The New Indian Express, 9 May 2018

“I wish Train to Pakistan was never written”

CEO of Toehold Travel and Photography believes that it is hard to imbibe qualities from a book.  The characters of a book, he says, are constant but people keep changing.

Jayanth Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Toehold Travel and photography says that he wishes he could have tea with Vyasa, who penned The Mahabharata. He says, what Vyasa has produced in incredibly original. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation we had with him:

Your favourite book of all time and why? Could you quote a passage?

Robinson Crusoe – I read it when I was a little boy and the book has stayed with me. A sense of exploration in me was piqued by the protagonist’s portrayal. The fierce determination and the quest for ways of survival against all odds that Robinson Crusoe embodies to live in an island where no humans live still haunt me beautifully.

One of my favourite passages:

“From this moment I began to conclude in my mind that it was possible for me to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition that it was possible I should ever have been in any other particular state in the world; and with this thought I was going to give thanks to God for bringing me to this place.”

Your favourite fictional character and why?

Abhimanyu – he is perhaps one of the most poignant characters to be portrayed in any world classic. One that is of great sacrifice and bravery. The blessed child prodigy grasps details of warfare when he’s in his mother’s womb and responds to his call of duty with inspirational heroism. I equally love the character Ekalavya and sacrifice is a common virtue between the characters. In a school play, I had donned the role of Ekalavya which made the character all the more close to my heart.

“God sees the truth. But waits.”

Few lines you got from a book, which you would never forget?

“God sees the truth. But waits.” penned by Tolstoy, it has still remained with me mostly because of my amazing physical education teacher in school, M. S. Ranga. He would narrate stories when the sun was impossible for any physical activity in the school ground on some days, and many stories have made a great impact on me because of that storyteller.

Five top books released in 2017, according to you

Entrepreneurial You by Dorie Clark

The Power of Moments by the Heath Brothers

Adaptive Markets by Andrew W. Lo

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

One book you would want a first edition of and why?

Indica by Megasthenes, I am a history buff. It’s told that only fragments of this work are available, so if I could, I would love to have the first edition of this ancient book!

“What Vyasa is believed to have done is incredibly original!”

Which author would you like to have tea with and what would you talk about?

Vyasa, who penned The Mahabharata. This massive epic never ceases to amaze me. It’s overwhelming how one person could imagine so many characters and make each one special with their own celebrated virtues and some with intriguing vices, and how he could interrelate all of them in one context! Interlink data is easy in the world today, and there are so many benchmarks to draw inspiration from if one wishes to write. What Vyasa is believed to have done is incredibly original!

One advice you would give to your favourite author, and one you would give to terrible writers.

I’ll probably talk further about Vyasa’s Mahabharata. There are those instances in the epic that subtly indicate patriarchal perspective in the way certain female characters are treated. But I believe that it has stood the test of time because even what we interpret and opine as flaws can be lessons that we can learn better from.

It’s rather harsh to call someone a terrible writer because as a creative person myself, I understand the immense demands of the creative process. However, I believe that while crafting fictional characters, it’s more practical to draw from personal experiences of interacting with various kinds of people to bring authenticity, realness to the characters. And thus it will be more relatable to the reader as well.

Which books would you take with you on a solo holiday?

History books! History is the study of the past and our origin; mainly the revolution of the world.

Your one guilty-pleasure read?

This is a tie between Malgudi Days and Robinson Crusoe.

One fictional character you go to when you need a friend?

Man Friday, from the novel Robinson Crusoe. Probably the first non-white character to be given a realistic, individualised, and humane portrayal in the English novel, Friday has a huge literary and cultural importance.

What is one quality of a book you wish people would have?

This is a hard question to answer. And I believe so because a book and its characters are constant. But people keep changing with each passing learning and unlearning. So there’s always room for being a better person and it’s hard to narrow down the lessons or qualities one can imbibe from books to just one.

One book you wish was never written, and why?

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh. It was written only because of what happened. I mean to say that I wish such horrifying incidents didn’t have to be a reality reflected in art. This book makes me want to hope for a more peaceful world where humanity prevails over war and political unrest.

What is the one thing you cannot tolerate when you are reading?

Unnecessary digression from the point in focus. It disturbs the flow for a reader if the detour is verbose and not a clever one.

Your favourite reading nook?

I like reading on a plane. I travel a lot, so it’s a more practical time for me to read.

Do you remember to keep bookmarks?

No.

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