“I have a dream. I have a desire. I have something that life wants me to give the world.”
–The Merchant of Stories by Dipa Sanatani
Artists are masters of diversity. They each have their individual way of expression. Yet, they bring into play multiple techniques to express themselves. They create different forms of art and bring variety into their artistic style. And soon with time, practice and hard-work, they reach a height where they can home multiple avatars within. They become poet, storyteller, traveller, painter, musician—all at the same time. They embrace versatility through their artwork and become a true artist.
Author Dipa Sanatani is one such artist whose book The Merchant of Stories stands as a testimony to her brilliant craftsmanship. The book employs myriad themes, mingles various genres and most strikingly, assumes multiple forms through the shifting narrative techniques. Sanatani draws on her own experiences to pen her first non-fiction book. As we surf through its pages, the narration and the poetry tell us a story. Her story as it unfolded in her life. Her entrepreneurial journey in real-time. And an artist’s journey into the soul.
Recently, I chanced upon a copy of her newly released book The Merchant of Stories. Its exceptional narrative technique and the sheer poetry of words left me awestruck. So, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to interview the author and gain some perspective of the innovation that her book showcased. And here’s what I discovered in the process.
Sanchari: Your book “The Merchant of Stories” showcases a variety of narrative techniques. We find multiple author’s voices as we surf through the chapters. Was it intentional or did you just go with the flow as it came to your mind?
Dipa: I think it takes decades for any artist to master the variety of techniques of any craft. Some techniques come naturally to us—and those are the ones that we feel more inclined towards. Other techniques are more challenging to master.
I think anyone born with the soul of an artist is always pushing themselves to do more… to learn more… to continuously reimagine and reinvent. I would say that it’s part going with the flow and part tenacity and good-old fashioned hard work. One cannot exist without the other.
Sanchari: The book sometimes employed the stream of consciousness technique in the narrative. Do you feel that this technique is more efficient in connecting the writer to their writing and later to the readers?
Dipa: I think it depends on what the writer is writing about. For instance, I recently wrote an article on Why Startup Founders Should Embrace More Risk. In this case, a more methodical approach would be more appropriate. The use of statistics, anecdotes and case studies would enable the reader to understand the message and the data that supports the hypothesis.
In other instances where I am conveying my own thoughts or emotions, it is a different story. Which is why I think it’s so important for artists to continually develop themselves in areas that they do not lend themselves to so easily. That way one is able to continuously create more nuanced and original work.
Sanchari: “The Merchant of Stories” is a non-fiction book. But still, the narrative tells us a story. Did you plan it out like that or did you just put up a series of diary jottings and the story told itself?
Dipa: Over the years, I’ve read many ‘how-to’ type non-fiction books—be it in entrepreneurship; or on learning to master the craft of writing. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and find all the lessons and come up with a ten step plan to tell others how to do it. Not so easy is to embark on the journey yourself and then manifest it in your life. Life is simply not that linear.
In The Merchant of Stories, there is no set narrative technique. It is a collection of musings, diary entries, letters and poems that I penned down as I went through my journey of becoming an author and entrepreneur.
I would describe it as a spiritual journey—one that deeply transformed me as an individual. I can’t say that I planned to write this book. I don’t believe the story told itself—as it is neither fiction nor a memoir in a conventional sense. I did not have the privilege of hindsight as I wrote in my diary. I’ve narrated the creative process and entrepreneurial journey in real-time as it unfolded in my life.
Sanchari: Your book also stars some great poems. We don’t generally find poetry in a non-fiction book. So, what made you include them in your narrative?
Dipa: In writing poetry, I found a way to express my emotions without too much narrative. Sometimes, less is more. A writer should always leave enough ‘blank space’ in the narrative for readers to derive their own meaning.
Whenever I hear songwriters tell stories of what the song is actually about—I am usually surprised. I thought it meant something completely different! Much like listeners, readers are co-creating the experience with the author. I feel poetry allows readers to form that elusive bond with the artist’s words and find their own voice.
Sanchari: I have always felt poetry to be an expression of our raw emotions. While composing poems, do you ever feel that you have bared your heart and poured your emotions into it completely?
Dipa: Oh yes, of course… And I have many more poems in my diary that I felt were far too personal to put in any published book. I have a clear boundary in my head for what I create for myself (and selected loved ones) and the work I choose to publish. Sometimes the emotions are too raw and real to put out there—no matter who might connect with it.
I believe words have the power to heal—to shine a light and ease the soul in times of darkness. The written word has the power to express what one dared not even say out loud. It is a gift to be used to wisely.
Sanchari: Most of your poems give the feeling of a kind of concealment, as if you are trying to veil your emotions under the symbols and metaphors. Do you think a true poet or an artist is prone to hide behind the curtains of symbols and metaphors?
Dipa: It depends on the artist, where they are in their life and their general personality. I’m at that point in my life where ranting and going on and on; being attached to ‘my story’ and wanting everyone to hear it and somehow ‘validate’ it holds little appeal to me.
In writing fables and poetry, I see myself going through a universal experience that many others have gone through. There is a huge difference between writing about having my heart broken and the experience of heartbreak. The experience of heartbreak is something that most people who’ve ever fallen in love will inevitably experience at some point in their lives. I don’t see the point in giving details about how it happened, what happened and so on and so forth.
It’s far more prudent to integrate the experience into your psyche and move on with your life.
Sanchari: I always believed that poetry has a deep connection with romance. Do you ever feel that poetry has a way of bringing the romantic heart out of its hiding?
Dipa: Enheduanna, the world’s first known author, wrote poems and hymns for the Mesopotamian Goddess Ishtar. She wrote of the love and devotion she had for Ishtar. Enheduanna’s words have survived a few thousand years.
I believe every true work of art is always a dedication. From songs, to books, to paintings. We create for our loved ones. My first book—The Little Light—was dedicated to my grandad Ratilal Dada and my second book to my great-grandmother Kamala Ba. An artist always creates for those they love and cherish the most.
At this moment, I’m not sure if I believe in writing about romance in the typical traditional sense. True love is deep, mature and ancient. It is an act of devotion.
Sanchari: Coming back to the narrative technique, I feel that it brings out your sense of humour; and since it’s a set of personal experiences, is this how you tend to enjoy your life’s journey—sprinkled with a tinge of humour?
Dipa: It is pointless to take life too seriously. You will give yourself a heart attack. I try to always keep myself in good spirits no matter what happens. Some days are easier than others…
If you cannot shrug it off and laugh it off; life will be a long, tedious journey. In finding humour in the mundane, I believe one finds a sense of joy and peace.
Sanchari: According to modern literature, poetry is not just limited to something that rhymes or has a rhythm; rather, it’s the ecstatic feeling that the words evoke. Some of the chapters in your book have that poetic essence in them. Would you like to say that there is a poetess hidden inside you who seeps into your writing, sometimes even without your conscious effort?
Dipa: As a writer in the spirituality genre, I do feel that there are times where I am ‘called’ to pass along a message through my writing or through my voice. I feel this particularly strongly when I write about spiritual themes. I simply do not know where the words come from.
Those who know me personally will probably say that I am either stern and serious or a complete comedian who makes one too many (sometimes inappropriate) jokes. When I sit down to write, something changes and I am different. So in a way, yes, it is without conscious effort. Having said that, every true artist works tirelessly at their craft till the ‘spark’ is ready to work through you.
It’s like playing any musical instrument. When you first play, you’re going to sound terrible. With a daily practise and discipline, you’ll master the fundamentals and play your favourite tunes. Keep that up long enough and one day the ‘spark’ will gift you with a song to compose on your own.
In my mind, you have to prepare, prepare, prepare till the opportunity is ready to reveal itself.
Sanchari: At times, the narrative gives us a fairytale-like feeling—something magical, even while narrating real life’s experiences. Do you ever feel that life itself is a magic?
Dipa: Oh yes, indeed. Life is the greatest adventure that one can ever have. I think most people are too caught up in the tedious and the obvious to give life the full respect and attention that it deserves.
Open your eyes and see the beauty in everything around you… and you will find the most unexpected of gifts in the most unexpected of places.
“I embrace life as a grand adventure of self-discovery where each failure brings me closer to my true self.”
–The Merchant of Stories by Dipa Sanatani
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