Devasmita joined Ghumakkar in July 2010 and in her first two weeks here, she wrote as many as 7 stories. Her debut story at Ghumakkar was a short trip to Mount St. Helens. It is a brilliant story so if you haven’t read it so far, please go ahead and read it and do not forget to comment. For next 6 months, DC wrote as many as 12 super tales and finished 2010 with the most coveted of recognitions, Ghumakkar of the year 2010.
Early in 2011, we formalized another recognition viz. ‘Featured Author of the Month’ (read a primer of all awards here) and everytime we decided to rather have someone else. Initially it was more to do with recognizing new authors (while we were still formalizing the process) and later we saw a little of her during July, Aug, Sep while she was visiting India. But come october and her story on Portugal, simply went all over. On my last count, it has got close to 400 FB likes, the story has been shared 385 times on facebook and the total views are in excess of 2700.
So much to say and yet it is dumb on our part to identify her as the ‘Featured Author for December 2011’ only now. Congratulations DC for the well deserved recognition and better late than never (that complement is for us to take though). The beautiful part of this whole thing that I get to talk to the Author for an interview and I had a hearty, rich and involved conversation with her over a long distance call.
We spoke about Ghumakkar, about writing, touched upon social nuances of travel to defining Ghumakkar and our time was up before it was too long. So without any further ado, presenting DeeSee in a tete-a-tete with Ghumakkar.
Ghumakkar: How did you chance upon Ghumakkar? What motivated you to write your first story here?
DC: Ghumakkar and I found each other through a chance event. Summer of 2010, DesiPundit was closing down. I was an avid follower of DesiPundit for years, and I discovered Ghumakkar in the process of saving all the interesting links that DesiPundit had published so that I could continue to read them. I was in Calcutta for a few months before I started graduate school, and was looking for something interesting to start. Given my interests in travel, I was immediately hooked to Ghumakkar. I read a few posts and was impressed. As I read them, I wondered if I could start contributing too. I wrote to Nandan and Vibha. And the rest is history.
Nandan : That is interesting. DesiPundit was coming out very well and I was in touch with Patrix when all of this happened. Actually, we were in a collab with him where any story which had a ‘DesiPundit’ category would get picked from them. They shut it down in mid june and it was sad to see them go.
Last I saw, the site is back up with a similar kind of model (aggregating best of content from web). I owe a big Thank You to Patrix for helping us find you.
Ghumakkar: And what makes you stay with Ghumakkar?
DC: One of the many things that Ghumakkar provides me is the flexibility to explore my writing interests without putting any constraints. I am new to travel writing, and have never done it before writing for Ghumakkar. Often, I find it challenging to write travelogues, because I forget the names of most places. The details of a trip often blur in a short time, leaving behind the general memories. I find it challenging to keep the right balance of storytelling and information disseminating. Ghumakkar has always supported me in whatever way I have wanted to compose my writings. My posts on sunrises, sunsets, the advantages and disadvantages of traveling solo, NRI Durga Puja, the metro railway in Calcutta, or even my first flight experiences are not necessarily typical travel posts that provide travel information. Ghumakkar has always supported me in channeling my creativity in different ways. This, and the fact that I have been a part of the large community that appreciates my work, is reason enough for me to stay.
Nandan : For how long you have been doing travel writing ?
DC : Well, you might be surprised to know that it all started with Ghumakkar. I was doing general writing but nothing in travel domain. My first travel story was on Ghumakkar in summers of 2010. So I have done travel writing for last year and a half. Incidentally I do non-travel writing. I wrote about my experiences as a stranger in a foreign country, and then a stranger in my own country – http://amreekandesi.com/2011/12/04/the-fob-who-became-an-abcd/
and then one on Bollywood which has been a favorite topic – http://amreekandesi.com/2011/12/22/a-dirty-but-nostalgic-picture/
Nandan : Then that is a real discovery. The way you write, it is simply hard to believe that you have been writing only recently. Any plans to turn into a professional writer ?
DC : May be. Why not. After I finish my PhD, I would most likely be in academia and I would get a lot of opportunity to write, though not travel. So Why not travel as well.
Ghumakkar: Besides being a Ghumakkar, what else does DC dabble in?
DC: I love to dabble in photography. A good picture opens the gateway for many a stories to unfurl without a single word spoken. Such is the power of photography. I am also an ardent believer in the power of the pen. I love to write about anything I see: about places, about people, about relationships, about families. Over the years, I have made a little niche for myself in photography and writing. I have done a little bit of script writing and stage performances in Seattle. I have also participated in a couple of dance shows. Between academics, writing, photography, and traveling, I manage to keep myself happy.
Ghumakkar: What makes you such a diligent academic?
DC: I do not know about the diligent part, but like many a middle class Indian families that over-prioritizes academics, I was told that excelling in academics is the key to fulfilling your wishes. While the truth behind this is questionable, I learned to keep myself motivated through the many years I have spent in school. When I wanted to travel and live in a different country, academics helped me in achieving that. I have been in school most of my life, first as a consumer of knowledge and now a producer of knowledge as well. I have thankfully sailed through the trials of being an overworked and underpaid graduate student. My adviser says, “It is a wonderful job we have. For we get paid to think. All we have to do is sit and think”. I really resonate with his thoughts. We think about issues, we design studies, collect and analyze data, and publish them. It is a wonderful job to have.
Ghumakkar: Coming back to Photography, you have extraordinary photography skills. What camera do you use and would you like to share any tips with fellow ghumakkars about how to use the camera in the most optimum way.
DC: Again, I am not sure about extraordinary (thank you though for thinking so), but I will tell you a few things. I owe my inspiration in photography to my friend Siddhartha (www.siddphoto.com) who motivated me to better myself. I use a Nikon D40 camera, a basic DSLR no longer in production. However, this is my biggest advice about photography. Attributing your success to your camera is like praising a cook for the utensils s/he uses. It does not matter what utensils you use, a good cook is always going to cook well. Learn to develop an instinct about your photography. Read a lot about it. When you like a picture, try to think what makes you like the picture. Is it the composition? Is it the color contrasting? All this takes time, dedication, and observation, but the more you practice, the better you get. You will be surprised that I still take all my pictures in the auto mode (and get suitably reprimanded for it in the photographic community). I will learn manual photography someday (actual photographers take pictures in the manual mode mostly), but I have been lazy, resistant, and running short on dedication. In summary, develop a relationship with your camera, be alert for the unique moments, and do not hesitate to experiment and get creative. Photography is not easy, especially because it takes a lot of effort (my success rate with children’s photography is about 10%, and general photography is 20%; this means 1 out of 10 pictures of children and 1 out of 5 general pictures I take come out as likeable), and you are never present in the pictures yourself. However, when people appreciate your work, or ask you to take pictures of them during important occasions, it becomes totally worth the trouble of learning this skill.
Nandan: We wish you luck DC. If you have to define Ghumakkar, what would be your articulation ?
DC: Ghumakkar at the core is a ‘creative’ person. Someone who is trying to ‘Create’ an experience, a memory, a feeling, a thought, an opinion is a real Ghumakkar. Someone who can feel his creation from the soul, can connect with people around without the prejudice of place or values, someone who is happy being in a new place is what I believe is Ghumakkar.
Nandan: That was quite a philosophical take. Thank you. Have you been traveling ever since or was there a time when you discovered the Ghumakkar in you.
DC: Actually, I have been doing serious (or non-serious) traveling only recently. Back home, my family was not into a lot of traveling. My father was in a transferable job so we would move to new places but beyond that there was not much of travel. My travel started when I learnt to drive a car. I would say that 2008 is the time when I started on this Ghumakkar parth. By 2010, I was there writing my first story at www.ghumakkar.com. For this same reason, a lot of my travel has happened in United States and Europe. I have not traveled much in India and everytime I read a story on Himalayas, I really start feeling lonely here. But I hope to catch up some day.
Nandan: You’ve spent considerable amount of time in the US. Can you share something about a regular traveller’s mindset there and how do you think the approach and attitude are different from that of a Desi traveller?
DC: Indians in America travel differently than Americans in America, or even Indians in India. I do not mean to generalize, and these are based largely on my observations. While Americans do not hesitate to venture out alone, we usually tend to travel in groups. The difference also lies in the kind of activities we do. Americans participate in strenuous and more adventurous activities like hiking, rock climbing, camping, deep sea diving, or rafting a lot more than Indians do. However, I see more Indians targeting the typical tourist places, traveling in herds, and focusing on taking hundreds of pictures of themselves in front of famous places. This is not stereotyping, and as long as you have fun traveling and learn something new, either approach is fine. Traveling is more about exploring your interests and knowing how you like to spend your time and money. I would personally never go bungee jumping or sky diving because I am not interested in scaring myself to death. You will see me walking, taking pictures, introspecting, and reading while traveling alone. I do not even like to talk to people when alone.
Nandan: That is interesting. Especially when we tend to believe that folks in western world are more private. That is a great insight to have. Tell me, how have your travel changed since you started writing at Ghumakkar or has it changed at all ?
DC: Yes, it has changed a LOT. Now, with every trip, I am working extra hard to get that special photo which I can put in my travel log. I am always weaving the story as I am visiting new places. And this has helped me to become a better Ghumakkar or a responsible Ghumakkar. There is a family-pressure know to collect all the good memories in a structured way so that they can then be shared. And I am loving it.
Ghumakkar: Ever since you became a part of the Ghumakkar family, you’ve earned several rewards and recognitions. Now you are again in the finalists for Ghumakkar of the Year 2011. Does the novelty begin to fade over time?
DC: Not at all. The pride and happiness is as much as getting a research paper accepted in a conference or journal, maybe even more, because the research community is narrow, and only a small number of people are interested in your research. However, the amount of readership you can attain as a travel writer is limitlessless. I would have never in my dreams thought that my Portugal post would do so well. I wrote that post in haste, sitting through a boring class and not wanting to listen to the professor, but pretending to take notes. It has surprised me to know how much I can achieve with Ghumakkar. The novelty never fades. If anything, it only makes you want to better yourself, and achieve more, in terms of friends, writing skills, and appreciation.
Ghumakkar: If there was one thing you could change about Ghumakkar, what would it be?
DC: This is not really something about Ghumakkar, but I wish there was more in-person interaction with the Ghumakkars. However, I have one constructive suggestion for Ghumakkar. We could use some closed group forum (Facebook, blogs, etc,) to create a tight-knit community for the writers alone. This will give the writers (not readers) a chance to interact with each other, chat, post messages and feedback, tell stories, or share pictures, et cetera. Anyone who writes regularly for Ghumakkar would be a part of that group. There is much value in constructive criticism, and a forum like this exclusively for interacting with the writers would make the experiences more personal. Plus, although you do not get to hang out with Ghumakkars in person, this will still give everyone a chance to know each other better.
Ghumakkar: Is there anything you would like to share with your fellow Ghumakkars?
DC: You, and I mean everyone of you, have shown me a little bit of the world that I can only hope to, but will probably never see for myself. Thank you for doing that. Travelling is but a form of expressing creativity, for painting the world with your own colors, whatever way you want to. Since you travel, you write about them, you take pictures, you share your experiences, and we benefit from your experiences. Thank you all for this.
Nandan: Any personal favorites ?
DC: Every story I read gives me a little glimpse into a new place in a different way. We make the community richer through our different perspectives and our different writing styles. I have loved reading the posts of Naveena Israni. Shubham Sarcar is a very promising and talented young man, and I wish I could write half as well as he does when I was his age. I love reading Vibha’s editorials. Lastly, the series of travel essays we started recently is one of my favorites. I thank you all for warming up to the idea so well. This will only add more variety, and more value to Ghumakkar.
Nandan: What do you want to see at Ghumakkar ?
DC: More women writers, travelers. Many more.
[Note – DC, I checked the authors list on www.ghumakkar.com and out of top 99 authors which I see listed there, there are 27 women travelers and writers. Not a great big number but neither an insignificant too]
We could use some closed group forum (Facebook, blogs, etc,) to create a tight-knit community for the writers alone. This will give the writers (not readers) a chance to interact with each other, chat, post messages and feedback, tell stories, or share pictures, et cetera. Anyone who writes regularly for Ghumakkar would be a part of that group. There is much value in constructive criticism, and a forum like this exclusively for interacting with the writers would make the experiences more personal. Plus, although you do not get to hang out with Ghumakkars in person, this will still give everyone a chance to know each other better.
DC: A Ghumakkar meet. A face to face meet where we can all see each other, talk to each other.
Nandan: That is one thing which everyone wants to, including myself but now I have run out of excuses. I sincerely hope that it turns into a reality in 2012.
I would wrap this interview. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Since DC was in US, it was an early morning discussion and I can only thank you for letting me start my day with such a fabulous opening. And here is the bonus pictures for all those, who were with me all through.
Wishing you many more travels, many many more travel stories and let the Ghumakkar bug be with you for ever.