Ghumakkar Featured Author Interview with persistent and passionate Manisha Chitale

It happened in August 2010 and yet is clearly etched in my mind. It was August 17 and I had woken up to a splash of the colour green on Ghumakkar. Manisha Chitale’s Grass is Greener had been published. It wasn’t her first post on Ghumakkar, and yet this was the post by which I would remember her. Just last month I happened to visit Pune and the adjoining Sahyadris, and felt compelled to revisit her story. That is when I realized that it wasn’t just the photos she had posted that had created the vivid memory, it was as much the mesmerizing pictures she had painted with her words that had led me to construct sights I hadn’t ever seen in real life or in even in pictures.
I was pleasantly surprised when her name was declared as the Featured Author for the month of March 2014. It felt more than a co-incidence, and I realized that had my travel to Pune happened just a few days later, I could have conducted this interview in person. But I didn’t have too many reasons for regret because the interview over phone was as much fun and as engaging as a face-to-face could have been, and within minutes we were talking like old friends and soon it was more a discussion than an interview. She came across as someone who forms relationships for life – with people, places, work, and even hobbies. She is curious and wants to get to the bottom of whatever she starts exploring. She asked me a couple of questions, I found myself getting tempted to answering them in great details. We had to consciously remind ourselves that it was I who was supposed to be interviewing her and not the other way round.
Our conversation mostly revolved around her interests, profession, and travels. And from whatever little I was able extract from her, here are the juiciest bits.
Excavation

Excavation

*****
Ghumakkar: Congratulations Manisha! How does it feel?
Manisha:  Thanks! I am delighted. It feels great.
Ghumakkar: We are glad! It was well deserved, and was due for a long time. You have been with us since 2009.
Manisha: Yes, that was when I wrote my first story. But I had been a regular reader of Ghumakkar even before that.
Ghumakkar: We are sure. So tell us what brought you to Ghumakkar?
Manisha: Internet browsing…
Ghumakkar: And what were you searching for?
Manisha: Well to be honest, it was way back in 2009. It is difficult to remember.  But I was fascinated with Ghumakkar as a site, as it opened an Alibaba’s cave for me. Tons of travel stories, I could not get enough.
Ghumakkar: And what made you write your first story?
Manisha: My first story was actually a series of three after my visit  to Khajuraho. As you may know Khajuraho captures your heart and brain both. It was a very engaging trip. Also that was the time when I had started my study of Indology. It was like opening up of my thoughts and the newly found knowledge gave a whole new vision while visiting such monuments. I had to write what I felt and this is when the first story of Scenes of Sandstone came in to existence. It was not only the historical monuments but also the nature that gets captured in your mind’s camera is what I wanted to put in words.
Soil of Saraswati Valley

Soil of Saraswati Valley

Ghumakkar: True! Very True! And what a wonderful story it was!
Manisha: Thanks!
Ghumakkar: You just mentioned Indology. What exactly is that and what do Indologists do?
Manisha: Indology is the study of the art, culture, history, literature, and architecture of the Indian Subcontinent.
Ghumakkar: Interesting! How did you become an Indologist?
Manisha: My heart has always been in history and languages. I used to read related books on my own whenever I could find something, however it did not have any focus. One of the advantage of being a ‘Punekar’ is the wealth of educational institutes and course ware of various subjects available for study to all age groups. I came across an organization called ‘Aranyavaak’ which had started a part time 2 months introductory course in ‘Ancient Monuments, History and Culture’ back in 2007. I just grabbed it. That was a turning point as it provided a great introduction to all topics related to Indian history such as art and architecture, numismatics, religion, social and political history, archaeology, Indus Valley and Aryan Invasions and so on.
Lake - South of Pune

Lake – South of Pune

Ghumakkar: Sorry to interrupt. Numismatics?
Manisha: It is the study of currency.
Ghumakkar: Ok thanks! Go ahead. You were telling us about the introductory course.
Manisha: Yes, it was wonderful. It also introduced me to several scholars and fellow history enthusiasts. Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth ( TMV) is another institute in Pune which has been running Masters courses in Indological studies for decades. However we are so ignorant when we are not looking and hence I never knew about it till it was time.
And then me along with some other history lovers, we embarked on that wonderful journey of exploring the wealth of Indian heritage by enrolling for the MA.. It was a well-designed course covering literature, religion, philosophy, architecture, inscriptions, social systems and political entities. It also covered archaeology and cultures and greater India covering spread of Indian values and cultures in south east Asia and other countries.
Ghumakkar: Wow! How long was the MA?
Manisha: It was a 2 year long weekend course.
Ghumakkar: So that is how you became an Indologist.
Manisha: Well, after 2 years of weekend course, we all realized, it is tip of iceberg and we need to deep dive. But what a journey ! I am thankful it gave me a foundation, a more open outlook and lifelong pursuit and not to forget some great fellow travellers. This is the only reason I call myself ‘Indologist’.
New York - Central Park

New York – Central Park

In Sweden

In Sweden

Ghumakkar: And your profile at ghumakkar also mentions that you are a Software Professional. How did this happen?
Manisha: Actually when I was in 9th or 10th, we were asked by our teacher what we wanted to be when we grew up. I was always interested in current affairs and even as a child, I loved travelling. So my natural instinct prompted me to answer that I wanted to be a journalist.
Ghumakkar: A journalist? And what changed the plans?
Manisha: Well, I never really pursued this thought as seriously. Moreover that was late 80s and things were looking really risky for journalists. As far as I remember, journalists had even been killed. And then the way things happen in India, I scored good marks in 10th and opted for science, even though I never wanted to become a doctor or an engineer in the traditional sense. A new course, bachelor of Computer Science had just started in India back then. I joined that. My batch was only the third one on this course. The fact is that even back in the 80s a computer course had started. But it was soon discontinued. Now computer courses are everywhere. There are BCS, BIT, B.Tech, and several diploma courses. Back in those days, there weren’t too many choices. 
Ghumakkar: And there weren’t so many Software Engineers too. But you were one of the first few.
Manisha: Ha ha! If you insist! I started my career in Software programming way back in 90’s. I have been part of software product company specializing in ERP and SCM products centred around optimization algorithms. As a member of IT industry I have seen the entire product and project life cycle enacting various roles from programmer to project manager, pre sales to implementation. And now I work as a program manager with a reputed software company based out of Pune
Ghumakkar: Your home town?
Manisha: Yes! I have been born and brought up in Pune. With my career flourishing in Pune and my immediate family in Pune, this the base for rest of my life I guess.
Ghumakkar: So what does a regular day in the life of a technical genius/Indologist/Traveller/Writer look like?
Manisha: I am afraid you can’t call me technical genius. It is my work and I do it to the best of my capacity. My regular day is filled with work at office, an occasional morning walk, some social engagement in the evening with friends and family. I would want to spend more time in reading and exploring all the items on my priority list.
Ghumakkar: Can your share more about the things on your priority list?
Manisha: I am a great fan of Old Hindi film music particularly from 1950-1970. As mentioned earlier, I also have very keen interest in current affairs and like to keep myself updated with it. I read a lot in both languages Marathi and English both. Non fictions, classics and everything related to Indian subcontinent are my topics of interest.
Ghumakkar: Being an avid reader, do you feel inspired by any particular book or author? Would you want to share with our readers?
Manisha: Initially all my reading used to be in Marathi. I loved travelogues of several Marathi authors. I especially liked PL Deshpande’s Poorvarang and Apoorvai. I personally feel that Mr Deshpande is the PG Wodehouse of Marathi Literature. I also liked to read about Mahabharat. In Marathi, several authors have written about their own interpretations of the characters of the epic. I especially love Marathi writer Irawati Karve’s Yuganta in which she presents the larger-than-life characters in a more human light. But in fiction, I mostly preferred English fiction with its many twists and turns. I loved reading Sydney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, and more recently Michael Crichton. I found reading these authors a fulfilling experience. Their works are so detailed, so well researched, and cover a large canvas. Only recently have I started reading Marathi fiction, mostly classics. And I admit that I have liked them. I read Gopal Nilkanth Dandekar. His is a very different kind of prose. Based on history, his writing is connected to people of this soil. His language is soft, subtle, and honest. Venkatesh Madgulkar is my all-time favorite. But travelogues still remain my favourite.
Ghumakkar:  And you started reading them at a fairly young age. Did this also contribute to your wish of becoming a journalist?
Manisha: I think yes, now that you mention it. I had never really thought about it like this. My love for travel, plus my interest in current affairs, did contribute to it.
Ghumakkar: And when did you actually start travelling?
Manisha: My father used to like to travel and he did take us to Kashmir, Goa, Hyderabad, and Delhi when we were growing up. After that we did not travel anywhere for almost 10 years. My serious travel was business travel which started some time at start of new millennium. I was stationed in New York city for couple of years and enjoyed and loved everything about it. During my stay In US i travelled from coast to coast taking in the sights and sounds of cities like LA, San Fransisco and Cleveland.
Post coming back to India, I had to travel overseas for short duration on work for several years. My travel locations covered Bonn, London, Stockholm, Toronto, and Sydney. I would always try to snatch an opportunity to visit the city or nearby attraction. This paid handsomely as I could visit Niagara falls twice and second time it was in dead of winter and it was so beautiful. As a traveller I loved the swans in Baltic sea and white sands of Australian beaches and lovely township of Cambridge and vast expanse of lake Eerie.
Stockholm

Stockholm

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Bridge on the river Kwai

Bridge on the river Kwai

Germany

Germany

But to tell you the truth, my heart has always been in India. My first serious travel in India was to Shimla and Manali few years back. That was actually my first story which is still unpublished. And then after introduction to Indian history now there is an urge to go and visit and see those places which have made a mark on history. I always loved nature and one visit to Himalaya, gets you hooked for life. I try to make at least one trip a year in the Himalaya and it gives me great pleasure to be in the shadow of that Nagadhiraj.
At Chamba

At Chamba

Rajsamand Lake - Rajasthan

Rajsamand Lake – Rajasthan

Ghumakkar: Talking about your unpublished stories on Shimla and Manali, what is keeping you from publishing them?
Manisha: He he! I have to give them finishing touches. And there’s so much I haven’t written about yet. May be now in the context of my interest in history and culture, I should visit these places again and complete my research.
Ghumakkar: Yes, we would love to read these stories. Many readers in the north aren’t aware of  the historical significance of these places and it will be good to know.
Manisha: I will surely try.
Mussorrie Skyline

Mussorrie Skyline

Thoseghar Waterfall

Thoseghar Waterfall

Ghumakkar: Apart from the places you have already been to, do you also have a list of “must-go” places?
Manisha: Yes there is a list of ‘must go’ places. Within India, it is Orissa, Bengal, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Kashmir (once again). And outside India, Pakistan, Tibet, Bhutan, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Greece, Spain and Italy for sure !
Ghumakkar: When did you start writing? What do you prefer to write about? 
Manisha: To be precise, I started writing in school and college. Most of it is unpublished as I am very lazy and never took my writing anywhere beyond my desk. The language is Marathi and the topics were nature and current affairs and sometimes ‘essays’ on some concepts.  This  writing included some poems too !
Ghumakkar: Well your prose is poetic too , so I am not surprised. But when did travel writing happen?
Manisha: I started writing travel stories only with Ghumakkar and that too in English for the first time.  Till then writing in English was strictly professional correspondence.  I have also written in Marathi in past few years and I still write in Marathi on some Marathi websites occasionally. I prefer to write about places, nature, history, social contexts and my opinions. I want to write on political issues with references in history, however that has not happened yet.
Ghumakkar: Just start writing, and everything will fall into place. we can vouch for your writing skills.
Manisha: He he…thanks! May be I will.
Ghumakkar: And what about you? Can you vouch for the writing skills of any of the Ghumakkar authors?
Manisha: I am great fan of Nandan’s road journeys. In fact that was one of the first things that attracted me to Ghumakkar. I also like Manish Khamesra’s detailed accounts and Nirdesh Singh‘s beautiful posts replete with amazing captures. These are the names I remember, but I have read plenty of stories and I like them all. I also like to read Hindi stories which is  a latest trend on Ghumakkar.
At Chittor

At Chittor

Ghumakkar: What keeps you coming back to Ghumakkar?
Manisha: When I first discovered  Ghumakkar, I read almost all stories as soon as I could find time and internet connection. Now after all these years, there are gaps of 8 days or 10 days. But then one fine day, Ghumakkar url is summoned by my browser and Ghumakkar never disappoints. There are pictures of snow clad mountains and serene lakes and green forests. And there are words dripping with joy of travel and joy of sharing.

Ghumakkar: And just one last bit…is there anything you would like to tell the Ghumakkar community?
Manisha: Keep travelling, Keep writing and keep encouraging. This last part of encouragement is something I really appreciate from fellow Ghumakkars. They are very kind and enthusiastic bunch for sure. For amateur writers like me, Ghumakkar is like a blessing.  It gives an opportunity to write and publish along with instant viewership and feedback. Many thanks to Ghumakkar for presenting such platform and hope it grows and grows in future.
Ghumakkar: And how would you celebrate your award? Some Shrewsberry biscuits from Kayani Bakery?
Manisha: Sure, why not! And their cake! That is quite wonderful too.
*****
And after that we carried on general chit-chat for some more time. By the time I got off the phone, I couldn’t believe that Manisha had been little more than a stranger just half-an-hour back. But I guess this is how Ghumakkar is. We get to know each other much before we actually get to know each other. In this community, there is no stranger.
Till the next time…
-V

18 Comments

  • Let me grab the opportunity to comment first on one of my favourate author on Ghumakkar.

    Great to know you in detail through this interview & looking forward to read your travel stories in future too.

    Wish You and Ghumakkar a very Happy Holi !

  • ???? ????????????? ?? ???? ??? ?? ???? ???????(??) ????????? ?? ??? ??, ??? ?? ??????????? ????????-?-????????? ?? ??? ???- ?????? ???? ????? ???? ?? ??? ??????? ??? ??? ????? ?? ???? ??? ?? ??? ???? ?? ?? ???? ??? ?? ????????????? ?? ?????? ?? ???? ???/????? ???? ?? ????. (???? ? ?????? ?? ????? ?????? ???), ???????? ?????? ?? ?????? ???????? ??? ???????? ????????????? ?? ??? ??????????? ? ????????????? ?? ??? ??? ?? ?? ????? ?? ??????????? ????? ?? ?????? ??? ??????? ??. ??????? ??????.
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  • Nirdesh SIngh says:

    It is nice to get to know you Manisha! Indology – now that is a course which many of us here would like to do. There are many of us holding day jobs who would be interested in just becoming travellers and unearthing the wealth of monuments that India has to offer in almost every village like I am lucky to discover mostly during the weekdays! Dont ask me how!

    I have enjoyed your posts. I like your writing style and your passion towards history and nature is apparent in your writings. Thanks for mentioning me. I hope to see the caves that you wrote about around Pune soon. Couple of weeks ago I finally started discovering Pune by visiting the Aga Khan Palace!

    We would like to read about your international travels also here. But in the meantime continue writing about Poetry in Stone my current favourite subject!

    Vibha, thanks for another great interview with Manisha!

  • Thanks to Vibha for a well structured and well worded interview. She herself is a great writer and that shows here !

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Congrats Manisha once again for the very deserving honour! Your revealing & flawless interview was a treat on this auspicious occasion of festival of color. Nice to know a wonderful person.

    @ Vibha…. Applauses for digging so conveniently & shaping in formation with ease.

    Wishing all here a very exhilarating HOLI!!!

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

  • Avtar Singh says:

    Congrats Manisha ji for the honour.

    I must confess that I have not read your posts till now(Just new to this site is the only reason), but your lively interview is forcing me to go through all your posts, especially starts with ” Grass is Greener.”

    The introductory of this interview is amazing and very beautifully written.

    Thanx Vibha ji for this wonderful interview.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Many congratulations Manisha for being the ‘Featured Author’ and being so gracious to let us know almost everything about you. Vibha tells me that at this rate, she is soon going to begin writing spy novels.

    I was away (mostly on road, driving in Bihar and Jharkhand) so apologies for late comment. I did read it before but didn’t want to rush through with my comment.

    Ok, so (Nirdesh, also for you) in Delhi, there is this ‘National Museum’ on Janpath. They conduct some course which can kind of address some part of Indology. I did one such weekend course in 1994 (I am still very much young and kicking) from there, it was called ‘India Art and Culture’. If I remember correctly, there were about 16 lectures, each 2 hour long, given by the experts in those areas (Art, Craft, History etc). You also get to socialise. Here is a link – http://nmi.gov.in/departmentshoacourses.htm

    s/w in 90’s sound familiar. :-). As for books, since you mentioned PG Wodehouse, and since you read vernacular, here is a recommendation. When possible, please read ‘Raag Darbari’ by Shreelal Shukla. It is a satire and the setting is a village/town in North/Central India.

    And finally the ‘Himalayas’ bit. We are lucky to be closer to Himalayas so when you head North again, give me a buzz. I might very well be there, I go often.

    Vibha – Awesome opening and such fluid rendering, brilliant.

    • Thanks Nandan for your comments.

      I have read ‘Raag Darbaari’ by Shreelaal Shukla, translated in Marathi and it is my all time favourite. Hoping to read the original in Hindi sometime !

      Heading to Himalayas in May, will ping you then…

  • RAMESH SARASWAT says:

    ???????? …. ?? ???? ????? !!
    ???? ?? ???? ??? ???? ??? ?? ??? ??? ?? ???? ?????? ?? ????? ????? ???, ???? ???????? ???? ????? ????… ????? ???? ?????? ???? ????? ???? ????? ???? ???? ?? ???

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