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‘An aspiring academician acting as an administrator by accident’, is how I describe myself today.
At the age of eight or nine, I decided to do a Ph.D in History from the Andhra University, and nothing, not even the attractive pay packages of doctors, engineers, chartered accountants and management grads I knew, or the prospect of studying in JNU, made me take my eyes off the goal I set for myself- I was a determined soul.
Then why did I end up as a bureaucrat? After the submission of my thesis, I had about a year for myself till the result was out, so I was looking around for ‘intellectual ways’ of spending my time. My little brain thought of a short-term research project, while my father, uncle & sister suggested I try one shot at the Civil Services Exam. And here I am!
During my college, I was a very active member of the Literary Society, which organized a lot of lively discussions on current topics. However, I cautiously kept away from creative activities like short-story writing (and one half-hearted effort was understandably a catastrophic failure).
One more reason is that my family name is, by default, associated with poetic and literary genius (which definitely I am not). Would I have imagined that, a little over two decades later, I would pick up my pen to pen stories on my own life & the life around me?
A casual conversation with a writer whose books were already published & sold out made me challenge him (what audacity!) that writing was no rocket science & that I would be able to do it as well. He appreciated my first story & gave me the encouragement to write many more. There were days when I would write one story a day. I never bothered about literary flourish and was only interested in putting the message across.
The PGPPM (Post Graduate Programme in Public Policy & Management) course at the IIM Bangalore gave me a lot of scope to learn new concepts and experiment with my thought processes. Looking back, I realise that though the course kept me engaged all day & night and put a hold on my writings, it helped me hone my writing skills in a BIG way.
One of the courses, Personal & Inter-personal Effectiveness, helped me look at myself in a new light, changed my world for the better (not that conflicts & contradictions ceased to exist) and exponentially increased the count of blessings I was endowed with. IIMB also provided me with the plot of my second novel, since I worked on the topic of mental health for my dissertation.
This gave a paradigm shift in the way I wrote, and where I published it. My first truly public piece came out in the Open Page of The Hindu some six years back, and by Destiny’s design, on that very day, I bumped into my future mentor on Facebook. And, who was he? A junior in college and an author even in those days! Needless to say, I was blissfully unaware of him then!
Now, this man made sure I got to know of & took part in all story-writing competitions in Telugu- my third story won a prize, and brought me a bit of fame & enormous encouragement. I read a WhatsApp forward on the threat Telugu was facing thanks to globalization. I instantly decided to keep my mother tongue alive as long as I was, and gave up writing in English, except once or twice in a year. Now, there’s no looking or going back on writing in Telugu. My prize-winning maiden novel on the struggles of a differently-abled protagonist was relayed by All India Radio, Visakhapatnam, and its message reached the rural & semi-urban populace served by the station.
Women’s issues and values are the ones I usually write on. My plots are taken from happenings around us, with a lot of fiction added to it. Thus far, only two stories were completely fictional, while the rest had at least a grain of real-life occurrence in them. Every story & novel has an underlying value- even if one reader is positively influenced by it, the purpose would be achieved.
A word of advice to aspiring writers- writing has long ceased to be a paying profession, though there are outliers. Seeing a story in print is hard enough, but getting a book published is harder. If you publish it yourself, as I have done, people have all the time to ask you for a free signed copy but are too busy to give you a critique.
Write you must, for the sheer pleasure of writing & enriching the language. Write, to spread cheer and bring a smile on the faces of those who read it. Write, that your name is remembered long after you’re gone.
Dr. Surya Lakshmi Chellapilla – A 2000 batch Indian bureaucrat ranked 218 in the UPSC exam, Surya works for the Indian Railway Accounts Service. She has a Ph.D. in History from Andhra University and PGPPM from IIM Bangalore. Despite her cerebral palsy, she was consistently rank holder throughout her educational career. She says “The real journey began in 2015 when a junior in college, Shri Rajesh Yalla, encouraged me to write in Telugu and also monitored my progress. In just over five years, forty-two stories and one novel got published. I write so that the society around me can become better. What I write about are the values I follow.”
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