Authors Meera V Barath, R Lakshmi Priya talk about the inspiration behind Airavata, an anthology on elephants
Once upon a time, it took the one ring to rule them all. In the here and now, a world of collaborations and serendipity, it takes one mythical white elephant to bring them all together, it seems. Jumbos that dance, sing, make merry, face hardships and save each other find themselves gathering under the banner of Airavata, an elephant anthology you never knew you needed. But one that was only inevitable when Meera V Barath and R Lakshmi Priya decided to join forces.
For on the one hand, we have Mayaakatha: Where Stories Dance that Meera describes as “a marketplace for stories and writers”; a community of writers who have gathered together (over the past year) with the sole impetus of sharing stories. On the other, we have Pachyderm Tales – Lakshmi’s literary consultancy that helps writers get their stories publication-ready.
When the two decided to work together, a book on elephant stories — one from the imagination of many — seemed like the natural choice. “When we decided to do a book of short stories on elephants, we didn’t want to waste time on several rounds of discussions to finalise the project; we just went with our thoughts and only thought about taking action – all over one phone call. And here we are with a bundle of stories,” narrates Meera.
A number of the entries – about 70 per cent of it — they received turned out to be from published writers. Contributions also came from talented children, who have been part of the storytelling sessions. This not only helped bring a diverse range of narratives but established the different perspectives of how different people view the world around the elephant. “The elephant is sometimes a fun animal but it can evoke so much emotion in you. Three months before I started Pachyderm Tales, there was this incident in Kerala where an elephant died after biting into a country bomb. So, people questioned my decision to name the consultancy after elephants; wouldn’t it bring up bad memories, they asked. That’s one way of seeing it, right? So, I think the way we look at elephants is introspectional in nature,” she surmises.
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To both Lakshmi and Meera, an elephant in itself comes with stories of prosperity in all shades and this project is special since it’s the first publishing project for their ventures. That the writers responding to the call saw it the same way, couldn’t be more welcome. Such a turn of events with Airavata seemed serendipitous for Lakshmi, who had tried to launch similar projects twice in the past and had them not lift off as intended. “Sometimes, there is magic,” and this had its share, she says.
Meera agrees for she sees the fruitful collaboration with editors Deepti Sharma, Preeti S Manaktala and Shristee Singh as nothing less. “Though we had two of our editors contributing in this anthology, we wanted to maximise their potential, we had interchanged their work with one more editor and finally we are here with their work too,” she shares.
The work with illustrator Satinder Ahuja also turned out to be as creatively enriching and generous. “I came across this beautiful illustration of a pink elephant that she had already done and it seemed perfect. I reached out to her and asked if she would consider sharing this for our book cover and she agreed. And it all just came together,” she reminisces.
Not wanting to disappoint the writers whose works didn’t make it to this anthology, and to take the delight for elephant narratives to even more beneficiaries, the duo is set to bring out a Part 2 of Airavata. With this one having covered stories from across India, they are looking to invite people from across the world to offer their perspective for the second edition. Anklets in my Hands, a poetry collection, is also in the making. This would be fronted by LetsMakeStoriesDino, a writing community run by Meera and team in association with Pachyderm Tales. Here’s hoping for more bouts of serendipity.
The book is available on Kindle and as paperback on Amazon.