Vikram Sampath: What comes from the heart, touches another heart

Bangalore based historian, Dr Vikram Sampath is back with his brand new book Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past. This two-volume biography of Savarkar seeks to demystify him and provide an objective assessment of his life, times and philosophy. The first volume covers the period from 1883 to 1924. Prior to this, Sampath has authored three acclaimed books: Splendours of Royal Mysore: the Untold Story of the Wodeyars; My Name Is Gauhar Jaan: The Life and Times of a Musician and Voice of the Veena: S Balachander – A Biography.

An engineer, a mathematician and an alumnus of BITS-Pilani, what led to your eventually becoming an author?

My foray into writing was serendipitous. As a boy of 12-13, I watched the tele-serial The Sword of Tipu Sultan that triggered protests in various parts of my home state of Karnataka for its alleged misrepresentation of the Mysore royal family.

Intrigued, I set out on a self-motivated, self-funded research journey into finding the truth behind this portrayal. The interest lingered on for 10 long years and widened to the history of the Wodeyar family that ruled Mysore for nearly 600 years. Since there was not a single book that comprehensively covered their fascinating story, I thereafter decided to write one myself. This was how my first book Splendours of Royal Mysore: the Untold Story of the Wodeyars was published in 2008.

For a long time, I peddled dual professions — working in multinational firms such as Citibank, GE Money and Hewlett Packard, alongside writing my books or taking off on research trips. The success of my second book My Name Is Gauhar Jaan: The Life And Times Of a Musician and the many awards it won including the Sahitya Akademi's first Yuva Puraskar in 2012, changed my life completely. I then decided to become a full time writer and eschew my corporate career.

Can you take us through the making of Savarkar: Echoes From A Forgotten Past?

Savarkar had been an addiction since the time I first heard about him in 2003-04 when the whole controversy of dislodging his plaque at the Cellular Jail happened. We had no reference to him in our school history books. Yet, this was a figure from the past who was intruding into contemporary political discourse and that is what piqued my interest in him. However it’s only in the last three to four years that I managed to get down to serious research around him. I was quite amazed to know that a man who evokes such strong, polarising reactions even now, and whose philosophy and thoughts have shaped India in so many ways and continue to do, has been so less researched or written about. Accounts of his life range from adulatory hagiographies to disparaging demonisation. The truth is always somewhere in between as I discovered while rummaging through several archives across India and abroad, gathering original archival and court documents — be it at the National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Maharashtra State Archives, the India Office at British Library London, National Archives of UK, archives in France, Germany etc.

A lot about Savarkar and also his own writings are in Marathi and these have seldom been accessed by mainstream historians. Accessing these documents opened up a new dimension to the man's life and vision and helped clear the cobwebs that history and politics have shrouded his image in. Interviews with old timers, his proponents and opponents and support from his family, especially his grandnephew Ranjit Savarkar who heads the Savarkar Smarak in Mumbai, travels to various places associated with him from Bhagur, Nashik, Port Blair, Mumbai, London, etc. completed the research journey.

What would be your advice to budding authors?

Believe in your work and do not write just because a certain genre or style is creating waves in the market. If you believe in your story and that it MUST be told, let commercial considerations or market intelligence not prevent you from going ahead. Eventually, what comes from the heart is what touches another heart — not factory-produced, similar-looking goods!