Vaishnavi Anantha, a 9th grader from Hyderabad, is only 14 years old. However, unlike most kids her age, she is already a published author.
She is writing a four-book series on a very fascinating theme with two of her books The Jaz Gang: A Dangerous Escapade and The Jaz Gang & the Mystic Warrior already being published. Her upcoming book and the third instalment in the series are The Jaz Gang & The Mystery of the Secret Chamber.
Let’s meet this extremely talented young author to know more about her books and why she chose to write on the theme that she did which is almost impossible to guess from the title of her books.
Australia Today: Tell us about your books and what is the theme?
Vaishnavi: The JAZ Gang is a four-book series, and the theme revolves around three teenagers who discover a time machine and decide to visit the Ramayana era particularly Mithila because they wish to prove that Ramayana wasn’t a mythical story as claimed by several western historians. They choose Mithila because a lot is written and said about Lord Rama but there are lesser-known facts about Devi Sita.
Ramayana has been explored several times in various forms, so, I’ve included a lot of adventure, thrill and have tried to come up with some totally different aspects of Ramayana to keep the readers hooked while giving away subtle messages about our rich culture.
Australia Today: When did you first come across the Ramayana and what impression did it leave on you?
Vaishnavi: When I was a young girl, every night I would request my grandma to tell a story and she would narrate the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. So, back then I would just listen to those stories, enjoy them, and fall asleep. But in the last few years, my mom would always tell me about Ramayana. She would tell that Ramayana is not just about Lord Rama defeating Ravana. It’s not about him being worshipped as God. It’s much more than that.
Ramayana teaches us about sacrifice, discipline, love, family, and other deeper aspects of life. My mom would tell that Lord Rama was a normal human being like us who became extraordinary and achieved impossible feats in his life because of the principles he followed. So, Ramayana is about imbibing Lord Ram and Devi Sita’s qualities and trying to bring about a positive change in our lives.
But in the same breath, I used to hear many westerners claim that the greatest Indian epics are nothing but mere ‘mythology.’ So, I would ask my mom that if we Indians have faith in Ramayana and Mahabharata then how can the western world not believe us? On what basis are they denying the fact that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata could have existed? As an answer to my question, mom would say that maybe it’s because Lord Rama achieved something we cannot even think of, they seized to believe us.
I feel that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata existed. Recently only NASA discovered a nearly 30-mile-long bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka and they named it ‘the Adam’s bridge.’ But coincidently, in Ramayana too, when Lord Rama had to cross the Indian ocean to rescue his wife who was being held captive in Lanka, he had built a bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka with the help of his army and that very bridge is what we Indians calls ‘the Rama Setu.’ So, there is much such evidence that proves that Ramayana and Mahabharata were real and not just some ‘myth’. I believe in those stories. I strongly feel that they existed and that they were an exceptionally advanced civilisation that dominated the world thousands of years ago.
Australia Today: How did you think about writing a book mixing the ancient and the futuristic?
Vaishnavi: Initially, it all began because I felt that kids and teens like me know truly little about our rich past. While we’re interested in knowing more about Greek or Roman mythology, we find it boring to know about our own culture.
Another reason I feel we are not interested in knowing more about our culture is because of our history textbooks. Though they highlight the achievements of our invaders, I feel, little is written about the accomplishments of the Indian rulers, saints, or freedom fighters. Today, we all know about the Taj Mahal and the complete history behind it but though some of us would have heard about the famous temples, I reckon that not many would know about its history or who built it and why?
Thus, I thought about mixing the ancient and the futuristic, so that, I could share with my fellow readers about our rich Indian culture and history in a manner which they would enjoy reading.
Australia Today: Are your friends or schoolmates aware of Ramayana or Mahabharata?
Vaishnavi: I feel we know very little about Ramayana or the Mahabharata these days. Though our grandparents or parents still enjoy reading or watching these epics, I feel that somehow the western influence has dramatically increased amongst kids like me, and we are losing interest in knowing anything about the great Indian epics. Though we may watch serials based on these for fun, we are failing to understand the very essence of these epics. All we know is that Lord Rama killed Ravana, and the Pandavas defeated the Kauravas.
Today, if we’re asked anything about Greek or Roman mythology, we can answer at lightning speed, thanks to books like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson but the scenario is completely different when it comes to learning or finding out more about our very own culture.
Australia Today: Do you wish to convey a message through this book or do you write it only for the reader’s enjoyment?
Vaishnavi: I definitely wish to convey a message through this series, and I’ve shared it in the author’s note of my 2nd book.
So, through my books, I want to tell my fellow readers that India was and is much more than just a ‘land of thousand deities.’ We weren’t superstitious or illogical. In fact, we were quite the opposite. Though most of the things we do might sound meaningless, the reality is that every single belief or ritual of ours has some hidden scientific reason which we are unaware of, the reason being that the information was wrongly interpreted over the years. A simple example could be: a superstition in India is that we must not go near the Peepal tree at night as evil spirits reside there. But the scientific reasoning which restricts us from going near the Peepal tree is that they release large amounts of carbon dioxide in the night!
We must feel proud of our nation and not feel ashamed or embarrassed about it. India was home to one of the oldest empires in the world. We gave rise to one of the most sophisticated civilisations. Not only that but we were also the world’s richest country, a.k.a. the superpower for nearly thousands of years!
In recent times, I read articles that said that we should stop dwelling in our past and look towards our future. I’d like to differ on this, as I believe, it’s our past that shapes our thought process and future. So, it is time we try to know more about our rich past and heritage and do whatever we can to take it forward.
Australia Today: Did you always plan it to be a four-part series?
Vaishnavi: Well, frankly speaking, never in my wildest dreams I would have ever thought that someday I would become an author. I had never imagined that I would write a novel that would go on to become a four-part series. All I was bothered about was asking my mom (who was the one who suggested and encouraged me to write a book) ‘how can I write a book?’
But when I was halfway through, I thoroughly started enjoying the entire process of writing. With my mom’s encouragement, constant guidance, and God’s enlightenment I could extend my story and convert it into a gripping, four-part series.
Australia Today: Now tell us how you came about this name?
Vaishnavi: Well, coming up with the title name was definitely not an easy task. I and my mom would discuss a lot and rack our brains on it. Initially, I would end up with unique or rather bizarre titles, many of which would not even make much sense to the storyline. But suddenly one day just out of the blue, I got this fascinating name ‘The JAZ Gang’ based on the initials of the protagonists of my book (Jay, Archie & Zenisha).
Australia Today: Were you at all worried as to how you will make time to write this book or that was never a challenge?
Vaishnavi: The journey of writing was definitely a challenge, and it was not at all easy juggling between studies and book writing, but I was lucky as my parents have always given more importance to extracurricular activities and not just studies and right from an early age, they inculcated in me the habit of time-management.
I decided to home school, of course with the support of my parents, during the outbreak of corona, and that’s when I stumbled upon writing. So, I guess, the corona was a boon for me. So, I always prepare a timetable and plan my day in a manner that allows me to spare time for book writing along with enjoying all other extracurricular activities and studies.
Australia Today: Is this book a children’s book or is it for everyone?
Vaishnavi: At first, it began as a children’s book, but as I continued to write, several elements were added, making my book suitable for all ages. So, whether a teen or an adult, I feel everyone will enjoy reading it as it has the gripping elements of fantasy, adventure, values, and history. It’s a book that parents can read along with their younger kids and enjoy.
Australia Today: Which are your top 3 favourite books and who is your favourite author and why?
Vaishnavi: I’m sure quite a lot of people would be shocked to know that I started reading books at the age of 12 only. Before that, I literally used to despise reading books. It’s only since the last one and a half years that I began enjoying book-reading. It’s hard to choose the top 3 as I have enjoyed reading most of whatever I’ve read in this short span, but still, if I had to choose then they would be The Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, and Three Thousand Stiches by Sudha Murty.
Coming to the second part of the question, in the fiction genre, one of my favourite authors is Carolyn Keene because Nancy Drew’s books were the first novels that I began reading. Her novels are very gripping, short yet fast-paced.
In the non-fiction genre, my favourite author is Sudha Murty because whatever she writes, it comes from her heart. I can connect with her books as all her stories are to the point, simple, and very touching.
Apart from being an author, Vaishnavi is also a YouTuber and recently got a black belt in Teakwood. She enjoys travelling to historical places. Vaishnavi also likes to draw, swim, play badminton, read books, and experiment with new things on the computer.