MAKING OF AN AUTHOR: MORE BY ACCIDENT THAN DESIGN

As a journalist, I had never imagined that I would be an author one day. For a boy who studied in a small rural school in Kodagu (Coorg), it has been quite a journey. As they say, life is sometimes stranger than fiction.

I wish to revisit my childhood years briefly to give you an insight into how the early years shaped my personality. My father worked in the forest department and was posted in the distant Andaman Islands. I was left to fend for myself in a boarding school (Vidyarthini Bhavana) at Virajpet in Kodagu.

Since my parents visited only once in three years, my childhood was understandably quite traumatic. Thankfully, when I reached high school my mother shifted to Gonikoppal in Kodagu. However, the initial years of insecurity continued well into my adulthood.

I went to Madras (now Chennai) for my college studies. It was the mid-60s, and the Dravidian movement was at its peak, the DMK was all set to capture power. The teachings of the leader of the Dravidian movement, Periyar E.V. Ramasamy Naicker influenced me strongly. Those were the days when to be identified with Marxism was a badge of honour.

The ideologies of Periyar and Marx and the reading of books by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, turned me into a rationalist which I continue to remain even to this day. Despite being a rationalist, it has been a quirky habit with me to read the astrological predictions usually titled ‘This week for you’ published in various magazines. Though I believe the predictions are just bunkum, due to curiosity and my inbuilt insecurity I continue to read them.

One day, I came across a prediction in an astrology column that said I would do well if I started a website. My professional career was not doing well around that time, so I decided to act on the prediction. There was one problem however, the fact that I was not technology savvy. But this did not stop me from registering my first domain www.coorgtourisminfo.com in 2005.

I developed content for the site on matters of tourist interest. My financial position was tight, but things began to look up after the then managing director of Tata Coffee Ltd, M.H. Ashraff, offered advertisement sponsorship for my website.

I requested writer C.P. Belliappa to contribute a column to the website. I also began posting Kodagu-related news items. Despite initial technical hiccups, the website started doing well and was the first website displayed in google search results, for the keyword ‘Coorg’.

There was hardly any competition at that time as the big players like ‘TripAdvisor’ had not yet become active in the Coorg segment. Net penetration was still poor and Coorg was just starting to become a weekend destination of the techies in Bengaluru, the concept of home stays was still gaining popularity.

Since the traffic to my website was not encouraging, it occurred to me that I could download the content from the website and bring it out in the form of a printed book. I started off by getting colourful photographs from a freelance photographer H.S. Manjunath and from T. Kempanna of the Karnataka Information Department. Nala Ponnappa did some brilliant cartoons for me and Manavattira Sharada Mandana contributed Coorg recipes. The book was now ready to go into print.

Finding a publisher proved to be a stumbling block, most of the good publishers were based in Delhi and they would take months to respond to my mail. Forced to find an alternative, I turned to local Bangalore-based publishers. After most of the publishers turned down my book project, I was finally guided to Prism Books. The managing partner S. Pranesh, readily agreed to publish the book, without so much as a written agreement. Writer C.P. Belliappa suggested the title ‘Discover Coorg’ and wrote the foreword.

The book was finally published in 2006, and I was naturally elated. A thrilling moment which remains fresh in my memory was seeing the book in the display window of Gangarams, the famous book store then located on Mahatma Gandhi Road, Bengaluru. I walked up and down the road a few times in excitement, looking at the book. Some days later, much to my delight, the book was also displayed in the showcase of Higginbothams, another book store of repute close by.

‘Discover Coorg’ was a runaway success. I brought out two more editions of the book, each time adding more content. It was also translated into Kannada. I had finally arrived as an author.

I still read the astrological predictions and still think they are hogwash, it’s a bit strange though that they sometimes seem to work!

Source: My Coorg Chronicles

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