First-time author Ranjit Divakaran on writing about immigrant life and the challenges of getting published
Ranjit Divakaran, who hails from Kozhikode, has been an expat for little over a decade. As a maxillofacial surgeon in the Middle East, he gets to see a cross-section of immigrant life. Young lives sapped by years of toil in the Gulf; suffering and sacrifices; and finally the sense of ‘being used’ that envelops an immigrant… all this and more. He translates the ‘patches’ of the world he saw into his first creative work, a novel called Algebra of Hope. A self-published novel, it dwells on the life of expats in what is popularly called ‘the Gulf’ and attempts to show them minus the gloss.
Ranjit meticulously jotted down episodes from everyday life. Before long he realised these snapshots could evolve into fiction. He plunged into the complexities of the novel headlong. The genre did not intimidate him, asserts Ranjit. Algebra of Hope is a translation of the lives he saw and the stories he heard onto the page.
The first-time author did not bank on writing workshops or creative courses. For him, the way ahead was clear. He had stories on hand and he needed to tell them. “It is about creativity. And not about following forms,” says Ranjit over coffee. For Ranjit the writer, imagination is not the key, instead it is reality. Characters, incidents or even threads which are flights of imagination are few in his novel. He works keeping real-life experiences as a spring-board. “I am not a writer of fiction that way. In the book, it is the character of nurse Neerja who is totally a figment of my imagination. I have not seen anyone like her in my working years. On the contrary, nurse Shoshamma is someone we find in most hospitals,” says Ranjit.
With Algebra of Hope, Ranjit also intended to plug the gap between reality and popular notions of life in the Gulf. “There is a mismatch,” he says. An immigrant to the Gulf is bound by a lot of factors, he says. “Wherever you go there are plusses and minuses. For an immigrant to the Middle East there are too many things at stake. There are the notions about him back home when he is employed in the Gulf. There is the absence of freedom. Many immigrants feel a slow shift from a sense of pride to a sense of regret once their earning years are behind them,” says Ranjit.
For the first-time author, it was not the writing that took its toll. Instead, it was the effort to get it published. After submitting his draft to several publishers and waiting for over two years, Ranjit decided to get it done himself. He went to the online portal authorhouse to take him through.
“Wring a book appears to be a smaller challenge when compared to marketing it,” he says. The book and its publishing has been a learning experience for him. His is aware of its flaws, mostly the need for sharper editing. “We learn from our mistakes,” he says. In hindsight, he says he could have waited a bit longer to get the book hooked onto a traditional publisher. The pitfall of self-publishing is getting the marketing right, he says. “A traditional publisher is the bridge between the creator and the reader.” With that bridge absent in his case, the doctor-author is left to introduce his book to as many readers as possible. That does not seem to have deterred Ranjit who is already thinking of his second book. “It is going to be a collection of experiences,” he says.