CHENNAI; There’s a folktale from Odisha that ties the Ramayana and the Mahabharata through Ram and Krishna. People of Malgudi find themselves showing up in each other’s tales through the words of RK Narayan. Captain America: The Winter Soldier foreshadows the arrival of Doctor Steven Strange two years before Marvel Studios gives the world Doctor Strange. Every story finds itself connected to another and in its retelling, remains never-ending.
What better embodiment of this grand theory than books, one that allows for life beyond the physical page. It was the earnest belief in this theory that got Akshath Jaganmohan — all of 13 years old — to become a ‘story addict’; a journey that led to him publishing his very first novel, Ithalar Tea Party, at Odyssey this Monday. Akshath’s story, and that of his murder mystery, began with the short story contest hosted by Readen Publishers during the lockdown months.
Yet, in a way, it began two years earlier, during a drive through Ithalar — a small village off Ooty. “We were going to a different town; then, we were passing through Ithalar. I saw this market, which was followed by some land and then there were the mountains. The location, setting and everything did inspire me,” shares Akshath. So, when it was time to put pen to paper and script a story out of nowhere, he landed on Ithalar’s tea estates to let his imagination run riot.
The 2,000-word story fetched him the title of the winner. But Readen’s director Jyoti Shekar had more in store for the young writer. Two months later, she had a novel in her hand. As much as she saw the potential in the story and had urged Akshath to work on making a novel out of it, she never imagined he would pull it off in two months, she exclaims.
Ithalar Tea Party starts with the death of the estate’s owner, Anderson Quill. As constable Selvam investigates the murder, he finds himself being drawn into the story of the mysterious Velavan. And somehow, with every chapter and each new act, the two stories seem to become one. Oh, and the story is set in 1950, with some parts of it tracing the events of the pre- Independence era. “I like history; I learnt a lot of things from my History teachers.
It (details in the story) is a mixture of all of that,” says Akshath. Besides the trusty Internet, the author had his grandfather filling in the details and helping set the scene. “It was very helpful having my grandfather as the beta reader. He pointed out a lot of things. There’s the mention of the Royal Enfield bike somewhere; originally, it was written as Jawa bike. He pointed out that there were no Jawa bikes back then,” he recounts. As much as Akshath has been the brains behind the book, that his entire family came together to make it happen has him overwhelmed.
From aunts and uncles as beta readers, to having his little sister give the winning idea for the book cover, and of course, his parents running the show, they have been in it with him from the start. And ‘overwhelming’ was the same term his mother Janani used to describe the support pouring in from the school (whose principal and headmistress were there for the launch) and fellow parents. With all this in place, Akshath says his second book is almost close to completion. Ask him what he can tell us about that and he goes, “Well, it’s going to be older than this one!”
Book: ‘Ithalar Tea Party’
Price - Paperback: Rs 325,
Kindle: Rs 220; Available at: Odyssey, Amazon.in