Ameya Bondre talks about his latest book “Afsaane” | Interview

On the professional front, Ameya Bondre is a Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) and a Global Health Field Placement Fellow of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA. He also has prior medical training (MBBS) from Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai, India. 

A Public health researcher, clinician, scientific writer, trainer, TEDx speaker, and writer, Ameya is a man of many talents and is currently leading clinical research at CareMother (IIT-Bombay), which is focused on technological innovations in antenatal and postnatal health.

Always drawn to the world of writing and books, Ameya started writing as a means to channel his creativity, but a writing workshop and retreat gave him both the insights and the time to hone his craft. 

Ameya’s debut work, “Afsaane” is a collection of 11 short stories that revolve around many relevant themes like conflict, hope, relationships, human nature, love, family, and acceptance. His book would especially appeal to city dwellers, dreamers, strugglers, lovers, urban couples, and friends. 

His writings are a deep reflection of his muser mind, and his stories showcase a profound understanding of the human mind and the full spectrum of human emotions. His stories are both relatable and unique, and his language is beautiful and poetic. 

Ameya Bondre started working on these stories in November of 2017, and his book was finally unveiled by Blue Rose publishers at the World Book Fair 2020. Ever since then, “Afsaane” has received words of praise and encouragement from readers and critics alike.

Ameya’s writings have also been featured on various platforms such as Mumbai Live, Delhi Wire, Visual Verse, the Bookish Elf, Oxford Bookstore, Café Dissensus, Pune Mirror, Sunflower Collective, and Inkspire amongst others.

A fan of romance and literary fiction, Ameya names Salman Rushdie, Ruskin Bond, Paulo Coelho, and J.D. Salinger as his inspirations. 

We, at bookGeeks, got a lucky opportunity to interact with the author. Let’s hear what he has to say about his writing, reading, and his love for books.

Ameya Bondre Author Interview bookGeeks
Tell us something about yourself. What are your likes and dislikes, tastes, and preferences? Who is Ameya as a person?
I come from Mumbai. I have studied, worked and lived in Mumbai, Baltimore, Boston, Lucknow, Kanpur, Delhi, tribal Maharashtra, rural Haryana, and for some time in Rwanda!

It’s hard to describe but I think I’m the sort of person who works hard, thinks a lot, studies things, observes people, loves immersing in creative endeavours and making new friends.

But on the flip side, I am impatient, I can get stressed out easily at times, I try to do too much or fit too much in a format, and I am always hungry to learn more, which can become a problem!

Likes and preferences, well… I thoroughly enjoy reading, writing, and often, pondering, and catching up with people who are conversational.

I am a huge movie buff, and I love to watch films from different countries, apart from the richness of our movies (beyond Bollywood). I used to enjoy tennis, but need to get back to it. I have this deep urge to learn swimming, but after the pools open!

I am a foodie, especially when it comes to seafood. I have a sweet tooth but currently restraining it due to a diet plan that I’m following, pretty happily! I love dogs but have been waiting to have one for ages. And, I love travelling to the mountains and old cities but waiting for the situation to change.

Dislikes? There are too many… but I don’t like being unproductive in any activity.

I have a huge dislike for Indian electronic media, especially the news debates. Dislike is a mild word to describe it. I don’t like when big hyped movies with big stars and production houses have awful scripts, or for that matter, when writing is lazy - I am fine if it’s less effective, but I get annoyed if it’s lazy or unremarkable.

I don’t like misinformation when it comes to scientific or medical stuff, be it on the pandemic, or something as small as a gym trainer misinforming his client on health, or a YouTube video doing the same, etc. I don’t like moral gyan.

I have a huge dislike for body shaming, both the obvious and the subtle, as I’ve experienced that it in the past. I have a huge dislike for those who physically and more importantly, mentally, mistreat differently-abled children, or individuals who are simply different.

And, I don’t like those social conversations when I’ve to make all the effort to get the other person to talk, or when it’s not a conversation!
You are a public health researcher and physician. How do you manage your writing along with your demanding career?
I am no longer a practising physician. I transitioned to a public health research career in 2012 and I can’t be happier with the transition!

I enjoy research methods and the mental stimulation they enable! I think managing is not difficult, because all I do is slot my day as realistically as possible.

My work takes up my time from 9 am or earlier, to around 6 pm or a little later, and then I work out. I am able to write during those crucial couple of hours before sleeping.

That’s my usual slot – or sometimes, in the evening, especially in the lockdown. For me, a two-hour session every day is sufficient.

If I am not writing, I am reading, watching a film, or a play online, reading a short story in a digital magazine, or brainstorming an idea, or doing something that helps me immerse in any form of storytelling.

I don’t stress about writing, in the sense, I don’t need to put my thoughts on paper (or MS Word!) in those two hours. I only need to do something that stimulates the urge to tell a story; that’s the goal I strive for.

I often listen to music, which by the way, is a great stimulant! Of course, when I have a project at hand, for instance, a book I am writing, then I assign those hours for writing or the traditional writing goals that most authors tend to have.
‘Afsaane’ is a collection of eleven short stories that revolve around different themes. Is there any significance to the number eleven? What does the title of the book mean?
Sadly, there is no significance to the number eleven!

I had drafted 14 stories in 2017 and 2018, and after a lot of thought and editing, I realized that three of them won’t fit in this collection.

So, “Afsaane” in Urdu, simply means tales, or fiction, or romance. It’s a cleverly coined word that encompasses all these meanings under one roof!

And, I found it most suitable for the collection, precisely because the stories are utterly different from each other, although with intersecting themes.

I didn’t feel like naming it ‘Anecdotes’ or ‘Stories xyz’ as it didn’t sound right!
Kudos for such a great cover, Ameya! How did the idea for it came about?
Thank you so much! The entire credit goes to Chinmayi Chavan who designed it. She’s based in Mumbai, and can you believe that it’s her first book cover?!

So, the idea came from the first story in the book, in fact, the first scene of the first story, which I won’t spoil for you! But, basically, I wanted a cover that would last – I mean, in the course of reading the book, I wanted the reader to connect with the cover as he would flip through the chapters or the individual stories, one after the other. The cover includes elements derived from all the eleven stories.

So, I just wanted a cover that would stay on for the entire course of reading and not the sort of cover that would draw attention only on the first day.

But, it’s Chinmayi, who brought life into it. She made the sketches, she intentionally thought of a smudgy look and the vintage feel of an old shelf. She got the emotion right, and kudos to her for her immense effort, not to mention, her patience for accomplishing this cover!
What is the most important step in your writing? Is it the idea incubation, the rough draft, or the final touches? Where does the magic happen?
The most important step is ideation, as I realize now, when I am working on my next book. It’s a phase filled with doubts and insecurities and the level of trust you keep in your conviction, against all odds.

I believe conviction creates magic, at least in fiction writing, and your idea is as good as you think it is, and it can become as strong as you make it.

However, in technical terms, magic happens when you edit a story, or what you have referred to as the final touches! Editing is a fascinating process, and it’s beautifully unstructured and unpredictable in fiction writing.

In Afsaane, I can think of at least three or four stories that had a whole different impact on me, as a reader, after the edit.

Editing, amongst many things, can reshape a story, or add the pieces that make a larger difference to the course of the story or penalize you as a writer, for what you didn’t do or think about, which makes you rethink an entire story.
Do you ever go through a writer’s block? If yes, then what are some tips and tricks that you would recommend to come out of it?
As I said, I don’t let my writing goals stress me out.

I only aim to immerse in a form of storytelling or an activity that would spur the process of storytelling, in my head or on paper. And, I strive for that on a routine basis. There are good and bad days, but I don’t necessarily write every day, as in, a chapter, or a story or a poem.

I do scribble and jot down things. As such, I don’t go through a writer’s block, in a conventional sense. I’ve attempted to create a habit or a routine that doesn’t normally allow a phase, which is long or significant enough to be termed as a mental block.

For those with a writer’s block, my first advise would be to understand your fears and insecurities.

Often, it’s a question of having too many unrealistic expectations of oneself or one’s quality of writing. I think the first drafts should kickstart after a story has been ideated or planned.

I think editing should be given its due. Respect the editing process – by that I mean your own edits, and those suggested by beta-readers, and then the editors. You are never going to get it right, the first time!

The block is often a result of expectations. My other piece of advice is something we already know, for instance, a routine fitness regimen helps because physical exercise allows a mental detox.

I would especially advise a regular diet, adequate water intake and sleep, and cardio (lots of cardio!). We should not underestimate their value in decluttering our head, to be able to think clearly and purposefully and resolve a ‘block’.
‘Afsaane’ has been acquiring some rave reviews from readers and critics alike. How does that make you feel?
Oh, I am on cloud nine and I have no complaints at all!

The reviews are pretty consistent across the board, regardless of the kind of reviewers, be it the regular readers or bloggers, new readers, voracious readers, my friends, editors, people in literary agencies, readers outside India, and readers of different age groups.

I feel excited, grateful and validated, and I feel that something about the honesty in telling the stories has worked with the audiences.

Also, I am thrilled that a few interesting online magazines agreed to reprint some of the stories, such as Café Dissensus, based in New York and India.
As a writer, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Well, obviously, I want hundreds and thousands of readers to read my books!

But, keeping the readership aside, I want to write more books, a handful of books over the next 5 years.

That itself is a tall order, but I think that’s the one thing I can be secure about - to write more books, to experiment with storytelling, to try different territories or genres/sub-genres, to stretch my writing abilities, to explore the craft and what it has to offer, to build relationships with readers, bloggers and editors alike, and to build on the goodwill that Afsaane has managed to create, despite being a debut collection of stories, which is not the usual form of a book that a new writer would want to start with.
When it comes to writing, who are your biggest critics and your biggest inspirations?
My biggest critics, fortunately, are my avid fiction reading friends, and a few other ‘beta readers’ and editors who I know personally. Their contribution to Afsaane is indispensable and I am sure they would love to read and critique the book I am currently working on.

There are too many writing inspirations – Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka, J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen, Truman Capote, Vijay Tendulkar and I can add many more.

But it’s often a musical composition, a scene in a movie, a play, a poem, or the conversations and happenings in life that trigger ideas and writing inspirations that are more sustained.
In your opinion, how is novel writing different from short story writing?
A novel requires a lot of persistence during the ideation stage, the part I mentioned earlier on trusting your conviction. A novel would also demand greater consistency in the quality of the editing, than a short story.

However, writing an anthology of short stories is extremely challenging as well – the format is tough, your stories need to speak more in fewer words and the reader needs to believe in the brevity.

Don’t forget that in her mind – a reader doesn’t really differentiate between a longer and a shorter piece of work while reading it.

Any story, regardless of the format, should draw the reader’s attention and hence, speaking more in fewer words is not an easy job!

Yet, short stories allow breaks or phases of respite – in the sense, you are done with a story and you have the luxury of changing your process or taking more time before you think of the next one.

A novel is a single continuous story, so surely it demands more attention and persistence throughout its ideation and writing stages.
Do you read Indian authors? Who are some of your favorite authors and their books?
Surely, I love Amitav Ghosh, and The Hungry Tide is one of my favourite books.

I love Manto’s stories, Gulzar’s poetry, Rushdie’s books including Midnight’s Children, and Ruskin Bond’s stories.
Any new writing project that you are currently working upon?
Yes, I am working on my next book, which is a novel.

Also, whenever feasible, I am always open to writing poems and I’ve submitted a few to literary magazines. For instance, one of them got published in the UK-based journal, ‘the Visual Verse’.

So, in terms of current fiction writing - my next book and an occasional burst of poetry is all that I do!

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