UAE-based author Smita Tiwari talks to LnC’s Jyoti Babel about her debut novel Kabir – An Inward Journey, her inspirations, interest in spirituality and more.
In this interesting conversation with the author Smita Tiwari, Jyoti Babel unravels details about her debut work, how she came up with the story idea, her creative process, her interest in spirituality and more.
KABIR — An Inward Journey a debut novel by Smita Tiwari was recently published by Blue Pencil Publishers. An Electronics and Communication Engineer by education, Smita worked as a Technical Evangelist in Infosys Limited. She left her full-time job to embrace motherhood and found herself drawn back to writing in her leisure time. A mom of two, Smita is currently based in the UAE.
Despite her background in science and a successful career, Smita had always been captivated by literature. When she lost her father to the pandemic, Smita’s writing found a new purpose — she sublimated her grief in lyrical prose. Her debut work beautifully weaves the universal themes of love and loss and celebrates the enduring connections that define our lives.
Her writing is a harmonious blend of sensitivity and depth, crafting a narrative that transcends geographical boundaries and speaks to the universal human experience.
About ‘Kabir – An Inward Journey’
Set against the backdrop of the mystical land of India, Kabir’s story unfolds like the verses of the renowned Sant Kabir Das. Wrestling with the weight of grief, Kabir is spurred into action, seeking solace and understanding on an introspective odyssey. His journey takes him through the vibrant tapestry of Indian villages, bustling towns, and bustling cities, each step a revelation leading to a deeper connection with the self.
As Kabir grapples with the complexities of life, his path ultimately converges with a celebration of renunciation, acceptance, enlightenment, and the enduring power of love. The pages of this novel are imbued with a profound sense of spirituality, encouraging readers to embark on their own inward journey of self-discovery.
Jyoti Babel: At the outset, congratulations on your new book. It is a pleasure to have you on the author chat session at Learning & Creativity. Let’s begin the chat with your debut work. Can you share the inspiration behind the story in your book, Kabir–An Inward Journey and what led you to explore the themes of grief and self-discovery?
Smita Tiwari: I deeply admire the everlasting teachings of Kabir Das and his philosophy, which emphasizes spiritual awakening and the inner journey, and I wanted to incorporate his lessons into a modern story. To be quite honest, I think we are all voyagers navigating the vast ocean of life, grappling with our griefs. It may be ineffective to try to find solace for our sufferings through external pleasures; genuine insight can only be gained via introspection, which enables us to probe the depths of our being.
When I read through Kabir’s poetry, the study of subjects like loss and self-discovery developed naturally. As a common human experience, grief was used as a main theme to highlight how reflection and spirituality may help people overcome obstacles in life. My protagonist’s life, characterised by deep realisations and personal losses, offered a great backdrop for examining the complex interactions between introspection and grieving.
The book served as a means of putting Kabir’s teachings into a relevant and modern setting, thus providing readers with a journey toward reflection and self-discovery.
Jyoti Babel: The ancient city of Varanasi plays a significant role in your book. How did the spiritual and historical significance of Varanasi influence the narrative, and why did you choose this particular location as a backdrop for Kabir’s journey?
Smita Tiwari: Varanasi, or Kashi as I like to call it, is more than just a backdrop in the book. It resembles a character with a unique spirit. Travellers from all over the world visit Kashi because of the heavenly ambience that shrouds the city like a warm blanket. The core of my story is found there. Picture this – grand ghats, stairs that lead to Ganga’s soft embrace, boats that murmur through the waves of the river, historic temples, and those tiny, busy lanes, all collectively harmonising with the spiritual essence and simplicity of my protagonist.
Also, my inspiration for this story, Sant Kabir Das, is integral to Kashi. A splendid Math called Sant Kabir Math had been created in the back alleys of Chaura, where Kabir Das resided, notably near Lahartara, symbolising the influence of Kabir Das on the city and people of Kashi. It serves as evidence that Kabir Das’s teachings are still applicable today.
When I was writing this book, I had an idea; my goal was to draw comparisons between my protagonist’s and Kabir Das’s lives by matching their names and places of residence. I intended to present readers with a portrait of a person from this generation whose virtues reflect Kabir Das by incorporating a few common spiritual elements.
Jyoti Babel: Your book’s narration is interspersed with the verses of Sant Kabir Das. How did you approach incorporating Kabir’s teachings into your storytelling, and what challenges did you face in adapting these spiritual elements into a fictional narrative ?
Smita Tiwari: I tackled this project with great reverence for Kabir’s poetry, trying to maintain their spiritual integrity while fusing them into the story in a way that made sense.
The main obstacle is bridging the gap between a fictional novel’s storytelling requirements and Kabir’s timeless wisdom, which is frequently expressed in poetic and metaphorical ways. It took significant thought to balance keeping Kabir’s teachings authentic and making them understandable to a wide range of people. I incorporated Kabir’s poetry into the characters’ conversations and introspections to overcome this difficulty. This improved the story’s depth and authenticity by allowing the spiritual lessons to emerge organically within the plot.
Whenever the protagonist – Kabir faced challenges in life, he would find comfort in one of Sant Kabir’s perceptive couplets. These timeless words gave the protagonist solace and wisdom, enabling him to face life’s obstacles with forbearance and comprehension.
Another challenge for me was ensuring the story’s spiritual parts did not overshadow its personal and emotional dimensions. My goal in incorporating Kabir’s lessons into the characters’ lives was to create a harmonic blend that would touch readers emotionally and spiritually. For me, incorporating spiritual aspects from Kabir’s teaching into the story was rewarding.
Jyoti Babel: Can you share some insights into your writing process? How do you balance the creative aspects of storytelling with the more technical aspects of crafting a novel?
Smita Tiwari : I see creativity and technicality as complementary rather than antagonistic components in my writing process. Since this is my first book, I needed help balancing the artistic and technical details. Anuradha Warrior, my seasoned editor, was instrumental in helping me overcome these obstacles during the editing process. My kind publisher, Antara, gave me insightful advice that helped polish the story.
I permitted myself to be creative while first working on my manuscript. I didn’t choose the characters or their characteristics in advance. The characters in my fictional universe began to take shape and fulfil their roles as I immersed myself in it late at night after my husband and children had gone to sleep.
The story then spilled out of my head and found words. I’m not sure if I should be discussing such strange occurrences, but I’ve experienced multiple instances in my life during my writing journey that are similar to the ones I wrote about in my novel a few days ago. I lost my beloved father after I wrote about my protagonist losing her mother; thinking about it still wells up in my eyes.
Many individuals were losing loved ones during the pandemic, and many of my life’s events aligned with what I was writing about. Strangely, I didn’t write about what I experienced, but what I wrote later turned out to be my experience.
Jyoti Babel: Wow, that almost sounds like you were manifesting incidents in your life by writing about them. The next question I wanted to ask is about this big change in your life. As a mother who left her full-time job to embrace motherhood, how has this life transition influenced your perspective on writing and creativity?
Smita Tiwari: Becoming a full-time mother wasn’t simply a decision I made in life; it was also the impetus behind the emergence of the writer in me. Resigning from professional employment might seem like a bad idea for others, but it was a step toward finding my real purpose for me.
I have always connected deeply to the natural world, the arts, and music. The hum of a computer screen was more like a punishment than a comfort during my software engineering career. I get a great deal of delight from spending hours reading or sitting under a tree and watching the leaves dance in the wind. Here is a little secret: even watching a movie feels like an uphill task to me.
Permit me to tell you about a touching story. My father, who came from a little village, had big dreams for all of his daughters, including me, the youngest of six sisters. In contrast to the custom of the ’70s and ’80s, marrying off daughters as soon as they graduated, Dad ensured that each one of us had a professional education. He wanted us to be self-sufficient financially. He was concerned about my decision to leave my career to become a mother, even though he never expressed disagreement.
I had a long talk with my father two months before starting my writing journey. A voracious reader with deep insights into the philosophy of life, he forewarned me of impending difficulties with a father’s wisdom. This was before India saw the full effects of the pandemic. He anticipated worldwide tragedies, changes in societal dynamics, tense relations between nations, and a return to the idea of “survival of the fittest.” He pushed me to develop a particular skill set to help me achieve my career and personal goals. His comments still reverberate in my ears, providing direction when I’m feeling uncertain.
Motherhood, on the other hand, has taught me a great deal about multitasking without being overwhelmed. Being a full-time mother, sometimes considered the hardest profession, made me an expert at handling home chores during the day and immersing in writing in the peaceful late hours of the night. My husband, who has consistently been by my side and been my strongest ally, has proven to be an invaluable resource.
Jyoti Babel: What is the significance of Assi Ghat in your life, and why did you choose this iconic place to launch your debut work?
Smita Tiwari : I intentionally chose Assi Ghat for my book launch as a tribute to Kashi’s rich spiritual heritage and how well it aligns with the main ideas of my book. Assi Ghat is a metaphor for a crossroads where the spiritual and material worlds collide, and it reflects the protagonist’s transformational journey in my book. The significance deepens as the protagonist spends numerous Sundays with his beloved parents and cherished elder brother at Assi Ghat, creating lasting memories before parting ways with his family.
My decision to launch my book at Assi Ghat is a moving tribute to these feelings, fitting in with the protagonist’s deep affinity for this serene location. The decision is a symbolic expression of my sincere recognition of Kashi’s significant influence and its spiritual essence on my creative process.
Jyoti Babel: How did you approach the emotional aspects of your characters? Did you draw from personal experiences, or was it more a process of empathetic imagination?
Smita Tiwari: I used a combination of my own experiences and sympathetic imagination to explore the emotional qualities of the characters in the book, but sympathetic imagination was especially important in capturing emotions that I could not experience myself.
I was able to put myself in the characters’ shoes and comprehend their distinct viewpoints, challenges, and victories. This method made it easier to examine the human condition in greater detail and added various nuanced emotional details to the story. Ultimately, the character’s emotional complexity resulted from a nuanced interaction between their ability to understand the common components of human experience and their unique insights. I hope readers will identify emotionally with the characters and see themselves in the book’s pages as reflections of their experiences.
Jyoti Babel: Can you discuss the role of spirituality in your life and how it has influenced your writing? What does spirituality mean to you?
Smita Tiwari: For me, spirituality is a way of living. Spirituality has etymological roots in the Latin word “spiritus,” which means life or breath. Similar to how clothing, food, and shelter are necessities for human survival, spirituality is necessary for living a purposeful life.
Although the terms spirituality and religion are sometimes used synonymously, they are two completely different ideas. The goal of spirituality is to exercise control over the inner and outer aspects of us to make the divine manifest within ourselves. Since the elements that comprise the Universe also comprise us, this can be accomplished by connecting with it. Once our soul makes this connection, we see every living thing as a piece of one greater soul.
Work, worship, psychic control, philosophy, or any mix can all be used to realise this connection and lead to freedom. This is basically what religion is all about. Books, temples, rituals, dogmas, doctrines, and forms are merely incidental features.
I deliberately avoided involving the protagonist in any particular religious practice throughout the book. Rather, the emphasis was on his introspective quest for self-discovery. He fell in love with a girl from a different religious background; moreover, his mentor, or Guru, pursued a different religious path. By doing this, I hoped to highlight the transformational potential of spirituality and question the limitations of religion.
Jyoti Babel: In your writing journey, did you have any specific authors or literary influences that inspired your style or approach to storytelling?
Smita Tiwari: Since the list is lengthy, I will discuss the recent reads and writers who have influenced me!
Autobiography of a Yogi: It is an autobiography of Paramahansa Yogananda. The book helped me delve into spiritualism.
Zen Yoga: A Creative Psychotherapy to Self-Integration by Saher, P. J. It delves into the principles of Zen philosophy and yoga practices, offering insights into achieving balance, mindfulness, and spiritual growth amid life’s challenges.
The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, a poetic and philosophical work that imparts timeless wisdom on various aspects of life.
The Power of Now: A Guide to spiritual enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, is a simple yet engaging and thoughtful story that follows the journey of a young boy.
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie, is a perfectly woven story through allegorical events.
Kafka on the Shore by a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. This book is the one I love the most. It has a special ability to speak to my spirit, offering a liberating escape from the stresses of life and a sense of catharsis.
Regarding literature, some of my favourite authors include Ruskin Bond, Shakespeare, Munshi Premchand, Mahadevi Verma, Rabindranath Tagore, Leo Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov. I have also delved into the unfathomable depths of epics such as Srimad Bhagavad Gita and Goswami Tulsidas’ The Ramayana. I have a particular place in my heart for these classics.
The timeless ideas of Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, the profound teachings of Indian saints like Gautam Buddha, Mahavir Swami, Guru Nanak, Kabir Das, Rahim Das, and Goswami Tulsidas, the devotion of Meera Bai, and the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Doctor APJ Abdul Kalam have also had a significant influence on my outlook on life.
Jyoti Babel: The themes of renunciation and self-discovery are timeless. How do you envision your book resonating with readers across different generations?
Smita Tiwari: It is a common idea in our society that spiritual awakening is only something that older people who have given up on their duties should pursue. It is often believed that this understanding is out of reach for everyone, as only a small number of enlightened people are believed to be able to achieve it. In contrast to this idea, every living being can manifest the divine within through particular practices. Becoming one with the One is the ultimate goal, even if each person’s road to realisation is unique.
If this concept is ingrained from an early age, it may simplify the process of self-discovery for people before they become mature, responsible adults. When a child first becomes aware, society’s advice frequently emphasizes physical development, preserving health, and learning to guarantee financial security as an adult. A worry-free life can be achieved by incorporating into a child’s education the significance of understanding oneself and linking one’s soul to the chords of the Universe. When people realize there is more to life than pursuing materialistic goals, even the most difficult obstacles may seem insignificant. This inspires people to go within and discover who they are.
This rationale underlies my choice of a young protagonist, poised to face life courageously by age twenty-six.
Jyoti Babel: As an author, what message do you hope readers take away from your book, particularly in dealing with grief and finding a sense of purpose in life?
Smita Tiwari: As an author, my primary hope is that readers find solace, inspiration, and a sense of connection through the pages of my book – ‘Kabir-An Inward Journey.’ Grieving is a common human experience, and through Kabir’s journey, I hope readers will learn that there is always room for growth, even in the darkest moments. Through the story, I wanted to show a way to heal via reflection and spiritual understanding. Kabir’s tale emphasizes the significance of accepting life’s obstacles as chances for introspection, resiliency, and discovering one’s actual purpose.
Ultimately, I want readers to get a deep knowledge that, even with life’s unavoidable challenges and setbacks, every one of us can overcome hardship. ‘Kabir-An Inward Journey‘ is a message of optimism, grit, and the human heart’s persistent ability to discover significance despite enormous obstacles.
Jyoti Babel: Thank you Smita for the enlightening conversation and sharing your thoughts with our readers. Wishing you all the very best for your book and future endeavours.
Kabir – An Inward Journey
Binding : Paperback (5.5″ x 8.5″)
Pages : 193 pages
Published : December 2023
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