For a book to leave you spellbound it need not be a fantasy genre. The wordsmith who has a knack and a way with words will put you in trance no matter what. You may delve into the world he has created and wouldn’t want to let it go. You may want to finish the book and yet you wouldn’t. A good book will always leave you satiated, a feeling of completeness. I had a chance to read one such book which I shall always cherish and go back to. I learnt a lot from it as an author, as a reader. Sanchit Gupta’s The Tree With A Thousand Apples of Niyogi books is one of the best fiction written on Kashmir. It gives one a balanced view about the life in Kashmir and the plight of Kashmiris. I had an opportunity to interview the man of the moment, Sanchit Gupta.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. You book has taught me a lot and I will treasure it as I treasure my other favourites. It is a gem to me, a literary brilliance. And a fine example of how literature ought to be.

Thank you for your kind words. I am honored and glad you liked the book.

1. This story is unique and yet very closer to reality. What inspired you to write this story?

Empathy. I lived in Kashmir in 2009 and saw a 12 year old Kashmiri Muslim boy sit beside a 20 year old Indian Army soldier sipping cups of Kahwa together. My very good friend and roommate in college was a Kashmiri Pandit. I have heard stories from all of them, and I have seen that they are all right in their own world, yet wrong in each other’s. I just wanted to tell their story as honestly as I could.

2. ‎In your acknowledgement you mention about your stay in J&K, did you find situations eerie there? Any incident in particular which you have recreated in your novel that you witnessed during your stay?

There is an incident in the book when Deewan comes back to Kashmir and his taxi driver asks him- ‘sir, are your from India?’ The same happened with me too when I visited Kashmir for the first time. It was not just the words but the innocence in his question that really shook me. He didn’t seem to be aware of all the politics surrounding the region, it was evident that he had grown up in an environment and a thought process that reflected in his question. At the same time, he didn’t have any malice towards me. All the time I spent in Kashmir, no one saw me, a Hindu non-Kashmiri, with any mistrust or hatred. I saw that Kashmiris are good people caught in a bad, confused world. This is what I somewhere wanted to bring out as well.

3. ‎How long did it take to complete this novel? How many edits did it go through?

Including research and writing, one year. It was the year of 2013 I wrote the first draft. In terms of editing, would be around 5-6 at different stages.

4. ‎You have managed to present an intricately woven, well researched novel for your readers. Tell us about your research process.

My research process is slow. I don’t try to observe or assimilate things, I try to become a part of the world I am trying to create. I spent the first 4 months doing research without writing a word of the book. My Kashmiri friends were a big help, plus there is enough material available in books, movies and the internet too to help put together the jigsaw puzzle. What is key is to understand that research is simply an enabler. What one really needs to identify is the core theme and the thoughts of the book, what are you trying to say. If that is in place, research helps you identify the how of it.

5. ‎What is your writing schedule like? How many hours do you put into writing?

See, 90% part of the writing process is to think. When you are working on a project, there could be several days where are you are not writing but simply thinking through. That is essential as it sharpens the axe before you try to chop down the tree. When I eventually do begin writing (be it a script of a book), the single most important factor is discipline. Now, I must write everyday. It could be 30 mins or 4 hours but it must be everyday as that helps us remain in the world. Even if you give a day’s break, you come out of the world and it takes an even more time to get back in, or the worse, you write something that is not connected to your theme and the world, which leads to poor output. For this book, I used to write at night for 2-3 hours everyday and then edit what I had written in the morning. This went on for 6 months straight.

6. ‎How do you balance between working on films and writing a novel?

Before I entered into films, I had already written 3 novels over a period of 7 years. The first one is published and the second is being edited by the publisher. The third is my most ambitious work and I think there is a long time to go before it hits the stands. Till then, all my energy is going into films. I don’t think I can write a film or a novel at the same time. When I do take up writing the fourth, I may have to take a break from films for some time.

7. ‎Ever plan to turn this novel into a motion picture?

Yes…I think it would make a very good film, However, it also needs a sensitive eye of the director to justify the subject matter. I have already written the screenplay though which was a long-list at Sundance last year. I am currently in talks with few people and may see some developments soon.

8. ‎How do you escape writer’s block?

I think that is a synonym for laziness. If I have to work, I must fight all distractions and put words to paper. Once you begin, it begins to flow.

9. ‎What hurdles did you face while publishing the book?

The most difficult part for a total outsider like me is really to find someone who would be willing to read my work. I went from agent to publisher, through their official ids mentioned on their website and sent them the synopsis and sample chapters, however, either I didn’t get any reply or it used to be a standard rejection mail. I didn’t know whether someone even read what I sent to them. There is so much clutter in the market and so low attention spans that for an unknown to even get some face-time is a huge challenge. The Tree with a Thousand Apples is actually my second written book. The first one is the one which is being edited right now. It took me 7 yrs and 3 books to finally have someone read my manuscript. Once they did it (in my case my publisher Bikash ji of Niyogi Books), he loved it so much that the book came out in 8 months.

10. ‎You have crafted your characters most sincerely, every character has a substance to it. Even a small character like Kamal has a distinguished presence. How did such characters develop? Where did that insight come from?

From being part of the world I intended to create. E.g. I started living with the key characters- Deewan, Safeena and Bilal and began to understand what they will do or how will they react in each and every situation. I made a detailed personality chart for each character where there are about 50 questions I answer about them, their psychological, social and physiological profiles. The book- The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri is a good help in this regard. Likewise, the smaller characters too have a personality and life of their own. Kamal, in fact, I rate as a very significant character. What I love are characters like Sampat at the tea-shop, gardner in Anwar’s home, the lecturer in Papa-2 or the doctor in Arthur Jail. Each of them are individuals with a beating heart and not cardboard cutouts designed to suit my purpose. That is think is the key.

11. ‎What are the 5 things we can find on your work table?

Ideally, when the table is clean, only my laptop 🙂 I like a clean space to help me declutter.

12. ‎Authors who inspire you?

Several, top of the list would be Ernest Hemingway, Marquez, Khushwant Singh, Khaled Hosseini, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, J.M. Coetzee, Vikram Seth, Aldous Huxley. I would add two screenwriters to the list too- Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino. I think the common factor in all is that while the stakes are high in the world they built, the stories they tell are very human and honest at their core.

13. ‎Tell us about your upcoming ventures.

Currently, my second book and the movies I am working on. Everything is work in progress so hopefully you would come to know about them in a few months’ time.

14. ‎What do you do in your leisure time?

Travel, Play, Cook are may favourite past-times. I love doing the mundane housework activities at home too. It helps keep my mind off work and helps my wife who herself has a hectic job 🙂

15. What message will you give to the budding authors like me?

Be true, be honest to your view of the world and have the courage to stand for it. Do it because the fire inside you will not let you live unless you do. That’s the only good fight there is.

And while this brings us to the end of a beautiful conversation, I have one bit of request to all the book lovers, do yourself a favour and read this book!

PS: Do read the book review here