you want to be a a writer. Write because you have a story that you are compelled to tell. You’ll face a LOT of failure – so be prepared for that. 
 

Flight: Thank you! It was great talking to you.

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